Boycotting BBC Scotland

 

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‘Reporting Scotland’ newsreader Sally Magnusson’s reaction after a glitch-strewn broadcast from BBC Scotland’s news cupboard

The idea to boycott BBC Scotland comes from the social website, ‘Wings Over Scotland,’ a highly informative daily look at Scotland’s written and spoken politics, the site led by a robust journalist, Stuart Campbell, a man with forensic skills for sniffing out subtle and blunt propaganda in press and media, as well as cant and rank hypocrisy dispensed by our elected representatives.

Campbell has his work cut-out. Insults and ignorance rain down on Scotland.

Declaring an interest

I must declare an interest. I am a regular Wings reader. The site, like many another, has its small coterie of ‘in-house’ members who blether on to each other in their own pleasant way, but beyond that is some of the most intelligent off-the cuff and well-considered posts you can read about Scotland’s hopes and aspirations.

A proposal to freeze out BBC Scotland’s source material is a natural reaction to its well-documented piss-poor record of promoting Scotland’s problems and remedies. The ‘outpost’ of BBC London – for that is what it is – is a purveyor of the UK government line as the standard conventional wisdom. BBC Scotland still sees Scotland’s elected government as something suspect or worse, alien, a disagreeable attitude evident in its disrespect for that institution and anyone with the tag ‘SNP’ hanging from their lapel.

Rodney’s poor cousin

I can see how easily some freelance journalists, intellectuals, and academics might shy away from a modest appearance fee on (say) the Sarah Smith Superficial Show, otherwise known as Scotland 2014, a poverty stricken mini version of London’s Newsnight but with limp humour and an insipid theme tune. It is, however, almost impossible for Scottish or Scottish-based actors and entertainers to join in a boycott.

For many, their entire income is derived from BBC contract, be it soap series such River City, or a role in a UK produced drama. I include writers. Their chosen vocation relies on BBC or STV offers of work. For documentary makers, or series producers, such as the Beechgrove Garden, life will become intolerable.

Hence, I can’t see how the appeal to punish BBC Scotland for its blatant antagonism towards the independence movement will make any serious headway.

Hackneyed hacks

I’d really like to see their political programmes, north and south, bereft of Scottish contributions – would anybody notice the absence? – but even there journalists such as the always readable Ian Macwhirter, and the humdrum, banal mutterings of David Torrance that rely heavily on television appearances to boost reader levels for their newspaper columns, or buy their books, or recognise their well-groomed mugs as political pundits.

I’d love to see Joe Public refuse vox pop interviews in the street. They give the BBC the excuse to claim they take our views into account. Remarks made on camera as your mum or granny go shopping – microphone stuck under their nose with barely a hello – always go unexplained, and are edited to meaningless three-second sound-bites.

Panel beating

I have the same resistance to panel-based audience interaction programmes – all of those currently in existence produced by English-based production companies. Question Time is a good example of the breed. Audiences are invited into studio set-ups to add drama, to boost tension, ya boo politics seen as better to increase ratings than civil discourse, the gladiatorial preferred to consultation and conciliation.

Audience members are invited to put questions, but those tend to be steered or edited, if not fully written, by the producer to ensure topically and brevity. Audience questions add little to open debate that an informed chairman could not ask. (Why not a panel of well-prepared journalists against a panel of politicians, or a group of well-informed members of the public?) Patronising shows like Question Time reinforce there exists a power elite untouchable, our elders and betters. We are the lumpen Proletariat. All-female versions are aimed at stay-at-home mums, just as patronising. How many politicians supporting independence, or Scottish celebrities of a like mind will refuse an invitation to take part in those sort of them-and-us programmes is another matter.

The other aspect of political debating shows to consider is how false is the democracy supposedly inherent. Politicians taking part may well get an impression of the public mood but do they do anything about it afterwards? Do they try to alleviate public disquiet or anger? Do they arrive back in their office to instruct secretary and civil servants to provide them with data on the issues expressed the evening before, and then prepare a question for Parliament? Do they care? Or are they more concerned with how best to sell a rise in their salary to the public laid low by austerity and wage freezes?

And the rest of us

The rest of us who take part in debate programmes or watch them are left with the false impression we took part in the democratic process. The politician, on the other hand, goes home breathing a sigh of relief he or she mustered through without too many faux pas or blunders. They count the times they parrot the party political line.

It’s the equivalent of Hapless Gordon discussing immigration with a woman on the canvass hustings, and then overheard dismissing her comments as ‘bigotry.’

In summation

Will a call to boycott BBC Scotland be successful?

I doubt it. A few notable Yes supporters have already told BBC Scotland staff where to shove their invitations. Declining paid work and media exposure might be too much for the majority to sacrifice. The corollary is we deny ourselves the chance to state the opposing political opinion and the public to hear it.

A paucity of intellectual contributions will allow mediocrity to flourish, such as the self-styled political pundit, David Torrance, almost certainly doubling appearances, convincing him he’s an academic of considerable cultural learning, and a gifted wordsmith.

Finally, who will know if you turned down an invitation, and why, to talk on television or radio unless you announce it? Where do you do that if you eschew all participation?

Meanwhile, the gross unfairness that is the vast amount of licence fees paid by Scotland in comparison to what BBC London gives back in productions from Scotland and commissions remains an intolerable injustice. Like Scotland and the ‘allowance’ awarded it by the UK Treasury, BBC London gives its Scottish ‘outpost’ a modest budget, a stipend.

The best protest, in my opinion, is to stop paying your BBC licence fee that inflates BBC London’s coffers to the detriment of Scottish output, and watch programmes on iPad instead, if you have one, or read a good book. Maybe talking to you family and friends will enrich your life a lot more than watching BBC’s Scotland’s well-filtered transmissions.

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9 Responses to Boycotting BBC Scotland

  1. K1 says:

    Hi Grouse,

    The thing is surely a boycott is exactly what principled people do, when overwhelming evidence shows the BBC in Scotland chose not to take the Independence question seriously? As the public broadcaster it was bound by its remit to present information in a non biased way to the public. Instead it acted as the rUK goverenment’s mouthpiece on the issue. By doing so it did not present any of the arguments from the Yes side in any kind of fair, balalnced and impartial way.

    Blinded as you say from it’s position regarding the SNP: “BBC Scotland still sees Scotland’s elected government as something suspect or worse, alien, a disagreeable attitude evident in its disrespect for that institution and anyone with the tag ‘SNP’ hanging from their lapel.” The BBC in Scotland was already in a state of imbalance leading up to the referendum, because its skewed approach toward our current elected government had already renderred it myopic, imbalanced and in no position to be regarded in any way ‘impartial’.

    This I understand: “For many, their entire income is derived from BBC contract, be it soap series such River City, or a role in a UK produced drama. I include writers. Their chosen vocation relies on BBC or STV offers of work. For documentary makers, or series producers, such as the Beechgrove Garden, life will become intolerable.” And this too is part of the problem. For the glaringly obvious reason that we are now still part of the exisiting constitutional arrangement that has tied the hands of many, at whatever levels of societal engagement we are part of.

    Can those that voted yes amongst these professionals not detach themselves from the ‘teat’ of thier own security and consider joining forces with the up and coming newly forming broadcasting initiatives that are currently taking shape? Can they not now consider that the organisation of which they are allieged to for thier bread and butter, is the same organisation that was instrumental in maintaining the very system that will cause even more difficulty to those poorer and less well off than them?

    It’s almost, Grouse, as if you then go on to say; look there’s every point in withdrawing pundits, cause they don’t get thier message across anyway. There’s every point in not being a member of the audience in the political debates, because they are just a circus. There’s every point to not indulge in being interviewed in the street, cause you’re just being used for a ‘skewed’ piece of vox pop. There’s every point in withdrawing your license fee…which ironically reduces the numbers of viewers and thereby reduces the exposure of the very people you say whose ‘life’s will become intolerable” as they are so dependent on this for thier income. You seem to be advocating a partial boycott. But how can they be seperated out, when they are intrinsically linked?

    You then round up a bit at the end with this: “Meanwhile, the gross unfairness of the vast amount of licence fee paid by Scotland in comparison to what BBC London gives back remains anintolerable injustice, leaving BBC Scotland as pathetically irrelevant to our culture and endeavours as ever.” So why the heck would we not want to boycott them and squeeze them out as they are ‘irrelevant to our future’. Surely you can see that there is a ‘price to pay’ if you stick to your principles?

    Jeez Grouse, people have been losing thier houses because they have an extra bedroom that the UK government has decided is surplus and therefore they must pay extra for it or move. Most of the most vulnerable people in our society have been affected by this. Our, much hated by the BBC, Scottish government went to great lengths to mitigate this. They had no other ‘voice’ to speak out for them. The creative talent that you say will suffer if we boycott this…they have other options. Use them. FInd a different route.

    Personally I don’t have a license. I haven’t for many years. It’s not a boycott for me. It’s a principled stance.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    I enjoyed your response, K1. Difficult to find anything I am at odds with.

    On artistes boycotting BBC Scotland: its near impossible for contract musicians. (I omit them from my essay for music is a minefield.) Others have families to feed. Some chose regular BBC work in order to have a family life rather than take the unsettled, unsure freelance road. Stand up comic, Fred MacAulay, is one example. I am sure he must miss the cut and thrust of live audience gigs but he’s compensated with a reasonable family life denied the peripatetic, nomadic entertainer.

    I’m unsure if Wings advocates a complete ban on BBC involvement – somebody will put me right, but …

    For the reasons I enumerate an outright, comprehensive ban is almost impossible, but I can see how political journalists, and others asked to contribute to political shows, could and should say no. My only caveat is there ought to be a way of making their protest public. How else can the general public be made aware of justified antipathy to BBC’s meagre and skewed output?

  3. K1 says:

    Perhaps regarding the ‘caveat’ those who feel they wish to make a prinicpled stance by non contribution could write an open letter to the the BBC, STV and of course the newspapers. They at once declare thier position and by doing so indicate to the public at large that they are on the side of open and honest discourse. They may well find by doing so, a much brighter future awaits them, because at least they have shown some courage in the face of such powerful organisations.

    They of course, depending on how ‘entrenched’ would have to abandon thier loyalties, and for some this may seem too big a price, nonetheless, they would have the support of a vast grassroots movement who are eager for those in positions within the establishment to come forward and more importantly articulate and reflect the true state of affairs currently unfolding in Scotland.

    This is why I suggest joining forces with the newly forming broadcasting enterprises that, I feel, will become an increasingly potent force within the political context in Scotland, and will utlmately alter and transform the narrative and the way we perceive our ‘place’ within the UK constitutional context.

    I think you get where I’m coming from with this.

    WIth regard the ‘musicians’, yes this is a minefield. Many from the ‘classical’ side are contracted to various (BBC included) orchestras and have to travel and work many unpaid hours and other jobs to maintain thier llivelihoods. People often think, mistakenly that they are well paid for thier pains, They I think were very ‘turned off’ independence as I think they felt thier contracts would be under threat, not the least because of all the ‘threats’ from on high regarding programming and BBC services being wiped out if we voted Yes. (sigh…)

    And yes again, a minefield, regarding those who are tied in and have ‘comfortable’ family lives to consider.

    I don’t know how if it’s possible to pick and choose what to ‘boycott’.

    I would say if the general aim, is to ‘starve’ them of revenue, by means of withdrawal of the license fee. Then as I said in my first response, that actually in practice does entail diminishing returns for those whose careers are dependent on working for the BBC is those capacities. So maybe my contention still stands…they are talented individuals, still in more fortunate positions than the vast majority, they have to find other options if they principally wish to see Scotland thrive for the many, not just the few.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    I don’t know how if it’s possible to pick and choose what to ‘boycott’.

    Fair point. Staying clear of political punditary isolates the BBC, stopping them from claiming they present a ‘balanced’ view, but it does not stop them presenting a one-sided view. In that instance, they are free to say and do as they please without contradiction, adding the expected, “We asked a representative of the SNP to take part but they declined.’

    That in turn has Mr Joe Public complain he elected his representative to represent him but instead he refuses to take part in debates.

  5. K1 says:

    Thought you might enjoy this article from Bellacaledonia today. Author Richard Lewis making his case for broadcasting being devolved via Smith commission.

    “Let’s all hope Lord Smith seizes this opportunity, takes seriously the case for repatriation of broadcasting powers and helps bring about the change in the sector which both Scotland and it’s artists so urgently require.”

    http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/10/18/lord-smith-home-rule-and-broadcasting/

    • Grouse Beater says:

      I read that submission, K1. Interesting. Thoughtful.

      My family and I have been lucky in the arts – our reputations were made outside Scotland though our work originated here and has left its mark. Had we not been noticed elsewhere we would never have been invited outside Scotland – the fate of many a talent, sad to say.

      On restructuring BBC Scotland …

      My issue with subsuming an existing organisation by giving it a new brief and title is loyalty displaced or disaffected.

      It is better to create a new institution and then invite application to it, in the case of creating a truly Scottish-orientated broadcasting service, selecting those who exhibit enthusiasm and a dedication to open and truthful journalism. You have to create a healthy ethos from the start.

  6. hektorsmum says:

    We have been divided on this matter in my house most of the way through the Referendum. Husband would rather that the YES politicians did not go onto programmes where, lets face it they never and I do mean never got a fair shake. My argument was that they should attend but at the first sign that they were not going to be allowed to speak they simply do what has been done before get up, unclip the mike and leave, protesting of course.
    As for others, I am not sure that boycotting what may be the only work you can get is a good idea. Enough people in Britain are suffering due to lack of work or lack of pay without making matters worse for them.
    One thing we do need though is a proper broadcasting system, not sure I want a BBC style organisation, the trouble is and it can be seen very clearly since Andrew Gilligan and Kelly, and Levenson is that Government have got control over both these organisations, the BBC and I am sure through threats the MSM.

  7. bjsalba says:

    I have not paid a licence fee since I returned to Scotland in 2005. I thought that the cost exceeded the value of the product by a long way. I don’t miss it.

    I do listen to a ilttle of what is on radio, but I am now so suspicious of everything the BBC puts out that I need another trusted source before I give it any credence.

    Currently the BBC is banging on about how poorly the German economy is doing. I have not been able to confirm that from another source, SO I GIVE IT NO CREDENCE WHATSOEVER.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    I have a couple of German friends, very successful business people, who visit Edinburgh each year to see old friends and the city the like. I trust their opinion more than any three minute news bulletin.

    I feel as you do, BBC Scotland is a lost cause, That said, they must be haemorrhaging staff. When morale is low good staff tend to look elsewhere for job satisfaction. There are rumblings from within, the unions, for example, but then, the unions were forever at odds with BBC management, yet year after year, BBC did what it wanted to do, and squandered our money on empire building projects later scrapped, vast salaries and golden handshakes.

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