It was with more than a small degree of interest that I noticed an article by the on-line magazine ‘The Scottish Times’ this morning.
The article in question reported an approach from the SDA(Scottish Democratic Alliance) to both the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The approach in the form of a memorandum warned of the potential for the UK Government to politically interfere in Scotland’s referendum, and further more, its failure to observe international law by asserting that only it has the legal competence to legislate for the plebiscite.It went on to ask both these organisations to monitor the forth coming referendum closely, in order to ensure that it took place without outside interference,and was carried out to the highest standards of fairness and competence.
I was particularly Interested in this approach for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, because I had written much the same myself to the Scottish Government in their consultation, asking for them to involve both these European organisations in monitoring the referendum,as I too had my concerns over the strict impartiality of the Electoral commission, in that it is part of Westminsters machinery of government, and previous dubious decisions it had made.
Secondly; I had been researching documents, legislation and recommendations of the Council of Europe on the application of Public Service Broadcasting in Europe.
As much as both I and the SDA have obvious concerns that Westminster is seeking to seize control over the referendum, and hijack its application to its own purposes,and we both see where it is advantageous for Europe to take a close interest in monitoring it.
My concern, which has been heightened recently, is in the roles of our foreign owned press, and the BBC as our public service broadcaster may have in shaping public opinion.
There is little that can be done about the propaganda of our privately owned press,for we have individual control over whether or not we choose to buy their publications.
Our public service broadcaster is a different matter entirely, for we are legally bound to pay for it, in order to watch t.v in this country.It in turn has particular responsibility to be fair and balanced,objective, and above all independent from political or State interference in its broadcasting.
There are specific rules and guidelines laid down, on how it can behave, and how it discharges its responsibilities.
The matters taking place at the weekend, which I have recently commented on, where there was interference by the BBC’s senior political advisor, in preventing Alex Salmond from taking up an offer to act in a non political capacity for their sports coverage, set alarm bells ringing in my head.
The First Ministers comments, of which much has been made of and commented upon,carried a very significant warning, yet our press have chosen to ignore the weightier part of his comment and focussed instead on the smoke screen sent up by the Unionist fake outrage over the use of one word.
So let me remind you of what was actually said;
Alex Salmond dismissed the ban as being “what you get in tin-pot dictatorships. I’m afraid it looks like the BBC are on the run from Downing Street at the present moment or being run from Downing Street.”
What he was in fact suggesting was that, either the BBC are being put under State pressure to comply with State demands, through the application of threats to their budget,particularly in these grim economic times where they have been forced into severe cutbacks already. Or they are actually being run politically direct from Downing Street!
Now these are really serious accusations! Far more than the usage of the word ‘Gauleiter’. Yet the press has entirely failed to address them! Why?
Never mind the implications for any Scottish referendum, the suggestion of the possibility that the British Government is even seeking to politically control our British National Broadcaster in any way, is to create a ‘Tin Pot’ dictatorship in an allegedly democratic country!
These are really serious suggestions, the implications are horrendous for our whole democracy. Again I ask, why have the press not picked up on this? We are entering into George Orwell 1984 territory here.
It is the use of such implication which suggests to me that Alex Salmond did indeed use the word ‘Gauleiter’ in its historical context along with it’s current meaning. The word is a two edged sword meaning either/or both, that Ric Bailey was an insufferable bureaucrat and/ or that he was doing the States bidding as it’s political overseer in the BBC,carrying out it’s instructions, like a Gauleiter of Nazi Germany ruling a local community.
The use of the word is highly significant, and it’s implications are horrendous.
So again, I ask, why did nobody in our press chase this down, and ask the really serious questions it suggests?
What gives Alex Salmonds suggestion more credence is an event which also took place after last weekend,(Mon) and went almost unnoticed.
A radio listener reported the following;
“I noted today that around 15:40hrs, Alasdair Campbell was on the Steve Wright show on radio 2. He was there to talk about his appearance on sky arts where he will be seen performing playing the bagpipes and about a new book that he has written. Mr Campbell’s appointment wasn’t cancelled by the BBC at the last minute, unlike Scotland’s first minister, however for approx half the airtime allocated he did manage to talk about Labour and how he just thinks that Alex Salmond is plain wrong. Jings I thought that there was local council elections coming up in May”(Gary Oman)
The immediate question arises, Why was Alasdair Campbell(Tony Blair’s Head political Spin Doctor) allowed carte blanche to spin a whole load of anti independence rhetoric on the BBC’s most listened to radio station without constraint,while Alex Salmond was prevented from appearing on a sports programme covered by radio 5,having made explicit assurances that he would not talk politics?
Mr Bailey has some explaining to do!
The BBC is skating on thin Ice, and is in danger of falling in.
Not just with the events surrounding the weekend, but their whole political and news coverage must come under scrutiny. On Monday night I noted in a previous article their subliminal use of imagery in a BBC Scotland Newsnight programme, where they used an Image giving a negative perception of the Independence campaign, on a programme which didn’t cover Scottish politics, or the referendum, or Independence at all.
There are specific European guidelines on Public Service broadcasting, and the BBC are coming rather close to breaking them, if they have not already done so?
Let me refer you to the following Council of Europe recommendations.
(PSM stands for Public Service Media)
” States must guarantee the independence of PSM from any kind of political
or social control, in deciding their internal organisation. ”
In effect the composition of the BBC Trust has to be examined in relationship to the political connections and influences of it’s board
“must ensure that the day-to-day management including the editorial
responsibility for programme schedules and the content
of programmes is a matter decided entirely by the broadcasters
This is the aspect Alex Salmond was questioning with his comments about Mr Bailey. Had there been political interference in the decision to ban Alex Salmond from taking up his invitation to appear on the sports programme?
They should adopt appropriate structures such as
pluralistic internal boards or other independent bodies,177 ensuring
that people with clear party political affiliations do not hold
senior management positions within PSM.178 In the Manole case,
People with clear party affiliations are not supposed to hold senior management positions within the PSM. The BBC in Scotland are driving a coach and horses through this recommendation, particularly in regard to their senior news and political and on-line editors.
But some of their reporters have had previous Labour affiliations too.
the Court further held that the state has a duty to ensure that the
public has access through television and radio to impartial and
accurate information and a range of opinions and comments,
reflecting the diversity of political outlook within the country”
With regards to the PSM itself;
“As noted above, the human rights approach to PSM shall identify
the rights holders and duty bearers. In this respect, PSM are not only rights holders. The Council of Europe standards-setting instruments define specific obligations for them. PSM should:
– fulfil their mandate and act in accordance with the law, like all
– create and distribute content without interference by public authorities
and private interest groups (institutional independence).”
“Resolution 1636 (2008) states that public service broadcasters
should establish in-house codes of conduct for journalistic work
and editorial independence from political influence;182″
The above is all from a CoE report on Human rights and a changing media landscape, and highlights clearly to me areas of concern with regards to the BBC and it’s operations at various levels.
Now lets look at legislation and a Court Ruling with regards to one of the cases mentioned in the above report.
the OSCE and Council of Europe jointly published the following “Benchmarks for the Operation of Public Broadcasters in the Republic of Moldova”: but you can take it as applying in every European country.
““1. Public Television and Radio should
• give a complete, accurate, impartial, balanced and objective overview over political, economic, social and cultural developments in the Republic of Moldova;
• provide a comprehensive picture over the real situation in the country;
• encourage viewers to form their own individual opinion in a free manner;
• reflect cultural and regional diversity;”
2. Factual programs shall be impartial, this means they shall be fair, accurate and shall maintain a proper respect for truth. A program may choose to explore any subject at any point on the spectrum of debate, as long as there are good editorial reasons for doing so. It may choose to test or report one side of a particular argument. However, it must do so with fairness and integrity. It should ensure that opposing views are not misrepresented.
3. News reports have to be rigorously sourced and verified. Information should be broadcast as a fact only if it is verified by two independent sources. Acceptable exceptions to the double-source requirement are fact directly confirmed by a reporter of the public broadcaster or significant news drawn from official announcements of a nation or an organization. When a secondary source offers exclusive significant news which cannot be verified by using a second source, the information should be attributed to the originating agency by name.
4. News should be presented with due accuracy and impartiality. Reporting should be dispassionate, wide-ranging and well-informed. It should present a comprehensive description of events, reporting an issue in a reliable and unbiased way. The main differing views should be given due weight in the period of which the controversy is active.
5. In case a number of programs are clearly interlinked and form de facto a series on reports of related issues, impartiality can be achieved over the entire series. Editorial programs, for example, should give over one month approximate equal time to representatives of the government and the parliamentary majority on the one hand and the opposition on the other hand on related issues. In case a number of programs are broadcast under the same title, but deal with separate issues, impartiality has to be reached within every individual program.
6. Due impartiality is of special importance in major matters of controversy. It should be especially insured that a full range of significant views and perspectives are heard during the period in which the controversy is active.
7. The public broadcaster should provide live coverage of all or parts of parliamentary debates in which issues of extraordinary importance are discussed. Coverage of debates in parliament has to be balanced. Therefore live coverage of such debates should not be interrupted before or during the intervention of opposition speakers and should not be ended before the leading opposition speakers have replied to the speeches of government officials or representatives of the majority faction.
8. News should include regular reports on debates in parliament. Reports on parliamentary debates should give equal air time to the arguments of the government and the majority faction on the one hand and the opposition on the other hand.
9. Reports on activities of the president and the government should include or should be followed by statements and comments by representatives of the opposition and representatives of institutions or organizations directly affected by these activities.
10. Whenever a program voices strong criticism or charges directed against an individual or an organization, with iniquity or incompetence or when charges or accusations made by third persons are reported in the program, those criticized should be given a fair opportunity to respond. As a rule, the response or balancing information should be included in the first use of a news item or feature containing the material. If the response or balancing information cannot be obtained by program deadline, or the subject of the charge declines to comment, that will be made clear in the public broadcaster’s account and the response or balancing information will be broadcast as soon as it is available. In particular, when a government official or member of the parliamentary majority directly criticizes an individual or an organization, the reaction of the individual or organization criticized should be included in the report or should follow immediately. The time provided for reply should as a rule equal the time of the critic.
11. In case the President, the Speaker of Parliament or the Prime Minister give an interview longer than three minutes or a speech on public TV or Radio the leaders of the opposition parliamentary factions should be given within 24 hours the possibility to comment on the remarks made on public TV or radio respectively.
12. Representatives of non-governmental organizations should be given access to public TV and Radio to voice their opinion on developments or government actions connected to their field of activity.
13. Live talk shows on political, social, economic and cultural issues should form a regular part of the programs of public TV and Radio. Invited participants should always reflect a balanced selection of representatives from government, parliament, political parties, civil society, business community, churches or international organizations, depending on the nature of the topic. The refusal of an organization or an individual to take part in a program should not be allowed to act as a veto. The reasons for the absence of an organization or an individual should be explained and as far as possible a fair representation of the views of the missing contributor based on what is already known should be provided.
14. During election campaigns the public media should provide adequate opportunity, on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis, for election contestants to inform the public about their candidacies and political programs. It should provide active media coverage of the preparation and conduct of the elections and should provide voters with unbiased information and education.
15. Serious factual error should be admitted, clearly, frankly and without delay.
16. Facts should not only be got right, but also language should be fair. Exaggerations should be avoided and language should not be used inadvertently so as to suggest value judgments, commitment or lack of objectivity.
17. The use of unattributed pejorative terms or labels to describe persons or organizations should be avoided at all times. Only when the individuals and groups use those labels to describe themselves or their activities an exception might be made.
18. Commentary should always respect the truth and should never be used to give the audience a dishonest impression of events.
19. In news and other factual programs events should neither be fabricated, distorted or dramatized.
24. Editorial independence should be guaranteed. Neither political nor commercial considerations should unduly influence the content of a broadcast program.
In amongst all of the above, there are a number of areas that need to be closely examined into how BBC Scotlands news is presented, particularly with regards to any interference from London,but also the use of language in reporting political events. but also how political programming is conducted,and how views are expressed or edited.
It is my contention that the BBC has been skating on thin ice for quite some time, and it needs to be watched closely.
With regards to its coverage of political debate on the issue of Independence It cannot continue to apply a party political representation of debate. It has to be seen to balance fairly at all times the views for and against Independence. Carrying 3 Unionist views against One Nationalist view in a programme is not acceptable balance on the issue!
The Scottish Times SDA Article
CoE Media consultation document
European Court of Human Rights
Case v Moldova on Media PSM abuses Judgement