By Bob Duncan
At the beginning of the 1980s, I met the lovely girl who would later become my wife. She was a Persian student who had become trapped in Scotland by the Iranian revolution. 

Susan's family were all back in Iran and she, with no immediate prospect of being able to return home, was completely cut off from them.  In those days they shot dissident students as they arrived at Tehran airport.

This was when I first came into regular contact with the BBC World Service.  We both listened to the English language news service nightly, trying to get a clear view of events in Iran as they unfolded.  News was difficult to come by as foreign journalists were extremely unwelcome.

The Iranian state broadcaster carried nothing but propaganda.  During those years, the BBC was a lifeline for Susan and the many other Persian exiles we knew back then.  We later heard that the Farsi language version of the World Service was equally important to those inside Iran.  The first act of the Islamic revolutionaries was to take over the radio and television stations and so control their output.

This is standard practice in all revolutions and military coups.  The BBC then became the main source of news for huge numbers of ordinary Iranians, despite the severe punishments awaiting those who were caught tuning in.

Since then, I have met people from a wide range of troubled countries.  Many of them had similar tales of praise for the BBC World Service as their main source of unbiased news coverage, particularly concerning their own country. 

Despite recent cuts in the World Service provision, the BBC has, to this day, an unparalleled reputation as a fearless and impartial international news broadcaster and is relied upon by millions of people worldwide.

Naturally, both the BBC and the people of the UK are justifiably proud of this reputation.

However, the one thing I did not expect, when listening to those 80's radio broadcasts with Susan, was that I would find myself in the same position thirty years later.  My state broadcaster, along with the rest of the main stream media in Scotland and throughout the UK, is so heavily partisan in favour of unionism that large sections of the news are effectively state propaganda.

Scotland and the wider UK are in a state of political and constitutional upheaval, due to the rise of the SNP and the independence movement, and particularly due to the imminence of the referendum. It is hardly armed revolution, but the parallels with Iran are clear.

The most obvious of these is that I now find myself increasingly reliant on foreign news broadcasters, such as Al-Jazeera and Russia Today, as I search for a full and impartial report of what is happening in my own country. And I am not alone in doing this.

It is particularly damning in the case of the BBC.  At a UK level we are subjected to relentless sycophancy on matters of monarchy and an oppressively metrocentric view of the world.  The beeb is being used as a weapon by a UK government which is desperate to keep the union together at any cost. The independence movement is subject to a war of attrition and, as in all wars, the first victim has been the truth.

BBC Scotland, however, is guilty of a degree of bias which is simultaneously far deeper and endemic but also more subtle than the “national” BBC. We are subjected to regular doping of interview panels and audiences with British Nats, negative spinning of news to the advantage of the unionists and the effective censorship of stories which could reflect well on the SNP or independence movement.

There is a level of partiality here, and a growing realisation of its extent, which is beginning to gnaw away at that enviable BBC reputation which was built up by the World Service over so many years.

And that, I believe, is the key.

A concerted popular campaign to embarrass BBC Scotland could well help to reduce, if not remove, this bias. It will need to undermine the reputation of the service, not only in Scotland, but throughout the world, for it is their international reputation for impartiality which the BBC holds so dear.

And it is that very worldwide prestige which will be at risk if Scots begin to use their international connections to reveal the dreadful bias of the institution at home.

The complaints we have made thus far may already be having an effect. Recently there has been an apparent (slight) increase in positive stories and even the occasional balanced panel.

The last-minute insertion of Nicol Sturgeon, replaced by Alex Neil after the legionnaires' outbreak, into a shockingly imbalanced Question Time panel for Inverness, would seem to have been a response to pressure from Cybernats and the SNP.  The substitution of Green MSP Partick Harvie for the usual LibDem on the recent Big Debate may have been a cynical attempt to expose divisions in the indie camp, but the balance showed how things could and should be.

It seems we may also see the end of the constant use of pejorative language by BBC correspondents and presenters, including the use of separation, divorce and break-up and their ilk. So far so good.

This rebalancing, if that is what it is, is very tentative and quite subtle but it might represent real progress. We should keep up the pressure, at home and abroad, and see if the BBC can be pushed back closer towards impartiality, as we begin the independence debate proper.  It is just possible that all is not yet lost at Pacific Quay.

Meanwhile, Iranians are still imprisoned for listening to foreign news, but Susan can now speak with her family on Skype, keep up to date on Facebook, and share family photographs in emails.  Iran may be largely unchanged, but this is no longer the 1980s.

This is 2012 and we are winning the argument online and in the new media.


# Mark 2012-06-08 22:52
This maybe interesting and relevant;

BBC Bias against Scottish independence on Russia Today. 30/04/2012:
# expat67 2012-06-09 00:35
Thanks Mark
Have to admit being out of UK at the moment I do watch a lot of BBC world and have to say it is very short on ANY news about Scotland and the Indendence debate, but I suppose that is more understandable considering their target
# davemsc 2012-06-09 09:40
Fascinating! Thanks for adding the link. As someone who has found himself complaining to the BBC several times on various issues over the last couple of years, I've experienced their unwillingness to listen to any sort of criticism. They need to be made to understand that denials of partiality do not make them impartial. If we the public find them partial, they are more than likely behaving partially.
# ttwapies 2012-06-09 02:29
Founded on the principles of independence, fairness and impartiality, the BBC's Editorial Guidelines require that it "will never promote a particular view on controvercial matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy".

Despite this, the BBC is and always has been the voice of the British empire, managing public perception and spewing forth endless propganda. As such, it has probably been the establishment's most powerfull weapon for post-colonial imperial agression, the World Service in particular. Possibly why Iranians are treated so harshly for listening to it, so as not to allow the cancer to spread.

It is clear that the BBC is becoming increasingly assertive in this roll, constantly drumming out a bullying dogma of unquestioning unionism, a free-trade neo-liberal orthodoxy (i.e. globalism)
and of course the War of (sorry) on Terror. Precisely what is needed to protect "British" interests around the world, now that privatiering, slavery, drug peddeling and plunder through the East India Company are no longer socialy acceptible.

It is more than sad that the BBC can not be relied upon to provide honest and balanced news, it is clearly criminal. If held under the 1946 Nuremberg Judgements, the BBC would surely be found complicit in the war crime of "enciting and encouraging the commission of war crimes by deliberately falsifying the news". Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and now Syria, all grosely misreported.

More and more people are waking up to the true "nature" of the BBC and are increasingly looking elswhere for their news. Surely the budding of a waiting audience for an independent Scottish broadcasting service. One which would hopefully deliver the BBC's long forgotten principles of independence, fairness and impartiality.
# UpSpake 2012-06-09 07:29
For those of us who took the trouble to be at Pacific Quay two Saturdays ago, we all realised that it was the first example of resistance to propaganda.
The UK media were totally uninterested in reporting/mentioning this event as it exposed the mypoic Londoncentric view they all have towards Scotland. We are their irrelevance.
Meanwhile BBC Scotland carry on as normal unconcerned by such a small interference to their well funded hegemony in Scotland.
For some time now I have been watching the news output from both STV and BBC in Glasgow, virtually identical both in content and delivery. Collusion, perhaps, they are next door to each other after all.
No matter what the reson is the fact ramains that news delivery in Scotland is an utter disgrace. We are not jailed for not paying for STV so why should that be the case for not paying for the BBC ?.
# Exile 2012-06-13 12:58
How can anyone be jailed for not paying for the BBC? Is it not a civil matter? Surely?
# red kite 2012-06-09 07:51
Yes Bob, back in the day I worked alongside an Iranian - he called himself Persian - and during the 'troubles' he paced up and down, he came into my office, he wandered around all the time. He was listening to a small radio all day, and got phone calls frequently with news.
It is a lifeline, a real psychological lifeline, the news that passes along to people. It can hurt, it can soothe, it has a power of its own. And that's why it is such a valuable commodity.
If news is freely shared it is respected in its own right, it is valued, and it is an essential component of a democracy.
That is why dictatorships and oppressive regimes try their utmost to restrict free distribution of news. What does that imply for Scotland, when we analyse the quality of 'news' from our state broadcaster ?
# tartanfever 2012-06-09 08:28
Also Bob, you should know that a large slice of funding for the World Service came from the Foreign Office, so the BBC had to behave themselves. Interestingly, the Foreign Office has dropped that funding in the last couple of years, so expect a decline in service.
# ituna semea 2012-06-09 09:37
The comparison of the BBC to the Iranian State Broadcaster is risible, of course just because you are paranoiac it doesn't mean they are not out to get you.
# scottish_skier 2012-06-12 20:48
Half my colleagues (oil and gas) are Iranian, with a number of these very good friends.

They used to like the BBC. Not anymore; they see it as having an agenda, both with respect to their own country and the one they currently find themselves living in.

State TV is state TV no matter where you go.
# BillCo 2012-06-09 11:13
They wouldn't have the guts to have Max Keiser on Question Time. His on-the-button reporting of the truth of what is going on in the world economic crisis would blow the BBC's pathetic and establishemnt orientated reporting out of the water. So we just have to tune into RT twice a week to get the real warts and all facts from Max.
# Grenscot 2012-06-09 22:33
Having been on the ground in a few situations over the years that have been reported by BBC World Service I know that what they report does not always reflect the reality of what is actually happening

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