Since its inception as an online news outlet, this site has made clear its editorial stance when it comes to independence. There’s nothing unique in adopting a stance, indeed every news outlet takes its own editorial line.
Actually it’s not true to say that every news outlet adopts a position, some broadcasters don’t, and into that category one would place the BBC and STV.
BBC and STV, it’s fair to say, are the leading news providers in Scotland and both take pride in their much vaunted political neutrality. Whether either are neutral in practice is a debate for another day.
Just over one week ago the CBI announced it had registered with the Electoral Commission in order to be recognised as an official No campaigner. The CBI is a London based business lobbying group which has for some time signalled its opposition to Scottish independence.
It has a Scottish branch called, not surprisingly, CBI Scotland. The membership of CBI Scotland has been a matter of some debate for a number of years. Most observers agree however that it has no more than 90 members – even less now.
One day after it emerged that the CBI had formally backed the No campaign, STV quit as a member. Very noble you might think, and in truth STV did act with admirable haste.
Quite why the broadcaster was a member of a group which had frequently made its opposition to a Yes vote known in numerous public statements, is unknown … but STV’s membership, like the CBI’s reputation, is no longer.
Notwithstanding the exodus of other organisations which had also decided membership of the CBI was no longer helpful to their own public profile, the big story remained the decision of the CBI to register with the Electoral Commission.
That was until Thursday when to the shock of many, including its own employees, the BBC was revealed to be a member.
I have to admit to being genuinely shocked at the news. Like STV, the BBC had been paying membership fees to an organisation that the BBC itself had recently began to acknowledge was against Scottish independence.
But there was more. The news that the BBC was a CBI member was not accompanied as one might have expected, with an announcement by the state broadcaster that it was quitting the CBI forthwith, but rather the BBC let it be known it was considering its position.
Why? was my own immediate thought. At that precise moment in time the BBC was an implicit supporter of Better Together. Licence payer’s cash was being funnelled into an organisation which had formally declared itself to be a campaigner against a Yes vote. Yet the BBC prevaricated.
I can still hardly believe it. But there was worse to come.
Compounding the situation, the BBC eventually announced that it would continue its CBI membership up until May 30th, which is the formal beginning of the period within which strict rules governing the referendum must be adhered to.
As you read this, the situation remains unchanged and your licence fee is now funding the Better Together campaign. That the CBI is trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube and reverse its registration is irrelevant, as things stand it is part of the No campaign.
Former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman has revealed that news staff at BBC Scotland will hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the situation.
That we’ve reached this point at all is almost a parody of the BBC’s entire handling of the referendum. It’s surreal.
This is the end of the road for the BBC in Scotland. Whatever happens at the meeting in Pacific Quay is totally irrelevant. You are watching end game.
Why was the BBC a secret member of the CBI at all? Why in the name of goodness does a body that is allowed to legally extort payment from householders, require to be a member of a right wing lobbying group which has links to the Conservative party?
For several years the CBI, or more precisely the CBI in Scotland, has had access to BBC Scotland’s substantial media platform in which to promote its ideological opposition to independence and it has used this to good effect.
Indeed CBI Scotland director, Iain McMillan is even granted the privilege of a Christmas message!
In TV and radio broadcasts as well as online, McMillan has been portrayed by the BBC in Scotland as a spokesperson for Scottish business. It’s usual for Mr McMillan to be termed a ‘business leader’, which of course lends authority and credibility to each and every one of his utterances.
Even if it were true and CBI Scotland was indeed expressing the views of most of its members, then the BBC was opposing independence by proxy. If McMillan was speaking on behalf of his membership then he was speaking on behalf of the BBC.
The BBC has only now revealed its own membership of this politically partisan body, but it hasn’t confirmed if it was consulted on the decision to register with the Electoral Commission. That is surely something licence payers deserve to know.
The BBC Trust has found BBC Scotland guilty of misleading viewers in reporting of a key referendum issue – the report benefited the No campaign. An academic study has found evidence of a pro-Union bias in TV news coverage.
Now we learn that one of the bodies the BBC once regularly portrayed as a neutral but concerned observer of Scottish politics was in fact contracted through membership to act on behalf of the BBC. That same body, as well as registering with the Electoral Commission, has published a significant volume of anti-independence material on its website.
I said some time ago that the BBC blundered when it failed to evolve in line with what was happening during the devolution period. After 1997, broadcasting ought to have been devolved.
It had a second chance when the SNP won its first term in 2007 but again did nothing save for upping its anti-SNP rhetoric.
In 2011, circumstance gave it a third bite at the cherry when the SNP won a historic majority. At that point management should have acknowledged the seismic event and readied the broadcaster for the referendum. It did nothing and has allowed events to overtake it - it's stuck in a time warp.
The product being served up by BBC Scotland in terms of coverage of the referendum is dire. There’s no imaginative programming and virtually no attempt at exploring in mature fashion the key issues.
Debates are reduced to puerile shouting matches with the same questions featuring again and again and the same scripted answers. The same talking heads turn up saying the same thing over and over on the limited current affairs programmes available.
Daytime radio offers us Morning Call. A programme designed to allow poorly informed people to display their own ignorance and in some cases their political prejudices, to the world.
The truth is the BBC in Scotland has blown the referendum. The CBI episode merely reinforces the extent of the arrogant blundering that has placed political agenda in front of honest journalism.
Iain McMillan has announced he is to step down as head of the CBI in Scotland. In truth a move already planned, but spun nonetheless in an attempt to take the heat from his superiors in London who so miscalculated the political mood in Scotland.
If there is any justice, tomorrow’s meeting at Pacific Quay will result in the removal of John Boothman and Kenneth MacQuarrie from their respective posts. For the BBC in Scotland, the game is up.
[Newsnet comment. This morning on Good Morning Scotland they reported on a press release claiming that the coming months would be the best for the UK economy. In the introduction to the news item, there was no mention of the constitutional stance of the organisation who issued the press release. The organisation was the CBI.]