A bit of balance goes a long way

I spent many hours of my childhood, when bad weather prevented me from kicking a ball, watching a diet of programming from the British Broadcasting Corporation’s TV schedule, including such innocent shows as “Top of the Pops, it’s a Knockout, Jim’ll Fix It” and “Rolf Harris’s Cartoon Time.”

As I got a wee bit older I became familiar with the gritty BBC productions of Peter McDougall reflecting the harsh 1970’s and 80’s urban decay, industrial decline and social deprivation of the central belt of Scotland, Play For Today broadcasts like “Just Another Saturday, The Elephants Graveyard, Just A Boy’s Game” and later “Down Where The Buffalo Go.”

These were thought-provoking dramas telling the story of desperate people in equally desperate times, depicting Scots as poor, violent, prone to criminal activity, unemployable and dependant on the British State for their roll-up cigarettes and cheap wine.

These tough, uncompromising vignettes of life for the Scottish working classes were networked to the rest of the UK and were as far away from the twee shortbread tin image of Scotland portrayed in “Dr Finlay’s Casebook” of the previous decade, as was possible. Both however, in their day, reinforced the false stereotypical parochial view of Scotland that existed which was portrayed to the viewers by the broadcaster.

I’d moved south for a few years for work by the time Ian Pattison’s creation Rab C Nesbitt hit the screens. Living outside of Scotland I enjoyed the feast of typically Scottish self-deprecation, which was expertly and comically delivered by Elaine C Smith, Gregor Fisher and Tony Roper, once the show became networked to the rest of Britain.

What I didn’t enjoy were the jibes and comments of friends and colleagues down south suggesting that Rab accurately portrayed the image of your actual average Scot, with a drink problem, work-shy, on the make, useless, incompetent, and prone to violence at the drop of a fish supper. I learned to laugh it off, or come back with an equally barbed comment about the locals in reply.

Nearly thirty years later, and despite the huge improvements and changes in the way the media, and in particular the news, is delivered to its audience, I can’t help feeling, that some things never change. Scotland is still very much seen as parochial.

When reading recent opinion reports about the possibility of plans for the BBC , who during the Independence Referendum stuck out like a shining beacon in its efforts to protect the British State, (upholding the long held tradition of its first Director General. and Scotsman,Lord Reith) to produce a new “Scottish Six” o’clock news service, it is still very clear that the institutionalised and ingrained belief that Scotland is a bit of a far flung outpost of the metropolis and can’t be trusted to produce such a programme itself without big brother overseeing the output still exists.

Having followed the headlines, read Stuart Cosgrove’s powerful piece on Bella Caledonia “Don’t Cringe in My Backyard” (25 February 2016) and watching the excellent Lesley Riddoch reduce New Labour’s Ken McIntosh to having to make childish jibes about “you want Icelandic TV” during a BBC discussion on the subject of a Scottish news service reflecting a Scottish news perspective and agenda It is obvious that the establishment are not for giving up their total control of the priorities of news broadcasting lightly.

They howl that there is no need for a Scottish news as Reporting Scotland does such a great job at the moment, and that the SNP (They are so bad that they are bad) are trying to brainwash the people of Scotland.

Au contraire! If anything, a Scottish centred but outward looking news programme could in a very, I repeat the word very, small way go towards helping to promote the revival of a culture that our betters in the south have spent at least the last three hundred years trying to destroy by assimilating it into their own culture.

They also argue that there is no call for it. Are they asking the right people?

As a regular visitor hame, and having been in Scotland in the summer months prior to the referendum, I found myself regularly almost becoming apoplectic at the blatant bias displayed on a daily basis against the case for independence.

Hardly a news bulletin passed without some form of unanswerable,entirely subjective, headline or reporting of a comment made by the likes of Gordy Broon reckoning anyone with a Scottish accent in need of a transplant in an independent Scotland would be for the off, or Scottish child cancer patients requiring specialist care would be turned away from Great Ormond Street. Entirely false, entirely inaccurate entirely preposterous and significantly very rarely the subject of a balanced rebuttal, usually until the next day when the true position would appear. It would be too late by then, Project Fear, in the guise of an impartial broadcaster, had had their sound byte moment.

I’d sit there in a family member or friend’s house, and like the William Shatner character in the old Twilight Zone episode where he is the only person on an aeroplane travelling through a bad storm who can see the gremlin sitting on the wing tearing the engine apart, exclaim “Look at that” every time we’d get an example of bias, and often would have to explain what had just happened. My hosts had often just picked up the message from the same report I was watching as being YES IS BAD, CHANGE IS SCARY!

Professor John Robertson from the University of West Scotland carried out some excellent research into this structured bias which he subsequently published and has been widely commended for.

At the end of the day if Scotland is to be considered mature, confident and ready to take on full responsibility for government it clearly needs to control its own news output and manage this fairly and responsibly. All that is needed is balance, not a flip in bias, just balance with no big brother spin.

Back to Lesley Riddoch for a final word on this. I’ve never heard a clearer statement on this subject than Lesley’s during her tussle with Labour’s Mr McIntosh when she said “(Scotland) should be a country who views their news knowing that they are at the centre of their world, not on the periphery.”

That is fair. That is all we require.


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