Former first minister reignites debate over accusations of broadcasting bias
THE BBC could have covered the Scottish independence referendum campaign better, according to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which is calling for a higher share of the licence fee for BBC Scotland.
The comments come amid an ongoing row between former first minister Alex Salmond and former BBC political editor Nick Robinson about the BBC’s handling of the event.
Reporting by the BBC was a “disgrace”, with political editor Nick Robinson especially susceptible to poor reporting, according to Salmond.
The figurehead of the pro-independence campaign hit out at media reporting following comparisons made by Robinson between anti-BBC protests and “Vladimir Putin’s Russia”.
Now, NUJ Scotland organiser Paul Holleran has said that more investment and better management could improve BBC Scotland’s ability to cover big political events in future.
Holleran told CommonSpace: “The NUJ believes the BBC could have covered the referendum better. We are now arguing for the resources BBC Scotland deserves and proportionate with the license fee collected in Scotland.
“Decent investment and the right management in place will make a massive difference to how BBC Scotland operates in the future to meet the aspirations and needs of the public.”
Salmond, writing recently in The Courier newspaper, said: “The BBC’s coverage of the Scottish referendum was a disgrace. It can be shown to be so, as was Nick’s own reporting of which he should be both embarrassed and ashamed. To compare, as Nick did last week, 4000 Scots peacefully protesting outside BBC Scotland as something akin to Putin’s Russia is as ludicrous as it is insulting.”
Robinson, speaking at the Edinburgh Festival, expressed regret for his handling of one particular report during the campaign – but criticised ‘BBC bias’ protests that took place outside BBC Scotland’s Govan studio, and raised concerns about intimidation of journalists.
Ahead of the referendum, the NUJ released a statement highlighting intimidation of journalists , which the union said affected journalists at the BBC more so than other organisations.
The spat between Salmond and Robinson erupted on 11 September 2014, just days before Scotland went to the polls in a historic vote on independence.
“The NUJ believes the BBC could have covered the referendum better. We are now arguing for the resources BBC Scotland deserves and proportionate with the license fee collected in Scotland.” Paul Holleran, National Union of Journalists
Questioned over campaign interventions by leading business figures at a press conference, Salmond replied with a seven-minute statement explaining his position and challenging the BBC to investigate whether its reporting had leaked “market sensitive information” via the UK Government.
In the 6pm and 10pm news bulletins Salmond’s response was not included. Instead, Robinson claimed Salmond “didn’t answer” his questions.
The video of the full exchange, compared with Robinson’s coverage, was watched hundreds of thousands of times online . This fuelled fresh allegations of ‘BBC bias’ among pro-independence supporters.
Without the support of the SNP or the official Yes Scotland campaign, activists in Glasgow held several rallies outside the BBC head quarters in the final days of the Scottish independence referendum campaign. Some called for Robinson to be sacked.
Salmond supported the rallies at the time as a form of peaceful democratic protest.
In July Audience Council Scotland, which reviews BBC Scotland broadcasting, warned there was a perception that the BBC forms “part of a wider media establishment whose perspectives reflected those of the status quo” .
Professor John Robertson of University of West of Scotland concluded that broadcasting coverage had given greater weight to pro-establishment voices over grassroots Yes campaigners.
Former BBC Scotland reporter James Cook stated that more should have been done by the broadcaster to scrutinise the status quo during the campaign, although he said he and his colleagues had covered the event impartially and professionally.
Former BBC journalists Derek Bateman and Lesley Riddoch have been highly critical of the BBC’s performance during and after the referendum.
Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Scotland, John Boothman, left his role after the referendum. A complaint of bullying from a staff journalist against Boothman was upheld and BBC NUJ members threatened to ballot for industrial action if he was not removed from the post.
Wider disputes over media reporting during the referendum focused on an imbalance in press news coverage.
While only one Scottish newspaper – The Sunday Herald – supported a Yes vote, the majority of popular online political groups in Scotland campaigned in favour of independence.
Picture courtesy of Stuart Beattie .