Journalists at Work

I’ve been asked for my views on the Bias in Broadcasting evidence to the Culture Committee earlier in the week and I’ve been putting off a response. The BBC hate me when I do and my correspondents hate me more. I criticise one and defend them to the other. It’s the Endurance of the Long-Distance Blogger.


From what I saw, the BBC are in full assault mode and totally unapologetic and as a result look unreasonable, defensive and flustered. It has become the default position of an organisation caught out by events and floundering.

To be fair, the BBC has to defend its reputation. It has a duty to do so and to stand up for its staff. It is the way it has gone about it that is wrong, by opening an inquisition on the author, referring the matter upwards to his boss, adopting an aggressive tone, questioning his credentials, nit-picking his report and failing to make sure it was reported in the normal way. At every stage, they made their predictable mistakes, one after the other, displaying a total lack of what an enlightened management would have regarded as a one-day wonder. By blundering into attack mode, placing themselves above another institution, resenting criticism and overreacting they insured we are still talking about the issue today, have had to read about it in the mainstream papers and found themselves hauled before MSPs.

It all underlines what I said about the day in 2011 when Salmond won his majority – the BBC should have seen the signs and prepared. From that moment the game was on and the Corporation was going to be centre stage. McQuarrie took his eye off the ball because 1) he was concentrating on cutting budgets and getting rid of journalists and 2) he spends far too much time in London and has no effective deputy. That is institutional failure.

Two things about the performance struck me. The first is how shifty John Boothman manages to look when asked a challenging question. He quickly shifts into angry mode creating an air of confrontation when a dash of humility or even, heaven help me, wit would be immeasurably more helpful. There is always a sense in which it is a personal attack he is undergoing rather than an inquiry into the organisation he represents, a fundamental flaw in a manager in which the two become interchangeable. It is exactly what I disliked about his dealings with Paul Sinclair in Johann Lamont’s office, seeming to confuse a personal relationship with what is surely a professional role heading BBC news and current affairs. Questions about programme content should be dealt with through the proper channels, not answered personally. His tendency to bridle and build up aggression doesn’t, to me, leave a positive impression of the BBC. I also suspect that he is everything Kenny McQuarrie dislikes as an urbane and cultured man himself. He must be aware of the image his head of news projects.


There is too a conundrum here. In any other newsroom in the world where their executives were facing a grilling from politicians, the journalists would crowd round the screens and egg their bosses on. ‘Defend us. Tell them we won’t be intimidated. Free speech’ etc. I doubt if a single journalist in the BBC newsroom did that. Instead they would be hoping the MSPs would land a blow or two on the BBC, so discredited and disliked are BBC managers. When McQuarrie praised the impartiality and professionalism of the journalists and the high quality output, you just knew they would be listening and saying: ‘If only…’ They know who cut the budgets and sacked their colleagues and damaged morale and made quality journalism that much harder. In sport it’s called losing the dressing-room.

Incidentally, I heard them say they didn’t have a number for how many complaints had been received about referendum coverage. I don’t believe it. That information is retrievable and if it showed say one per cent complaints, would have bolstered their argument. We’re not hearing the number because it’s too embarrassing to publicise.

The Bias story is a little tragedy for BBC Scotland. When I survey the output, I genuinely find very little to object to. Brian Taylor on GERs for example in his blog this week gave the classic fair BBC analysis. I don’t consume the mainstream obsessively though so inevitably miss a lot. What disappoints me is the failure to take control of this massive story and lead it…to provide exemplary coverage, to bring to the fore their own talented people into frontline roles (James Cook is the exception on the Scottish question time programme, interestingly produced by an independent company which presumably chose him for the job, not the BBC).  The Bias row will be a legacy for the BBC, passed into the history of the campaign, leaving a taint over its reputation and for a huge number of Scots voting Yes, it will be confirmation for them of the Corporation’s failure. But right now the journalists have to get on with the job and put it behind them, as they have had to do over budget cuts since the whole suicidal exercise began. You don’t need John Robertson’s report to know how bad things are in the newsroom – check out the departure lounge. People are choosing to walk, leaving a career and pension and benefits behind in order to breathe freely and start again.  And the air is good.

88 thoughts on “Journalists at Work

  1. Don’t think Salmond could believe his luck on Marr this morning. For Marr to give his personal opinion on the EU and then be forced to backtrack was extraordinary to see and I can remember their previous set too in which Salmond also had Marr on the defensive over certain assertions he made.
    If we can maintain our polling figures, or increase them even slightly over the next month or two, who knows what will give, because everthing I see and read just screams fear and panic on the unionist side.

  2. Maybe Ken MacDonald will join Derek Bateman in a new blog information service or internet radio station.

  3. I would like to know Derek’s view on the Marr/Salmond interview.

    • macgilleleabhar

      Aye Mar marred hisel a bitty. He maybe thinks he is “The MacPuddock hisel” but Alex’s the heron “That gobbled him up”( John M. Caie The Puddock) . Anither BBC London bawbag like Naughtie

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed “Headlines” this morning on RS. Ken MacDonald was having great fun…..but not for much longer by all reports. Criminal behaviour by the BBC if this is true.

  5. Dr JM Mackintosh


    I note your campaign on BBC and with Andrew Marr’s comments it is now the time for as many people in the Indy campaign to put formal complaints into the BBC to back you up.

    I have just put a formal complaint into the BBC and I would encourage as many people as possible to do the same. I pay my licence fee and expect much better from this organisation.

    We are bombarded by negative comments from the MSM and can do nothing about this. However, we can do something about the BBC. Like the pound the BBC is as much Scottish as English and they should represent our views in an impartial manner.

    It may not make a lot difference but we can only try to get a more balanced view in the coming months.

    here is the link for everyone…

    Here is the text of my complaint…

    I would like to make a formal complaint about the political bias against the Scottish Independence campaign which now appears to be institutionalised within the BBC.

    Andrew Marr’s opinion that Scotland would find it quite hard to get back in the EU is a disgraceful comment for a UK reporter to make live on television.

    He did he not question Barroso’s position on his previous programmes when many UK and European legal experts and politicians completely disagree with his point of view. You would expect any reasonable journalist to make these points and also question why the UK government had not yet asked for EU legal clarification on this important issue.

    As a European citizen of forty years standing it is inconceivable that I will lose that citizenship and the rights that go with it for expressing my democratic will in a legal referendum. This would stand against all the founding principles of the EU.

    I am a citizen of the United Kingdom and pay my license fee to the BBC. I had come to rely on the BBC for unbiased reporting of UK and world events. It is in the charter of the BBC to be un-biased in its political views and I had always believed this in the past.

    I have never come across such blatant bias in any past coverage of UK or world events and this deeply saddens me and indicates that Scotland no longer has any future in the UK if the establishment and the BBC treats Scots in this manner.

    All I ask for is a level playing field up to the September referendum.

  6. Is it not glaringly obvious what is going on here? They are hiding behind poor quality and lazy journalism as a means to push the agenda they want which just happens to favor the Better Together campaign and continued Westminster rule over Scotland and it`s people. They care not about the damage they are doing to the reputation of the BBC as at some point they will just turn around and say that there will be a major revamp. We will witness new more shiny studio sets and between program graphics to confirm the change but really it will be nothing more than a face lift. The rot will still fester behind the scenes, toned down slightly after a possible NO vote which they fought so hard to achieve. I`m sorry but the trust has gone, hasn`t even been there for a long time now. It`s sad when on occasion you actually see a bit of balance when you know that it should be all of the time.
    No one wants a state broadcaster coming down on one side of the other, i`m now convinced that Scotland moving forward should never again have such an organization. I want an independent Scotland to be different, even radically different in some areas.

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