The recent paper from the University of the West of Scotland on bias in the Scottish broadcast media has not been given any coverage in the media which is the subject of its study. Scotland’s broadcasters don’t want their audience to know that they are biased, partial, and only covering one side of the story.
BBC Scotland’s management have mounted an extraordinary attack on the paper and its author, but undaunted the paper’s author Dr John Robertson has come out all guns blazing and has published the snotty letter he received from the BBC, together with his devastating critique. Full details can be read on Newsnet Scotland.
There can now be no doubt that BBC management are deliberately downplaying the referendum and equally deliberately are favouring the No campaign. However the report from UWS only covered stories which actually get airtime. Dr Robertson pointed out in his reply that he had not studied the bias involved in story selection, and said that he believed that the Scottish media was also skewing its coverage of the independence debate by not giving airtime to many stories favourable to independence.
There was yet another example of media bias by omission today. On Monday the Financial Times, no supporter of Scottish independence, published an article detailing the financial situation of an independent Scotland, using UK government figures. The bottom line is that we’d be in the money – every man woman and child in the country would be almost £1400 a year better off.
The FT showed that the Scottish government would immediately have some £7 billion a year on top of the existing Scottish budget of £64 billion – and this is under the assumption that the government of a newly independent Scotland would continue to spend according to UK priorities. Even if we were daft enough to keep paying for Trident, and other “UK national” projects like London Crossrail, the High Speed Railway between London and Birmingham, and the London sewer upgrade, we’d still be in a much stronger financial situation than we are at the moment.
Neither do the figures account for companies operating in Scotland who currently pay taxes via head offices in England – taxes like Corporation Tax or VAT for example. After independence these companies would have to pay taxes on their Scottish operations to the Scottish government, not the UK Treasury as they do at the moment. It’s very difficult to quantify just how much extra this would bring in, but it’s certainly a substantial amount.
When we take all these other things into account, the financial situation for an independent Scotland looks extremely rosy indeed. You’d think that this was important and relevant information for people who are making their minds up about how to vote in September, and that it would be plastered all over the Scottish media – especially since, as Dr Robertson pointed out in his reply to the BBC bosses, the Scottish media focus almost exclusively on the economic aspects of independence and seek to reduce the argument to one about pounds and pence.
But there’s been not a word about the FT’s report on Reporting Scotland – Scotland’s national news programme according to the BBC. Today BBC Scotland chose to lead with a story on ecstasy. There was not one single mention anywhere in our supposedly professional media of an important story which goes right to the heart of the independence debate on the very grounds that the media have chosen to present that debate. The media in Scotland have chosen to reduce independence to economics yet when presented with clear evidence, from a Unionist source no less, that Scotland would be a far wealthier country as an independent state, they don’t report it.
As Dr Robertson noted in his reply to the BBC, the Scottish media almost entirely ignores the democratic or political reasons for independence. There is little or no discussion on telly about the relative merits of a country choosing its own government, or having its government chosen for it by a much larger neighbour. It’s not hard to see why the media don’t want to discuss that. Equally it’s not hard to see why they have suppressed Dr Robertson’s report and don’t want to discuss their biased presentation of the independence debate.
Under the Union, Scotland is not a fully democratic country. A free and fair media is not an optional extra in a democracy. Without access to full facts and information, citizens cannot make principled choices about how they wish to vote. The Scottish media does not allow Scotland to make principled and informed decisions, and that’s just the way they like it. They only want us to talk about what they think is important, they are determined to shape the debate and direct it onto a Unionist path, they are not content with simply reporting.
The state of the Scottish media is now an issue in this independence campaign. We’re not just campaigning for national independence, we are campaiging for the basic democratic rights that define any democracy – the right to access to information, and the right to have the full range of Scottish opinion represented.
If we want a media that truly reflects our nation, there’s only one way we’re going to get it. Vote yes in September.