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Monday, 4 February 2013

And Now, The News Where You Are

Dedicated to Bill.

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."

A famous line from a famous movie of dubious (to say the least) historical accuracy. Nevertheless, probably a fair estimation of Edward I's appraisal of the troublesome kingdom to the north. Clearly, in these troubled times, some in London's political corridors of power hold similar views. No doubt, those same views are being espoused by individuals in Galashiels, Gairloch and Glasgow.

Which is fine. People, after all, in democracies hold a whole range of views. I don't wish to see any of them suppressed. It may not be unfair to ask whether those who direct one of our revered national institutions agree with that view.

When, in November 2011, BBC Scotland stopped allowing comments on the blog of Political Editor, Brian Taylor, some suspected that the north British branch of the state broadcaster was exercising something akin to censorship.

Regularly, the comment facility was flooded with contributions from those that seemed to support independence for Scotland.

Some suspected that BBC Scotland was uncomfortable with the perception this created, ie. that large numbers of Scots might vote Yes in the upcoming referendum.

Some imagined that this was in direct contrast to the position that must be taken by BBC Scotland as an organ of the British state.

Some stated that those at Pacific Quay were merely looking after their own livelihoods; fearing for the prospects of a British Broadcasting Corporation in a future independent Scotland.

Some, including me, pointed out that - at the very least - BBC licence payers in Scotland were being discriminated against in relation to those in other parts of these islands. In this blog from April 2nd, 2012 I remarked on the anomaly that the BBC Political Editors in Wales, Northern Ireland and all eight English regions allowed the people who pay their wages to comment on their blogs. Only in Scotland was this privilege removed.

In terms of the BBC's own Charters and operating guidelines the decision was, to say the least, a strange one. Nation may speak to nation but, it appears, a nation may not speak amongst themselves - except in England, Northern Ireland and Wales of course.

At any other period in Scotland's modern history the decision would have troubled many. In the context of the Independence Referendum, when those of every political persuasion agree that Scotland faces its most important political decision in over 300 years, it was frankly bizarre.

But we needn't have worried.

"We believe that by determining which particular issues might best be explored by the inclusion of public comment online, we will allow a more flexible and adaptable approach to be taken to how we cover the main issues in Scotland."

The words of BBC Scotland's online news editor David Maxwell, quoted above, were reassuring. The BBC, naturally, at those points of the campaign when the BBC decided the public should be allowed to be heard, he seemed to be saying, they would be. The BBC was going to uphold its reputation as a responsible and fair national broadcaster. Voices wouldn't be silenced, the Corporation would merely select those occasions when it wanted to hear them.

Today, is February 2nd, 2013. How many times, in the ten months since my blog, in the fourteen months since the BBC Scotland decision, have David Maxwell and his colleagues allowed Scottish licence payers the opportunity to comment on Brian Taylor's blog?

Not a single time. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Two possibilities occur.

Either BBC Scotland have determined that the last fourteen months contained no instances of import in the lead-up to Scotland's Independence Referendum OR they've decided the voice of the Scottish people shall not be heard on these matters. 

Scots will not be allowed to discuss the issues with other Scots on the national broadcaster's online platforms. The only information we are to receive on the issues will be the information supplied by Pacific Quay. Which is fine, I suppose, because the BBC is beyond reproach. No-one on the staff has a political bone in their body. At all times, we can be assured, news will be unfiltered, un-nuanced and uncorrupted. 

Over the same period, naturally, those in Wales, Northern Ireland and the eight English regions have been able to comment on all of the blog submissions by their respective Political Editors - including on some posts which were directly related to the question of Scottish independence. I hope the people of the rest of these islands don't feel too encumbered by their surfeit of free speech - it's a heavy responsibility.

Luckily, we in north Britain have BBC Scotland to tell us what to think.