Scotland’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond, has launched an attack on the BBC and its soon-to-be-ex-Political Editor Nick Robinson over their coverage of last year’s Scottish independence referendum, describing it as a “disgrace” – and he’s right.
Now, dear reader, you may have leapt up and cried, “What? Mike Sivier agreeing with the SNP? Has the world stopped turning?” But This Writer made no bones about it at the time and nothing has changed since then.
Robinson came under attack after he asked two, complicated, questions of Salmond at a press conference and then misrepresented the long answer that Salmond gave. This Writer was among those who complained but the BBC whitewashed the incident.
“The BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson asked Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond two questions at his press conference on Thursday 11th September. The first question centred on the tax implications of RBS moving its legal headquarters to London; the second on why voters should trust a politician rather than businessmen,” stated the BBC’s complaints website.
“Nick Robinson’s report showed the second question on trust, with a script line noting that Mr Salmond had not answered that point.
“Mr Salmond’s answer on tax was lengthy. Since it was not possible to use it in full in a short news report, a series of clips were included making his central points – the job implications of the re-location of RBS, the accusation that the Treasury broke rules by briefing market sensitive information and his request that the BBC should co-operate with an enquiry. In addition Nick Robinson’s script pointed out that the First Minister said there would be no loss of tax revenue.
“The BBC considers that the questions were valid and the overall report balanced and impartial, in line with our editorial guidelines.”
This Blog made it perfectly clear at the time that this was not acceptable.
“Robinson’s report states, clearly, ‘He didn’t answer.’ If the BBC Complaints people are saying the answer was ‘lengthy’, this clearly conflicts with what Robinson stated in the report – yet the BBC’s judgement is that ‘the overall report [was] balanced and impartial’,” I wrote.
“What a lot of nonsense! No – it’s worse than nonsense. It’s a flat-out, blatant lie.”
The report fuelled the widely-held belief that the BBC’s news reporting under Robinson had turned it into the propaganda arm of the Conservative Party – a policy that we now know has done it no favours at all, as the Tories plan to disembowel the Corporation in order to give commercial television providers an unfair advantage.
It also led to a large protest outside BBC Scotland involving around 4,000 people – about which Robinson unwisely complained in an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
He said the protesters had forced “young men and women who are new to journalism [to] have, like they do in Putin’s Russia, to fight their way through crowds of protesters, frightened as to how they do their jobs”.
Not true. The protesters were exercising their right to make their opinions known. If anything, Robinson’s report was responsible for putting those reporters in fear.
The comparison with Putin’s Russia is, of course, ludicrous, but conforms to Right-Wing Robinson’s Tory thinking.
Salmond said he had avoided raising the issue while Robinson was recovering from cancer. He went on: “Now he is back. 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.”
The Guardian‘s report put up a couple of quotes that attempted to show people on Salmond’s camp had agreed that Robinson’s report had been fair. But look at them:
“One read: ‘It was a good couple of questions, you got a good answer. You’re an old hand at this and know the score.'”
This, we are asked to accept, refers to the questions asked at the now-notorious press conference, and the answers provided. It says nothing about what Robinson did thereafter and should not, therefore, be claimed as any kind of endorsement.
“The other said: ‘We were upset about the package. Alex and my team regard you as a fair and professional journalist.'” This can clearly be taken as criticism – the author was “upset”, and clearly had considered Robinson to be fair and professional until his report aired.
Some might say it is better to let sleeping dogs lie – but in this case the lying dog is back on his feet and, at a time when the BBC is under attack from his Tory bosses, in a position to do serious harm to his own employer.
Salmond is not only right to raise the issue again – especially after Robinson’s own comments – but right to question Robinson’s fairness and impartiality. He’ll poison the BBC from within.
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