A former BBC Scotland news producer who is now a media lecturer – and open supporter the Scottish National Party - is claiming the best way for the national broadcaster to defend its reputation for impartiality would be to give viewers more, and better local news coverage.
In his weekly column in the Scotsman Euan Crawford, who lectures at the University of West of Scotland, yesterday pitched headlong into the row involving the Scottish Labour MP and chair of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, Ian Davidson, who accused “Newsnat Scotland” of being “clearly biased for a long time against the Unionist parties”.
Pointed out Crawford, who worked as a special adviser to former SNP leader John Swinney after leaving the BBC: ”This rant was followed up in a newspaper by a personal attack on the presenter, Isabel Fraser, for being either incompetent or involved in a conspiracy after a Newsnight contributor was not appropriately identified as being an SNP sympathiser.
“The former Labour provost of Glasgow, Michael Kelly, confirmed in The Scotsman last week that the Labour hierarchy was indeed convinced that BBC Scotland had been infiltrated by Scottish nationalists.
“It seems the Labour leadership in Scotland does actually believe the SNP has set out to (successfully) enter activists into the BBC, a conspiracy to which the corporation is either a willing and shady participant or an ignorant dupe."
Crawford explains: “Back in the real world, all BBC staff must abide by a weighty document called Editorial Guidelines which, among other things, commits news producers to the idea of ‘due impartiality’.
“It was this commitment that prompted me to leave the BBC. During the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Labour fought a negative, but very effective campaign. As a producer it was my job to ensure this campaign was represented and scrutinised fairly along with those of the other parties.
“After the election I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore so I left. That is a decision that has also been taken by other BBC staff members who went on to work for, or stand for, Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The fact that I and my ex-colleagues chose to leave suggests that the idea of infiltration is not that effective. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all have stayed to pursue the cause from within?
“As BBC programmes are made by human beings, mistakes are bound to be made and it is reasonable for political parties to complain when they believe there has been an error or poor decision. Indeed I have been complained about and I have then switched sides to do the complaining.
“But given the level of scrutiny, it is fanciful to suggest that an individual journalist could get away with persistent bias even if he or she wanted to.
“The No campaign is now basing its strategy on an appeal to British nationalism and identity, part of which it says is institutions like the NHS and the BBC.
“Whether it likes it or not, the BBC needs to be aware of how it has been dragged into this debate and to think carefully about how it is being used in this way."