There's a lot of understandable and perfectly justified anger about the BBC Question Time broadcast from Dundee on Thursday 10 March. Even for the BBC, there was some quite remarkably blatant bias on display. Were the preposterously arrogant management of the corporation given to explaining themselves at all, they would surely be struggling to account for the very obvious dearth of local people in the audience. Although the unionist/anti-SNP weighting of the panel was pretty standard.
But what had most people choking on the
breakfast cereal of grovelling humility that these days is supposed to
supplement our regular diet of haggis, porridge and shortbread, was the
appearance of, not one, but TWO relics from British Labour in Scotland's
humiliation at the hands of the Scottish electorate last year. One of
these was a nonentity of such profound blandness as to have made no
impression on me at all. But the appearance of the other had jaws
hitting floors the length and breadth of Scotland.
Remember her? She's the one whose likening of Scottish school kids to
the Hitler Youth proved too distasteful a gobbet of vicious
hatemongering even for British Labour in Scotland. And this is a mob
that boasts such poisoned tongues as flap in the empty heads of Ian
Smart and Blair McDougall!
Even a whiskery old political anorak
like myself was taken aback by such effrontery. So much so that, until
it was pointed out by others, the supernatural coincidence eluded me of
two 'figures' from British Labour in Scotland, not only being in the
vetted BBC Question Time audience, but also being afforded the
opportunity to speak. I was starting to smell a rat even through the
powerful fishy odour that always seems to accompany the BBC when it
deigns to venture out of its London lair to dip a Dimbleby in the pond
of provincial politics.
Aside from all of this - which, after all,
is only standard BBC bias taken up a notch - what intrigued me was the
thought of the planning meeting - or meetings - that surely preceded
this episode of BBC Question Time. For we have to assume that these
programmes are planned. Somebody makes decisions about where the show is
to be broadcast from and who the panellists will be. Somebody decides
who will be in the audience. Somebody decides what questions will be
asked. And, however professionally the Dimbleby may pretend to be
running the show, somebody is shouting instructions in his ear as he
goes round the panel and elicits follow-up points from the floor. Those
contributors, if not their specifics of their intervention, also being
carefully selected by BBC staff.
In other words, it's all staged.
What we see and hear is, almost without exception,only what the BBC's
production team has decided we should see and hear. They do like the
occasional 'surprise', to keep things as close to interesting as BBC
Question Time can get. But, mostly, it's all under control.
is no accident when the programme is broadcast from Dundee with little
discernible local presence. It is not mere happenstance that two British
Labour in Scotland representatives are planted in the audience, primed
with comments, and allowed to speak at length. This is all
stage-managed. This must have been discussed at production meetings.
if the two British Labour in Scotland drones had somehow contrived to
both secure invitations, somebody must have noticed that they were on
the audience list. Their invitations were positively confirmed. Did
nobody ask any questions about this? Are we seriously supposed to
believe that it didn't come up at one of those production meetings?
even if we stretch our credulity enough to accept that coincidence (or
non-BBC contrivance) was behind their presence, how can we possibly
swallow any claim that it was just a fluke that both were called upon to
speak? The odds here are vanishing somewhere beyond Camelot territory.
suppose for a moment that somebody did bring this up at a meeting.
Let's imagine some young intern not yet fully immersed in the arcane
ways of the BBC hesitatingly asking if it was really OK to feature two
former candidates for one of the British parties currently vying to be
the most anti-SNP. How might her seniors have responded? Would they
scoff at the notion that anybody might notice the 'coincidence'? These
are, after all, only very minor cogs in some remote part of the British
Labour machine. Nobody in London would even recognise Kezia
Whatsherface, so why would they know who this pair are?
Or was the
argument made that this deliberate skewing of the programme content was
justified? Was it that, from the perspective of the British
establishment, they were on 'enemy territory' and so some preemptive
defence was called for? Were the producers prepared to openly admit that
they were engineering things to favour the British establishment's
anti-SNP/anti-independence stance? Was the minion told bluntly that they
had better be prepared to go along with such manipulation if they hoped
to have any kind of future at The Beeb?
Or might it have been
more subtle? I don't have much truck with conspiracy theories. My
attitude is that I am highly dubious about those who peddle conspiracy
theories; and very suspicious of those who insist there's no conspiracy.
For the most part what, with hindsight, we perceive as conspiracies are
simply emergent properties of a situation in which there are a number
of people, with enough collective influence, and sufficient commonality
of purpose, to bring about an outcome that is more favourable to the
group that they represent (by definition invariably the established
power group) than any random outcome. Things that look like conspiracies
after the event will tend to happen when management fails to
effectively manage, allowing control to be incidentally usurped by some
In the real world, evil villains are as rare as super-heroes.
I'm saying is that the kind of glaringly obvious bias that we witnessed
in this episode of BBC Question Time actually could 'just happen'. It
didn't have to be planned. It didn't have to be purposeful. No malign
intent was required at all. It's just that the entire BBC is so much a
creature of the British establishment that it must inevitably serve the
British establishment's agenda in all things unless it is otherwise
directed by competent managers. It is an integral part of the structures
of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
is a tendency, I suspect, within the BBC to suppose that the
organisation is somehow 'naturally' impartial. That impartiality is
defined by what it does. What looks like blatant bias from the outside,
from within the British establishment bubble just looks 'normal'.
great failure of BBC management is the failure to question such casual
assumptions. The failure to challenge the self-sustaining,
self-perpetuating, self-righteous, self-justification. The failure to
I could, of course, be wrong about any or all of this. But
I'd still like to have been a fly on the wall at that BBC Question Time