By a Newsnet reporter
On Friday, First Minister Alex Salmond gave a keynote speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival.
The subject of Mr Salmond’s address was broadcasting in Scotland and why control should move from London to Edinburgh.
The First Minister explained that, in his opinion Westminster control of public service broadcasting was out of date, and that even if Scots opted to remain in the Union, post 2014, control of Scotland’s broadcasting should move north.
He went on to say that an independent Scotland would build on the existing BBC Scotland infrastructure and staff to create a broadcaster fit for the new Scotland. An important speech, and one that was picked up by every Scottish newspaper.
On the same day former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech at Holyrood’s festival of politics where he attacked the idea of independence and claimed the Union offered social benefits that underpinned the welfare system. Mr Brown’s speech was similar to one he gave eleven days earlier at the Edinburgh Book Festival, one that was covered by that evening’s Reporting Scotland.
Both newsworthy speeches, there’s no doubt. But only one though was fresh news, that of Mr Salmond.
One would have thought then that BBC Scotland’s reporting of the respective speeches would have reflected the fact that Mr Brown was effectively repeating the arguments he had made eleven days previously, a speech that had been prominently covered at the time on Reporting Scotland. Indeed Brown had been given ‘top billing’ on the 13th August in that his speech formed the basis of the political item.
Gordon Brown on Reporting Scotland - 13th August
However Friday’s programme was rather bizarre, in that it was Mr Brown’s speech that was deemed the more important by the producer of Reporting Scotland. Faced with two speeches, one with a pro-independence narrative and one with a pro-Union narrative, the pro-Union speech was chosen to lead the political item.
The former Labour leader was shown striding the Holyrood chamber as he addressed the audience - his words very clearly audible as he extolled the virtues of the Union.
Worse than that, coverage of Mr Salmond’s speech was limited to a few seconds of silent video. What did Mr Salmond say? If you were a typical viewer of Reporting Scotland, the chances are you still don’t know.
Incredibly, the BBC Scotland report contained not one word of what Mr Salmond had said on broadcasting, and no explanation from the reporters, with both Sally Magnusson and Glenn Campbell avoiding mention of the First Minister's views on broadcasting.
When Mr Salmond was eventually allowed to speak to camera, he was shown responding to a small section of Gordon Brown’s speech.
The whole item was curious and gave the impression of having been very carefully managed. It wasn’t helped by placing a clip of performers at the Edinburgh Festival who chanted about “lies” immediately after Mr Salmond’s response to Mr Brown was shown.
The item was questionable on several levels, not least due to the fact that Scotland’s First Minister was deemed secondary to a former Labour leader and PM whose views had already featured prominently on the same programme 11 days earlier.
When Gordon Brown made his first speech at the Edinburgh Book Festival attacking independence and Devo-max, Reporting Scotland covered the speech together with video clips and sound. An SNP spokesman, Humza Yousaf, was then shown responding to Mr Brown.
Eleven days later it was the First Minister’s chance to set the narrative with his speech on broadcasting and one would have expected, given the need for balance and Brown’s recent ‘top billing’, that BBC Scotland would have provided the First Minister with the same platform.
However they didn’t, and not only did they allow Brown to take centre stage again by appearing first in the slot with footage of his speech, they then compounded it by refusing to show any footage of Mr Salmond’s speech.
How Reporting Scotland covered Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown on the 24th August
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see what was wrong here. The many Scots who rely on the tea time news programme for their political information were denied the chance to hear the First Minister’s views on broadcasting.
Instead they were once again shown Gordon Brown making a ‘positive’ speech in defence of the Union with the independence side on the ‘defensive’. The SNP were again relegated to simply responding to Brown - the impression given of course was that Brown was setting the pace and the SNP on the back foot and playing catch-up.
The item drew attention once again to the editorial decision making at BBC Scotland that is leaving viewers short-changed as the debate over Scotland’s future rages.
How is it that the nation’s broadcaster can so blatantly manipulate the news agenda to the extent that the First Minister’s views on broadcasting are denied to the very audience that would be affected should his ideas be implemented?
Could it have been anything to do with the fact that Salmond’s speech would have put the BBC at the centre of the independence debate, if only for a number of days?
Last week Newsnet Scotland held private discussions with someone from the National Union of Journalists. Much of our informal talks centred on the quality of debate around the referendum and the opportunities the ‘great debate’ presented to Scottish culture and Scottish journalism – BBC Scotland cutbacks also featured.
Friday’s Reporting Scotland had the smell of an agenda and looked as though it had been very carefully manipulated in order to sideline the First Minister and thus, restrict the impact of his words.
This effective suppression of Mr Salmond's speech by Reporting Scotland, and the lack of mature explanation of his words, meant that the following day’s newspapers were able to re-package the speech and present it in negative terms such as ‘break up BBC’ (Herald), ‘Break up the beeb’ (Record), ‘BBC output would be cut’ (Scotsman) and ‘I’ll break up the BBC’ (Sun).
That the speech was covered by BBC online does not negate the fact that Reporting Scotland provides most working class Scots with their political news. Many of these people will have learned only of the First Minister’s speech through the medium of the Scottish newspaper - not the most balanced source.
BBC Scotland really ought to take heed of the changing landscape they are trying hard to ignore. The debate over broadcasting is a fundamental part of the great debate.
If Scotland’s First Minister isn’t allowed to be heard on the most watched news programme in Scotland, then who is?
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