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  By Craig Murray 

Beyond doubt, a significant number of Scottish citizens are disturbed at what they perceive as a systemic bias in the BBC against Scottish independence.

I have read some sixty internet articles to the same effect in the last 24 hours. There is a citizens internet revolt against the mainstream here.

That BBC bias is displayed in the selection of which news stories to present related to independence, in the selection of guests on programmes, in the selection of which facts to highlight within the selected stories, in the comment provided by BBC journalists, and in the treatment afforded to guests, the way guests are presented, the respect they are or are not given and the opportunity they have to present their arguments.

Wednesday's coverage of the official, civil service prepared GERS report indicating that Scotland subsidises the rest of the UK’s public finances brought these matters to a head.

The BBC’s own journalists presented the report solely as indicating Scotland had a fiscal deficit, without the BBC commenters saying that Scotland’s finances were much better than the rest of the UK – despite the fact that the determination of the comparison is the avowed main purpose of the report.

The BBC subordinated the GERS report to a commentary by the Fraser of Allander Institute allegedly indicating Scotland’s economy was too weak to sustain independence. They ran the story all day but did not reveal once that the Fraser Institute is a New Labour “think-tank”, and its head is the husband of Wendy Alexander, failed Scottish Labour leader, and brother-in-law of shadow Foreign Minister Douglas Alexander.

Fraser has an appalling forecasting record, having issued dire and completely wrong forecasts on growth ever since the SNP came to power in Holyrood.  It is, in short, not a real economic institute at all but another New Labour device to fund undeclared political contributions in effect to the party (cf the Smith Institute).

The GERS report was also subordinated in news bulletings to a “leaked” report about Scotland’s future spending choices. The apocalyptic tone of the BBC reporting of this bore no relation to the report’s contents. They continually showed the report with a graphic of a cover stamped Top Secret – an entirely false graphic actually made by the No campaign and circulated by them with a press release. This leaked report was the number one news story, and television guests invited to discuss it in the course of the day were unionist to nationalist in the ratio of 17 to 3.

Just one day, but part of an unbroked pattern of behaviour by BBC Scotland.

Broadcast media does have a real impact on public opinion and voting intentions. BBC Scotland is particularly influential as there is limited alternative broadcasting which reflects across its output of Scots culture and interests.

Fairness in an election campaign is a much wider concept than the process of voting, and fairness of access to broadcast media is an extremely important component of that. It is plain that, as things stand, the referendum campaign will not be free and fair.

Action must be taken now. That necessary and urgent action is for Alex Salmond and the Government of Scotland to approach the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and request that the subordinate Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, ponounced Oh Dear!) deploy immediately an election monitoring mission to cover the referendum.

I have witnessed ODIHR monitoring operations in action, and once had a job interview in Warsaw to be Head of ODIHR. In this, the pre-campaign period, ODIHR will immediately despatch a small team to Scotland of which the principal task will be media monitoring. They will be guided by this ODIHR media monitoring handbook.

This details what they analyse, including these criteria:

  • Were election candidates and political parties given equal opportunity to present their campaigns and platforms to the electorate through the media?
  • Did election candidates or political parties have equal or equitable access on a non-discriminatory basis to public/state media?
  • Were the relevant types of television programmes, such as news programmes or debates, unbiased?

Yes, ODIHR can and does monitor referenda as well as elections – the guidelines are easily followed mutatis mutandi.

It Salmond asks for an OSCE observation mission, I have no doubt it will be granted – there is a strong presumption in favour of missions within the OSCE, and member states like Russia repeatedly complain there should be more monitoring of the West, not just the East.

It is hard to see on what grounds the Unionists can oppose international election monitors. They could not in practice stop it. Russia and Ukraine, for example, hate OSCE election observers in their country but have been obliged to accept them. To refuse would likely mean expulsion from the OSCE.

I believe the reason international observers have not yet been requested is a false understanding of their brief, ie that they only check the balloting and counting. That is not true at all – they monitor all the issues around fairness in a holistic way. Their brief is much wider than that of the UK Electoral Commission. The referendum already having been announced, we are already in the designated pre-campaign period. The OSCE observers would come immediately.

The clock is ticking. Alex Salmond must ACT.

Courtesy of Craig Murray - http://www.craigmurray.org.uk - Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist.  He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

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