Friday, 4 April 2014

British/English media bias

In the past week, so-called ‘national’ broadcasters devoted no-less than two-hours of prime-time television primarily to Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

There was a one-hour documentary on Channel 4 all about Mr Farage, during which the former City of London stockbroker was presented in a positive light.  That was followed, a day later, by another hour-long, prime-time slot, on the BBC, which featured Mr Farage debating with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on the issue of whether or not the UK should remain a member of the European Union.

The English media maintains a fascination for Farage, which results in him receiving airtime way beyond the standing of his party.  Over the past two-years, the person who has appeared most-often on the BBC’s Question Time is Nigel Farage.  His deputy and other party representatives have also featured.

The following article was originally published in May 2013.  Given the London-based media’s continued promotion of Farage and UKIP, the message of the article is worth repeating.    

Unfortunately, British broadcasters and newspapers don’t make any concessions for Scotland, so you would be forgiven for thinking the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was now a political force.

Over the past week, our so-called ‘national’ news on the BBC, broadcast from London, has been reporting how UKIP produced a seismic shift in politics by securing almost 25% of the votes cast in local government elections. The fact those local elections only took place in parts of England and had no relevance to Scotland was barely mentioned.

ITV and Sky, also broadcasting ‘national’ news from London, have been telling us the same story.

In every British newspaper - including those that add the word ‘Scottish’ to their mastheads on copies sold north of the border – we have seen almost saturation coverage of UKIP’s advance, accompanied by photos showing a smiling Nigel Farage, the party’s leader.

However, in Scotland, UKIP is rightly ranked alongside the Monster Raving Loony Party. Even Farage has described Scotland as “a graveyard” for UKIP, but that hasn’t stopped so-called ‘national’ broadcasters and newspapers from completely ignoring the Scottish reality and telling us instead that the far-right party is now a credible political organisation.

Let’s put things in perspective by looking at UKIP’s actual results in Scotland: at the 2009 European Parliament Election they polled just 5% and at the Scottish Parliament Election of 2011 their share of the vote was 1%. UKIP might have taken almost 25% at last week’s local government elections in England, but at the last comparative poll in Scotland – the 2012 Council Elections – the party received 0.28% of the votes cast.

These are the results of a political party soundly rejected by the people of Scotland, and for good reason.

UKIP was formed by disaffected Tories for whom the Conservatives were not sufficiently right-wing. A quick glance at what passes for policy within UKIP shows they are borderline racist: the party is anti-immigrants, anti-minorities and ferociously anti-European Union – all those ‘Johnney foreigner’ types mis-spending English tax-payers money (despite the fact the UK is represented at every level within the EU).

In addition to those positions, UKIP ran a campaign for the English local government elections which pandered to other right-wing prejudices, such as anti-gay marriage and branding those on benefits as scroungers living on hand-outs. If you look at the political spectrum, UKIP sits on the far-right, mid-way between the Tories and the fascist British National Party (BNP). It was no coincidence that BNP leader Nick Griffin posted a piece on the party’s website following the English local government elections, suggesting his party’s supporters should consider looking to UKIP as a political vehicle to advance their hate-filled far-right ideology.

Most Scots embrace a moderate left-of-centre, social-democratic position, which makes UKIP’s nasty, far-right policies completely anathema in Scotland. As a result, the party will continue to occupy a berth on the extreme fringe of Scottish politics. Yet, because British (London-based) mainstream media completely ignore Scotland, news programmes broadcast into our living-rooms will continue to give the far-right party a credibility and position that bears no resemblance to their actual standing north of the border.

Scots should bear in mind this misrepresentation as we progress towards the referendum on independence. It is not just in relation to UKIP that British print and broadcast media report news from an English perspective as if that also represents the position in Scotland.

British (mainly London-based) media-outlets are heavily slanted in favour of the British Union, so don’t expect anything close to impartial news coverage of matters relating to independence. Even the BBC, which is supposed to be impartial, makes clear in its Editorial Guidelines that impartiality “does not require absolute neutrality on every issue”. The BBC’s position on independence is clear and the clue is in the name – it is the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation. There is no such thing as BBC Scotland: what we have is the BBC in Scotland, including non-neutral (or anti-independence) reporting contained in ‘Scottish’ news and current affairs programmes.

The Independence Referendum on September 18th is the most important decision Scots have ever made. In the 307 year history of the British Union, the people of Scotland have never been allowed our say, until now.  In 1707, just 30 Scots aristocrats sold Scotland into a parliamentary union with England.  They were paid by the English for their actions – in total they received around £3m in today’s money.  Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, described them as “such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation”.

In towns and cities across Scotland, ordinary Scots rioted against the union but their voices were ignored.

From that day to this, spanning three-centuries, no Scot has ever been allowed to say whether or not they want their country to remain in the British Union or once again become a normal independent nation. We are the first Scots to get that chance.

If British mainstream media, particularly its parts based in Scotland, continue to distort our political and social reality, and continue to report ‘news’ from a pro-British Union perspective, then their role will mirror the “parcel o’ rogues” who sold Scotland 307 years ago. The reporting of UKIP’s position in England as if it also applied to Scotland is just another example of such distortion.

Until there is a fundamental shift in editorial policy, to allow balanced reporting of issues relating to independence, we should be very wary of what we read in ‘national’ newspapers and hear on news bulletins.

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