Is BBC Scotland Biased Against Rangers?
- 04 October 2012
With Rangers and the BBC at loggerheads over a Sportscene intro portraying Ally McCoist falling to the ground outside the Main Stand and Radio Scotland’s ‘Off the Ball’ making a question of “Fat Sally or Super Ally”, the fans are asking if the BBC is biased against Rangers.
The answer is of course ‘No’. Network BBC is a huge media machine that really does want to inform and educate the nation to the best of their ability. BBC executives aren’t plotting to ‘get’ Rangers in any way, shape or form.
In fact, the BBC recently investigated this very question and came out with the only logical conclusion: BBC Scotland as an institution is not biased against Rangers. However, an answer is only as good as the question given.
A better question is this: are there elements within BBC Scotland that are acting unprofessionally and putting their own personal feelings or opinions before the BBC guidelines when it comes to Rangers?
With this the answer isn’t so clear cut.
Although the BBC does not set out to be biased towards anyone, it has a huge flaw within its structure. Although the BBC system itself is neutral, many have forgotten that those who implement it are ordinary human beings.
Instead of striving to be impartial, many journalists who work for the BBC fall into the trap of believing their views are impartial.
And what happens if their personal worldview is confirmed as 'correct' by others who also have a similar viewpoint and no-one challenges each other? Bias accidentally creeps in.
As BBC presenter Andrew Marr said in 2007: the similar cultural background of BBC employees, rather than any nasty political choice, has created an “innate liberal bias inside the BBC.”
(For the purposes of this article it doesn’t matter what kind of political bias - if any - resides at BBC Scotland, more that we can establish that it is possible for BBC journalists, like everyone else, to be blind-sided by their own confirmation bias - i.e. favouring information that confirms their own view of the world.)
The answer to this problem is proper safeguards and checks. Unfortunately, one of those is the BBC Complaints system, and it simply doesn't work.
To be clear - those who work within BBC Complaints departments work very hard and have the highest standards of professionalism. They are not at fault.
But they can only work within a system that is designed to deflect and deny any wrongdoing from the initial problem, unless the number of complaints or outside pressure makes that untenable. (The BBC expects you to believe your solitary comment is worth the same as one from the Labour Party or twenty thousand people. It's not true.)
When a complaint is made the licence-fee payer will often be told that it will be registered in the 'audience log' that is made available to top BBC executives and producers.
This is usually enough to reassure the viewer or listener. After all if these people are taking notice of it, then their viewpoint is taken seriously.
What is often not said is that anything registered on an 'audience log' can be seen by BBC employees, if they choose to read it. There is no requirement to acknowledge or act on it.
The complaints 'firewall' ensures there is rarely, if ever, any personal consequences for BBC staff. The complaints system is not there so that the voice of the licence-fee payer can be heard, it’s there to protect the producers or journalists from listening.
And let's not pretend that this is not necessary. BBC programmes can't be decided like the X-Factor, and it's proper that undue influence is not put into artistic or journalist endeavour. However, it often leads to the opposite extreme where those who complain are mocked and ignored.
With a working culture that has the tendency to confirmation bias, protected by a complaints and comments system designed to have the least possible impact on the BBC itself and then we add to the mix the lack of any commercial pressure due to the licence-fee - we can see how it is possible for the Beeb to become inflexible and even arrogant over certain issues.
And if the network BBC can be a bubble within a bubble, we can now add the layer of the Scottish dimension. BBC Scotland is quite rightly partially autonomous (and on the whole does a good job), but with so much insulation from any real consequences, is it possible that there are parochial views within BBC Scotland that are not being challenged?
Whether true or not, one of the problems that Rangers fans often complain about is that they are stereotyped as bigots and racists, purely because they support their football team.
If you want a bogeyman to blame in Scotland - from the Hokey Cokey to Domestic Abuse - then Rangers fans are an easy scapegoat. Anything goes, because they deserve it really.
This hysteria is rarely challenged, even in more intelligent circles, and the question remains: is it possible that some within BBC Scotland don't see this as a stereotype, and have instead accepted it as fact?
Take the recent example of the ‘Fat Sally or Super Ally' question on Radio Scotland’s ‘Off the Ball’. This was officially justified by the BBC as, “the support expressed for Ally McCoist by our presenters, our guests and listeners was overwhelmingly positive.”
Is the world-class BBC really saying that offering up a term of abuse towards a private individual, to tens of thousands of people without consent, is fine because the same people who offered the derogatory remarks in the first place let others continue the humiliation they started?
What about those who took their cue and happily agreed that Ally McCoist is a ‘Fat Sally’? It soon became an astonishing twenty minutes of the BBC validating other people’s hatred and anger to the extent that emails were read out by presenters that called Ally McCoist a “fraud”.
There is no informing, educating or even comedy here. It’s purely a personal attack to humiliate Ally McCoist, and the BBC Guidelines are very clear that this should never be the case:
Section 5: Harm and Offence - intimidation and humiliation:
BBC content must respect human dignity. Intimidation, humiliation, intrusion, aggression and derogatory remarks are all aspects of human behaviour that may be discussed or included in BBC output. Some content can be cruel but unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory remarks aimed at real people (as opposed to fictional characters or historic figures) must not be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment. Care should be taken that such comments and the tone in which they are delivered are proportionate to their target
If this was the only account of using the BBC system to express needlessly negative views on Rangers then there should be no issue, but there are lots of examples of a low-level, yet consistent, dropping of professional standards when it comes to Rangers.
Last year in the Caledonian Mercury, the journalist Stewart Weir picked up the same issue when discussing the BBC mantra that it placed “absolute value” on its “accuracy and impartiality”. He said:
“Is that the same kind of “accuracy and impartiality” which saw a wee weather lassie refer to Ibrox as “Castle Greyskull” […] or tagged a photo of one-time Gers midfielder as Kevin “cunt” Thomson”, or labelled a picture of Nell McAndrew modelling the new Rangers kit as “the hun”?
"Story about bigotry – captions with orange parades or guys with Rangers gear on. Story about football violence – picture of Rangers supporters. Story about Hearts fans booing a minute’s silence when the Pope dies – picture of Rangers fans.”
There are many more, and while each incident is only a single piece of the jigsaw puzzle, when taken together a pattern soon emerges.
If a Radio Scotland presenter laughs while reading out a text that Rangers fans are “sub-human”, you can be fobbed off by the Beeb that it was a regrettable and solitary mistake - but you may well know it’s not.
Andrew Dickson, Rangers' Publications Editor & Rangers TV presenter summed it up perfectly when he tweeted:
"I don't understand why the BBC continue to antagonise Rangers fans. Are they not meant to uphold the very highest standards in journalism?"
And it doesn't end at just antagonism. 'Reporting Scotland' edited a news broadcast to show Ally McCoist smiling at a question on violence at Rangers-Celtic matches and sectarianism.
Once again, when ordinary viewers complained they were informed that they were mistaken. As usual, it was only when outside pressure was put on them – when Rangers and McCoist got involved - that they even admitted to a mistake and eventually apologised.
This is when there should have been a real enquiry into why this was done and by whom. On such a serious issue and trusted show, editing someone to make them look bad does not only break BBC guidelines, it reaches into an area that is deeply unethical. Serious alarm bells should have been ringing - but what were the consequences for those involved? Nothing.
Another example is BBC Scotland's zero tolerance to football aggression and sectarianism. Most people who read the BBC Scotland website or watch the news shows will know that any Gers fan arrested for bigotry is immediately headline news. Even the very week that the Bank of Scotland was near collapse, the headlines were about Rangers fans singing songs.
Fewer will know that the Beeb is more tolerant of its own staff.
One such incident was alleged by the News of the World that “Scots radio star Stuart Cosgrove was booted off a station platform by cops for singing anti-Rangers songs” reported as "have you seen a handsome hun, No, No."
Cosgrove himself responded to this in his newspaper column by saying, "can anyone truly say they have seen a handsome hun?"
But worse were his comments to a St Johnstone fanzine:
"One time we were through at Hearts, and we were at Falkirk station on the way, on the same day Rangers were playing Falkirk. It was Huns galore -thousands of them, and there were maybe 40 of us in the CYS from Perth. We got on the train at Falkirk station, we just opened the windows as it started moving, and gave them 'Orange wankers' and all the rest of it, and of course as soon as we were moving - the train stopped and started moving back into the station! The driver must have been a Hun or something."
Presumably the station had families and children on the platform - Rangers fans or not.
Just to be clear, past stupidity is not the issue. This is about how BBC Scotland and staff react to actions in the present. This was not a revelation of some past error by another person, this was his own proud boast of sectarianism against Rangers fans. The context was not as a mistake, but as a trophy.
Not only did a BBC presenter feel no need to worry about admitting to sectarianism against Rangers fans, but incredibly the official BBC reply reported was: "He [Cosgrove] has nothing to hide".
Can you imagine such a response to a BBC presenter being racist or sectarian to any other group? No apology, no enquiry, no issue. If anything, it could be seen by some as a defence of sectarianism - as long as the victims are “Orange Wankers”.
For those who revel in such things, the protection of the BBC gives them confidence to sink lower. Just last year the same presenter stated that the new Aberdeen ground should be called the “Ian Durrant Stadium” - presumably because the young Rangers player was horrifically injured at Pittodrie.
It would be unthinkable for any BBC presenter or guest to boast about “Fenians Wankers”, call Hampden Park the “John Kennedy Stadium” or single-mindedly try to humiliate Neil Lennon, and rightly so. It would be appalling - yet the reverse is not only acceptable - but defended.
In summary, is network BBC or BBC Scotland plotting against Rangers as an institution? The answer is of course ‘no’.
Are there grounds for a real enquiry into an element within BBC Scotland, that are acting unprofessionally and putting their own personal feelings or opinions before the BBC guidelines when it comes to Rangers? On the evidence provided here the answer is 'yes'.
All they need to do is list every incident on an official BBC document (everything here as well as the others that they themselves acknowledge actually happened) and justify each one as a single occurrence.
But if they do, regardless of the outcome, the list itself might be all the evidence anyone needs that something is not quite right within BBC Pacific Quay.