The Purpose of the BBC

Given that the political objective of the Scottish National Party, as the most powerful political party of the Scottish independence movement, is the independence of Scotland, we must consider carefully its relationship with the British state broadcaster, the BBC. Throughout the 2012-14 independence referendum campaign both the official non-party pro-independence campaign, Yes Scotland, and the SNP gave regular briefings to the BBC and encouraged their delegated and representatives to appear on radio and televised BBC talk shows and political debates in spite of overwhelming academic evidence suggesting the BBC was a partisan agent, siding with the British government and the unionist anti-independence campaign.

Today, more than four years after that campaign, while the SNP remains the party in government in Scotland and holds the majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats, and as the constitutional crisis engendered by Brexit approaches crisis point, the Scottish government and the SNP continue to engage with the state broadcaster as though it is a neutral agent and an honest broker. It is neither. Outcry over the treatment of Fiona Hyslop MSP, the Scottish government’s Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, on BBC Question Time (Thursday 7 February 2019) is nothing new. She was quite clearly set up by producers and state actors to face a hostile audience and aggressive interrogation from an audience member, William A. Mitchell, who has been shown to have been selected as a participant four times – and has been allowed to ask questions on each appearance – on this purportedly highly vetted political programme.

Trusting the BBC to be neutral or at the very least balanced in its coverage and representation of a political party and a political movement with the expressed aim of breaking-up the United Kingdom is naïve in the extreme. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the “public purposes” of the British state broadcaster:

The BBC should bring people together for shared experiences and help contribute to the social cohesion and wellbeing of the United Kingdom.
Royal Charter for the continuance of the BBC (Art. 6. 4)

Here, in the wording of the BBC charter, the words “cohesion” and wellbeing” have state-political connotations, referring to the unity and structural integrity of the state. In sum, the purpose of the British Broadcasting Corporation is to assist in the process of England’s political domination of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Thus, everything it does is directed to that end. Even when it provides a platform to the SNP, Sinn Féin, and Plaid Cymru, it is obliged to ensure they are presented to the listening and viewing public in such a way that they are left in no doubt that the normative political voice of this society is that of the British hegemon.

It must be concluded, then, that any participation on the BBC by these national pro-independence parties and other activists representing the independence movements – other than careful, well-formulated, and rehearsed statements – is a serious tactical mistake. Not all platforms are useful platforms. As has been said elsewhere, the BBC does indeed provide a platform for alternative political narratives, but this platform is more akin to the platform of the guillotine or the gallows – the spectacle of the gibbet whereat the British state deals with its rebellious subjects.

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