What is to be done about the Unionist bias in public broadcast services?

By which, I mean the BBC.

When Jabba the Huh? asked Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about how Scotland would have handled the bail-out of the banks during the economic crisis of 2007, you’d have been forgiven for expecting an answer that contained financial detail and a comparison with how other small nations actually had to deal with exactly that problem.

Unfortunately, Brian Taylor/ his editors/ BBC policy in general, determined that the headline to the interview – which lasts half-an-hour and which most people will not have time to watch in full – is posted on the BBC website should read: Sturgeon says an independent Scotland would have relied on UK for RBS bailout.

This is not what was said. At all.  Rather, the headline should have read: An independent Scotland would have worked with rUK on RBS bailout.

To paraphrase, the explanation given by Nicola Sturgeon included the real example of the Fortis Bank. It needed taxpayer bailout. It operates out of three countries: Belgium, Lumenbourg and the Netherlands. Politicians from the three countries met, agreed what would be a fair ratio for each to contribute and did so. Easy.

Here’s another example. This time from the UK. It’s no secret that the US Federal Reserve paid out $600bn to help in the bail-out of both RBS and HBOS. If US taxpayers felt more than a little cheated that they wee paying out for banks with headquarters in the UK, we can understand why. We are not talking small sums of money here. These negotiations would not have been easy but everyone acted together. Why? Because these banks have operations across many nations such is the nature of international finance from which – if we are to believe the economists – we all benefit.

The crucial question perhaps would have been: How much would an independent Scotland have had to pay? Well, at the time of its failure, RBS had its headquarters in Scotland. That does not mean that Scotland alone would have been expected to cough up the entire sum as the funds from the US demonstrate. 90% of RBS’ UK operations are in England. This means that Scotland would have paid 10% and England 90% of the sums involved for the UK share of operations.

The international nature of finance explains why Alastair Darling had to not only arrange to spend your money on bailing out so-called UK banks but financial institutions like AEG too – based in New York. The choice available to politicians at the time was bail-out all banks or bail-out none. Rather than having taxpayers go to pay for their groceries and finding that there’s no money to pay in theri accounts, politicians not unreasonably decided to use our money to protect our money. How they went about doing that – and may be expected to that again in the future – is a different debate that has as much to do with our continuing delusion of living in a representative democracy as it does with economics.

The crucial point is that the BBC is a public broadcaster. When reporting news or, in this case, broadcasting an interview as part of a commitment to detailed analysis of the news, the least that can be expected is that the story and the headline accurately reflect what was said. It is not only pro-union voters who pay licence fees. It is not only pro-independence voters who object to perceived bias in the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics. There is a responsibility to explain the issues clearly – if not also succinctly – that voters who are as yet undecided may obtain the facts.

If, as this article points out the BBC is not only going to post fake headlines but when complaints are made (a) fail to acknowledge a mistake has been made and (b) cover-up this ‘mistake’ by manually changing the time-stamp on the story which automatically records any further edits, then questions should be asked.

Fortunately, one of the negotiated elements contained in the current draft of The Scotland Bill, is that the Scottish government will be able to have input on broadcast appointments .ie. BBC Scotland will no longer be able to ram its staff to the gills with unionist Labour Party supporters and thereby control the bias on the editorial controls.

However, I don’t think this change is necessary. Scottish taxpayers contribute 8.3% of UK revenues. It’s safe to assume that they also contribute around that share in TV license fees. Why then is Scotland’s share of BBC spend at less than 3%? How about we stop paying the license fee? If enough of us in Scotland did that, the BBC would have to take notice and so would the other broadcasters? With such comprehensive and unbiased reporting as this item, it’s a fair bet that our licence fee money could be better spent. Can you imagine Cathy, Krish or Jon laying into Mark Thompson (or Brian Taylor himself) about public value in public broadcast? That’s an interview I would pay to watch.

One other thing: Royal Bank of Scotland is not a Scottish bank.  It was, at the time of the bail-out, a public company with an FTSE listing.  Following the taxpayer bail-out, it retains a public listing but is to all purposes, a public asset while the UK Treasury maintains 83% ownership.  On a related note, The Bank of England is not an English bank and though made independent of direct government control in 1997 by the then Labour government at Westminster, it remains a public asset.  As a public asset, Scots tax payers own 8.3% of the total.  Bank of the UK, anyone?

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