William and Kate’s seven day tour of Scotland next week seems certain to be accompanied by a larger than originally anticipated media entourage following the prince’s extraordinary personal savaging of the BBC. But, wherever the scribblers, snappers and dish monkeys are dispatched from, they will doubtless remain oblivious to the fact that they’re in a part of the realm in which the world’s supposedly preeminent public service broadcaster lost much of the public’s trust some time back. Somewhere it is unlikely ever to retrieve it.
The Palace will swiftly patch up its frayed relationship with the Beeb because the Crown and the corporation have always enjoyed a deeply symbiotic relationship. The monarchy depends upon the forelock-tugging deference of Nicholas Witchell, Huw Edwards and Andrew Marr every bit as much as the BBC relies upon periodic renewal of its royal charter for its continued existence. If you read Prince William’s statement you will see how, after excoriating Martin Bashir’s monstrous treatment of his mother, he refers in the last paragraph to the importance of public service broadcasting. This is a brief rift in relations not a crisis.
The future king knows very well that he and Auntie are better together. They will do everything in their (sadly considerable) combined power to keep this kingdom united – and every square inch of its realm in a semi-feudal time warp. The Firm has the slickest PR and marketing machine on the face of the Earth, as we were amply reminded by the incredibly reverential coverage of Prince Philip’s passing.
Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot about the Queen’s consort because of that and my attitude towards him was significantly altered. Also, on a basic human level, I abhorred how Diana Spencer was psychologically destroyed by one of the most ruthless power machines on the planet. We can only imagine what trauma she endured after Mr Bashir cunningly convinced her that MI5 and MI6 chiefs were plotting to have her “wiped out”. But what concerns me is that democracy in Scotland was – and continues to be – shafted far more by the BBC than Princess Di ever was. Not just by one single rogue reporter a quarter of a century ago but to this day (and 24 hours a day) by all the rogues at Pacific Quay and Broadcasting House who take the Queen’s shilling for rebellious Scots to crush.
It isn’t Princess Di-like paranoia to assume these include a number of strategically placed MI5 plants. Indeed, it would be naive to imagine that the BBC’s vast news and current affairs machine isn’t riddled with agents of the archaic Anglo-British state. Her Majesty’s secret services wouldn’t be doing everything in their chilling capacity to defend the realm if they hadn’t infiltrated the UK’s most influential (by far) news and opinion provider.
We saw what that delivered for the preservers of the status quo during the 2014 referendum campaign – an endless stream of far from balanced and impartial output from pundits and reporters who considered it their responsibility to show how “foolish” it would be to vote Yes. An operating assumption that the pro-Indy arguments were “wrong”. That was how the man who led the BBC’s referendum coverage described what happened. But even Allan Little didn’t blow the whistle on this when it really mattered – early in the campaign. He only did so half a decade later in a series of BBC documentaries reflecting on that tumultuous plebiscite.
Let’s be clear about Mr Little’s level of journalistic integrity and patriotism. This Scot witnessed round the clock how his country’s (possibly only ever) opportunity to determine its constitutional future was being systematically undermined by his employer’s persistent political bias yet he thought it more important not to risk getting chucked off the great big BBC gravy train. Among all the lies pumped out at that time there were also lies of silence.
Seven years later, the only investigation there has been into this period was conducted by an academic at the University of the West of Scotland. In February 2014 – a full seven months before Scottish voters made that momentous decision on our nation’s future – John Robertson issued the findings of carefully conducted, quantitative research, in which he concluded:
On the objective evidence presented here, the mainstream TV coverage of the first year of the independence referendum campaigns has not been fair or balanced. Taken together, we have evidence of coverage which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign.
Yet the BBC (and, to a slightly lesser extent, other broadcasters) were allowed to carry on inflicting colossal damage to the Indy cause right up to polling day. The onslaught in favour of the No side was ramped up on the eve of voting, most notoriously (but far from only) by the BBC’s then political editor Nick Robinson.
One aspect of the bias spotlighted by the UWS researchers was endless personalised attacks on Alex Salmond. Despite his stepping down as First Minister and SNP leader after the failure to secure a Yes victory, such attacks have still not abated. We saw that by the almost complete blackout of Alba throughout the recent Holyrood election campaign and by the extraordinarily aggressive interviews to which he was subjected by the likes of Gary Robertson.
Goons like him were green lighted by their off-air commanders to set about (or simply exclude) the former FM. And nothing was done about this by the broadcast industry’s supposedly independent regulator. So above the political fray is Ofcom that the man widely tipped to be its next chair is Ed Vaizey, a lifelong Conservative who served as Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries under that paragon of political integrity and public accountability, David Cameron.
Appearing on Newsnight last night to comment upon the Di disaster – and boost his chances of beating off a challenge by former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre to become Ofcom’s next boss – Baron Vaizey of Didcot stated:
We all pay the license fee. We pay it under criminal sanction, as it were, if we don’t pay it. So everyone has an interest in how the BBC behaves and how it organised itself going forward.
We do all have an interest in that – especially in Scotland at this critical juncture in our struggle for a proper democracy and national self-determination – but our rights to fair coverage by the BBC will never be equally respected. The whole essence of a monarchical regime is that an awesomely privileged dynasty is considered far more worthy of respect than all of their subjects put together. Accorded phenomenal, fawning deference every hour of its existence, the House of Windsor is the apex of power in the UK’s still semi-feudal society. Everyone in it can now count upon even less scrutiny from the primary moulder of public opinion in their kingdom. For the foreseeable future none of the extended Royal family (not even Prince Andrew) need fear another Martin Bashir or Emily Maitliss rocking the Palace. Nor will any of them ever be prosecuted by the Crown for not purchasing a TV license.