September 17, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
On Sunday there was a demonstration outside BBC Scotland in which an effigy of Chief political correspondent Nick Robinson was held up and he was accused of corruption and lying and a poster was put up at the entrance accusing the BBC of bias when covering the Scottish Independence debate.
This is a serious accusation and one which should not be made lightly against any journalist. It was triggered by a report in which Robinson had reported that Alex Salmond had twice refused to answer his questions on RBS leaving Scotland in the wake of independence. Salmond had said that the exchange had been edited to look as if that had happened but it wasn’t so.
After the protests, Salmond refused to condemn the protesters – who could be accused of trying to intimidate journalists and influence coverage through their actions – saying that “I think there’s real public concern in terms of some of the nature and balance of the coverage.”
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am as frustrated as anyone when it comes to Alex Salmond not answering questions properly. But then I thought I would look into it and he may possibly have a point about the balance of the coverage.
Last week, Deutsche Bank’s Chief Economist – David Folkerts-Landau, issued a press release in which he questioned the motivation for Scottish Independence – and last weekend’s newspapers were bursting with dreadful warnings using his words about how a yes vote would be “a political and economic mistake as large as Winston Churchill’s decision in 1925 to return the pound to the gold standard” or the missteps in Washington that triggered the Great Depression.
This week, Michala Marcussen from Societe Generale wrote an equally forceful note which argued that a yes vote would lay bare the fact that, without Scotland’s oil exports, the rest of the UK simply doesn’t pay its way in the world – and so independence would see “sterling quite rightly plunge into the abyss”.
Two well-known financial strategists, two divergent views – but only one got amplified by the media.
Now, I have scoured the internet for information on this referendum so I have read widely on it, and I would hope that I am well informed about the arguments for and against it. But many people rely on the mainstream press and broadcast media. For an intervention on one side of the debate to be so heavily publicized and an intervention on the other side to be so lightly publicized does make me wonder whether there really might be a bias, and whether the Scots in particular are getting access to as informed a debate as they should be.
We are seeing a lot of the intimidation of politicians and journalists by supporters of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Does that mean there is none from the ‘No’ campaign? Or that it is not reported so heavily?
I am completely against intimidation of journalists, be it by a mob on the street or by the threat of a “dab of statute” (ie. press regulation by the State). But if the press are not giving equal airtime to both sides of such a finely balanced debate then maybe Alex Salmond is right that someone does need to shout about it.