I hate to ask that question, because the BBC has been an invaluable part of my life since I was a child, and my first instinct is to spring to its defence when it is attacked, as it always has been, on many fronts and for many reasons.
The BBC is a unique institution, and is recognised as such throughout the world. It has been a vital channel of communication, information and hope for occupied and oppressed countries across the globe throughout its long history, as well as being a major engine of culture.
But from its monopoly status in certain aspects of its operations, through regular accusations of bias and partiality - from just about every interest group imaginable - to complaints about the allegedly excessive salaries and perks of its senior management, the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, is a target.
It has been variously accused of being
biased towards libertarianism
too bold in its programming
not bold enough
nationalistic and jingoistic
not patriotic enough
of concealing the realities of war
of being too open about the realities of war
The list goes on and on. It is accused of being a slave to balance in reporting, and yet is regularly accused of lack of balance. It is at one and the same time apparently anodyne yet radical in its style.
The BBC could reasonable respond – and does - that the mutually contradictory range of criticisms levelled at it are demonstration enough of its objectivity and lack of bias.
It has a major foe, potentially its nemesis - the Murdoch organisation, a force for evil in the world if ever there was one in my book, masquerading as free and fearless populist press, responding to the wishes of the people as shown through sales, with the unspeakable Fox News as its model for keeping the ‘free’ world informed. The Murdoch Press believes that the BBC is monopolistic, and hold this belief without any sense of irony.
So I instinctively spring to the BBC’s defence, an aged Don Quixote, saucepan on head, stumbling forward on Rosinante, but with no Sancho Panza to offer moral support. Hands off the Beeb!
I am reluctantly forced to conclude that there is something which, if not yet rotten in the state of BBC Scotland, is giving off a highly dubious aroma.
I am torn between recognising that it is virtually the only medium to offer any real coverage to the SNP among the biased media of Scotland, to regularly feeling that the coverage contains a distinct bias towards the unionist case.
There is perhaps some reason to expect a kind of metropolitan myopia from the BBC at Broadcasting House in recognising the aspirations of a very large segment of the Scottish electorate to secure the independence of their country, and towards the political party that embodies that viewpoint, the Scottish National Party, even though it is the current choice of the Scottish people and forms the Government in a devolved Parliament.
Buried in the heart of London, within easy reach of Westminster and the politicians and civil servants who govern the UK, they are a part of the Westminster village, and absorb its values by a process of osmosis almost. Scotland only occasionally intrudes into their consciousness sufficiently to warrant real attention. And it is, after all, the British Broadcasting Corporation, but it is not the UK Broadcasting Corporation – the UKBC!
But there is no such excuse from number 40 Pacific Quay in the great Scottish city of Glasgow, a mere forty miles or so away from Holyrood. Yet any objective observer could only conclude that, in the lead-up to the 2007 election and in the three and a bit years since, there have been many instances where the SNP has not been given a fair throw of the dice, and the niggling suspicion that the dice are loaded and the game is not being played according to Hoyle lingers.
I take heart from the fact that Brian Taylor, a fine journalist who exhibits high journalistic standards at all times, and whose objectivity has never been called in to question by any reasonable person, is BBC Scotland’s Chief Political Reporter. But Brian is one man.
Joan McAlpine, a highly professional journalist herself -- a columnist with The Scotsman, has explored this criticism vigorously in an article today on her blog, Go, Lassie, Go .
She does not avoid coming to grips with specifics, naming BBC Scotland reporters and commentators and exploring aspect of their backgrounds and affiliations that might raise questions in the minds of a reasonable observer.
Now no one is suggesting, least of all Joan, who herself is a prominent SNP supporter and a candidate for a seat in Holyrood at the next election, that reporters do not have a right to political opinions and affiliations. What she argues for is a level playing field, and that political affiliations do not intrude into the objectivity of salaried journalists in a public broadcaster like the BBC.
So, BBC Scotland – sit up and take notice! There is a growing sense of disquiet among many nationalists, and among fair-minded democrats who are not nationalist supporters, but who value the freedom of the press and media, that while there may not yet be something rotten in the state of Pacific Quay, it is time to get the fridge thermometer out and check …