Sunday, 22 February 2009

Suppressing the news at BBC Scotland

More news reaches us of BBC efforts to prevent 'awkward' news reaching us.

Today's Sunday Herald carries a report on how BBC Scotland bosses sought to stifle reporting of the recent occupation at their Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow. The action came in response to the BBC's decision not to air the DEC Appeal, and followed previous demonstrations outside the BBC over its biased coverage of Israel's attacks on Gaza.
"Peter Murray, deputy leader of the National Union of Journalists' BBC Scotland branch, said the union had received complaints about the incident which it had passed to management.

He said management claimed the decision not to film was made in an attempt to stop others from copying the protesters and to prevent other groups from trying to occupy the BBC Scotland building in the future.

Murray said: "We can't just stop reporting on social unrest because the reports might encourage people to get involved. If you work in journalism it's your job to report these things. We can't go checking with the authorities before you go out on a story." "

Murray's point raises further questions not only about the BBC's role in the DEC affair and pro-Israel bias, but also over its presumed role as 'civil monitor'. Does the BBC have the right or remit to deter public dissent? Should it be making editorial decisions which serve to dissuade people from engaging in political protest, even where that involves civil disobedience? Should it be avoiding such coverage in order to safeguard its own buildings from further protest?

The BBC would, no doubt, reject any suggestion that it acts in this way. That wouldn't be "impartial". Yet, here's a valuable insight into that very partial and calculating domain.

As one of the participants in this action, we considered it vital that the BBC come and 'report itself'. We now get some insight on just how reluctant they were to do that. During our negotiations with Head of Public and Corporate Affairs, Ian Small, we asked, as part of the conditions for leaving the building, that a BBC reporter/film crew come and cover the protest. Only after being repeatedly pressed did he give an undertaking to contact the newsdesk and pass on our request.

This latest disclosure also highlights the kind of editorial pressures on journalists to 'be BBC safe'. It's another disturbing illustration of the fearful Orwellian atmosphere inside the organisation.


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