Monday, 30 June 2014

Yes protest BBC's biased coverage of independence

An impressive number of Yes supporters assembled outside BBC Scotland HQ yesterday to protest the propagandist nature of its referendum coverage.   
The protest organisers estimated the crowd at around two thousand, rather than the 'hundreds' stated in the BBC's own cursory report.
Notably absent from their coverage was any mention of a rousingly informed speech by University of West of Scotland Professor John Robertson.
Robertson recently published a damning body of research confirming the BBC's biased referendum output, detailing how stories, interviews and other reportage were all weighted in favour of the No campaign.
Professor Robertson has also outlined his findings and views to a parliamentary committee at Holyrood, attended by the heads of BBC Scotland. 
Despite all this evidence, Robertson told the gathering yesterday that the BBC's "bias has gone into overdrive now."
He noted the BBC's constant repetition of shrill warnings over independence, from politicians and militarist figures like Lord George Robertson to celebrities like hairdresser Nicky Clarke. The No-serving quotes and soundbites are being uttered so routinely, he said, it's almost like "a parody".
Professor Robertson spoke of how No-supporting business elites are being deferentially treated. Citing the Weir Group, he said that, unlike the hostile interrogations of Yes figures, the BBC had posed no awkward questions to Weir, such as mentioning their past supplying of weapons-purpose pipes to Saddam Hussein, while the sanctions policy in place at the time was leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.  
As an example of BBC bias by selective omission, Robertson noted an Open Democracy article on the latest Social Attitudes survey showing increasing public approval of the NHS in Scotland, as opposed to decreasing confidence in a more commercially-driven NHS in England and Wales. Why, asks Robertson, is this kind of vital information not being headlined by the BBC?
Alongside his cited research, Professor Robertson also noted the close, insidious connections between senior BBC Scotland and main No political figures. 

He also criticised other media academics for failing to come to the forefront in defence of his research. Many, he said, "like being on the BBC".

Robertson's thoughts and the overall protest message underscores the widening disaffection of Yes voters towards the BBC. While applauding those holding Yes stickers from behind the BBC's windows, there was widespread talk about the necessary purging of the BBC in the event of independence.
The BBC's bias here is part of the same establishment-preserving remit, from its complicit presentations on Iraq, Afghanistan and other criminal 'interventions', to its loaded context and glaring omissions on Palestine-Israel.

Typical of its failure to cover mass anti-war demonstrations, six thousand complaints were recently sent to the BBC after its paltry mention of a fifty thousand strong march in London against austerity.
Thankfully, as with those showing support from inside BBC Scotland, there are still occasional glimpses of critical insight, such as a fine Radio Times piece by Jack Seale, helping to demolish the illusion of 'left-leaning bias' at the BBC. For good measure, Seale even cites Robert Peston, the BBC's economics editor, who describes"persistent claims that the BBC is institutionally biased to the left as "bollocks"."

Indeed. If the BBC is so 'left-leaning', why are the highest executive chairs always filled with people like Lord Patten? And why are we seeing the current efforts to install establishment figure Lord Seb Coe?

All these questions of elite entry and patronage are being increasingly exposed as more of the public come to see the Union-serving motives behind the BBC's independence coverage.

This fine video of the protest outside BBC Scotland offers some excellent thoughts on the case for independence, and what needs to be done to the BBC.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Resist Militarism action at Finnieston Crane, Glasgow

Highest commendations today to the White Feather activists who carried out this brave and imaginative protest against militarism and war propaganda.

On a day dominated by news coverage of Armed Service events, this radical action serves as a valuable reminder of how routinely we're bombarded with messages of 'benign
militarism', all serving to disguise the vast crimes being committed by US-UK-Nato forces.

The huge banner draped by the four courageous activists over the iconic Finnieston Crane on Glasgow's river Clyde faced, appropriately, the main media offices of STV and BBC Scotland, the latter, predictably, choosing to omit any mention of the action.

The protest was, however, reported by STV:
Speaking from the top of the crane protestor Frida Grey said: "When children in Scotland go to see tanks and bombs today in Stirling that's part of the normalisation of military culture. "We've been engaging with police all morning and explained we want to stay here for Armed Forces Day. This is a peaceful protest about getting a message out. "I would encourage people to think more carefully about celebrating military culture. "There is sacrifice and commitment from people in the Forces, but we have to work towards a demilitarised future."
Arrested on breach of the peace charges, these four admirable women have shown, by the tallest moral example, that there are true, humanitarian alternatives to war, spurious 'intervention', corporate-serving weaponry and the insidious culture of militarism that urges us to celebrate it all.    

Follow police and court proceedings against the 'Finnieston Four' via White Feather WW1.

'The white feather  - a symbol of cowardice given to men who did not enlist in WW1. We reclaim it as a symbol of defiance and solidarity.'

Update: Monday 30 June
Court hearing

After lengthy delays, 'lost paperwork' and legal arguments, all four appeared before the judge, pled not guilty and were granted bail.

The Crown had tried to insist on a set of 'special conditions' preventing the accused from entering what they called the Commonwealth Games 'event zone'.

Asked by the judge to specify what was meant by an 'event zone', the fiscal listed over a dozen extensive areas of the city, including the entire Marathon route, around which the women would not be allowed to enter. It also included the Queen's Baton route.

The fiscal accepted the judge's point that this could effectively mean the accused being unable to leave their homes to go to their places of work, study and other locations.

The defence lawyer argued that such restrictions were both disproportionate and logistically unenforceable. He also noted that this had been a specifically anti-war protest, with no particular bearing on the Games.

The judge, sensibly, agreed, also wondering why the Crown had brought the case before this lower district court while seeking such a severe prohibition.

All four were released on standard bail conditions, the only proviso being that they stay 50 metres away from the Finnieston Crane.

Trial dates were set, and the 20 or so supporters in the gallery broke into applause.

There was also a good gathering of supporters with placards outside the court before the hearing, breaking into the improptu chant: 'no weapons, no war, free the Finnie Four'.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Yes to our independent imagination

Watching the recent Tory, Labour and LibDem collaborations on Calton Hill - Labour followers, take historical note - brought home just how deeply terrified the Unionist parties and wider No establishment are of a Yes outcome.
You! Yes, you! Stand still laddie!
It was like some panicked assembly of headteachers trying to reinforce rote obedience in the face of creative insubordination.

With chief No 'headie' Alistair Darling losing credibility by the day, Better Together had also summoned John Major, no less, to issue more stern warnings and threats. 'Call the schoolmaster', indeed.

From the classroom to the workplace, the media box to the ballot box, the system cultivates conformity. So too with the referendum.

The hard negative may have been expediently softened - Saatchified - to 'No thanks', the 'more powers' sop reluctantly peddled - how thankful we should be for added permission to 'run the tuck shop' - but the true intimation is still one of censorious warning: be in line, know your place, fear the consequences, don't even risk contemplating another country, another system, another school of thought.

The No side's worry isn't just over the political, economic and social potentialities of independence, immense as they are. It's the deeper alarm any establishment feels when watching a collective stirring of the independent imagination.

Just think for a moment about that kind of independence, that power to reject what's laid down for us  as 'safe', 'benign' and 'sensible'.

As Chomsky notes, people are systematically encouraged to feel dependent, passive and powerless:
 “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”  
It's the very psychology of social control; a hegemony that works so effectively because we ourselves take refuge in the 'comforting' mitigation.

Thus, the same subservient mindset: we're 'too poor', 'too small', 'too alone' to be independent. Even, in its 'more astute' version, the voice of 'sober restraint': we're 'too cautious', 'too prudent', 'too canny' to make that kind of 'leap'.

Parts of the No-sided left reinforce that sense of 'unworthiness', failing to grasp the imaginative idea that, beyond fair concerns over currency, Nato, monarchy and other such matters, something truly worthy could be crafted from this new, dynamic situation, much more than could ever be expected or hoped of from a conformist status quo.

Are we to dismiss the strategic opportunity of independence to help change these things? Or do we hold to the same old unionist mantras and clone party assurances that things can only be bettered through 'staying together'? What is even meant by 'together'?

The very notion of 'Better Together' is not just a political fiction - what 'commonality' do austerity-afflicted people in Glasgow's Shettleston share with financial elites in the City of London? - it's the injunction to know your station, played out via the concoction that any political 'bond', any social 'connection', can only be realised through the artifice of a British state.

How have people fallen so long for that kind of mythology? Clue: look to generations of conformist party politics and a particular Labourist conditioning that instills aversion to radical thought and serious alternatives.

And yet, despite all this fear-inducing narrative we're still engaged in a marvellous, inspiring debate. While conflict rages in other parts of a fracturing world, we're immensely privileged to be having this great civilised discussion, not only about borders, parliaments and the like, but on the peaceful construction of the radically compassionate society.

Deeply concerned about this exciting chatter, the No heads are reduced to alleging abuse and bullying in the playground. 

A dutiful media pitch in. On the day the Scottish government announced its intention to make the removal of nuclear weapons a constitutional certainty, this key story was relegated by the BBC to No-serving headlines about online abuse against No donor JK Rowling, and comments - one erroneous, the other factual - made by Salmond's political aide about a Labour campaigner's claim to be 'just an ordinary mum'.

While pointing to the crass exploitation of these stories, and very likely involvement of UK intelligence forces in undermining the Yes campaign, Jim Sillars has issued a timely reminder of just how much the establishment welcome online abuse and the headline exaggerations that come with it.

The far greater abuse is that, while such vitriol remains marginal, and manifest on both sides, senior No figure Alistair Darling can get away with making much darker inferences about 'blood and soil' nationalism, and likening Salmond to Kim Jong-il.

Darling's smears are part of a futile attempt to paint a nascent civic movement for meaningful change as 'ethnic nationalism'. In contrast, the No campaign's own rearguard promotion of British nationalism is being rumbled as the last line of a desperate propaganda.

Which is why we're seeing this latest pandering on 'more powers'. Yet, as a recent poll suggests, there's already a deep distrust of such promises. It really does take some imagining to think that a No vote will result in Westminster rushing to 'reward' us, rather than wielding more political punishments.

Any falling for the 'more powers' line would also see discussion of Trident consigned to the political wilderness, while a Yes vote would, as the establishment acutely know, mean its certain termination. 

As Iain Macwhirter neatly tweeted:
John Major nails it. Independence means "the end of Britain's nuclear weapons".
Coming around the Gareloch recently, I watched the dark sight of a nuclear submarine being escorted back to its bunker at Faslane. It's monstrous presence on these beautiful waters, and the £100 billion required to maintain/upgrade it, has provoked many laudable reactions, from public disgust to active resistance. Yet, my own feeling on this occasion was one of excited anticipation, in realising the historic opportunity we have at this very moment, this small collective of people, to defy big power, rid this country of wicked weapons, and show others across a mad-militarised world what's really possible.

Just imagine being able to say we did that for ourselves, for our children, for the greater humanity.  Just imagine how much that seriously pending prospect terrifies the No elite. Just imagine what kind of confidence that act would give people in seeking to build the progressive society.

These are not abstract thoughts. To imagine is not some passive indulgence in which we wish forlornly and abandon hope. It's the very architecturing of the reality to be grasped.

There is, be reminded, the unambiguous reality of a commitment in any written Scottish constitution to banish all nuclear weapons from Scotland. Ponder that for a moment: how to disarm a nuclear bomb with a ballot pen. Imagine passing up on that opportunity. What futile imaginings to believe that such a goal would ever be possible under the current political arrangement of a warmongering UK state.

Imagine also, having helped deliver a No outcome, how you might feel in 2015, watching the likely return of another Tory government or a further right-lurching Labour variation. Things can only get better?

Much better alternatives are before us. And in taking them, we can be a benign and progressive model for others to follow. With a little imagination, the tremendous potential for building some real togetherness can begin.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Complaint to BBC over reporting of David Cameron's visit to Middle East - update

The BBC has replied to my complaint concerning their unqualified stating on a Six O'Clock News item that: 
'Mr Cameron is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process.'
Following our previous correspondence, here's their latest letter and my further response.

 [9 June 2014]

Dear Mr Hilley
Reference CAS-2625265-NPNCH5
Thank you for your further contact regarding the BBC News at Six broadcast 13 March on BBC One.
Firstly, please accept our sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your complaint.
We raised your concerns with the relevant editorial staff at the News at Six. They would like to reiterate our previous response and added that the very brief introduction to the report sought to be straightforward and made no judgement about the nature of the Prime Minister's thoughts on Middle East politics. He is on record as having said he is keen to help the peace process and it wouldn’t be practical or possible to question his intentions during such a brief intro.
Instead, we sought to summarise the reasons for his visit and reflected the PM’s push for the Israelis and Palestinians to sign up to a framework for a final settlement by the end of April – as originally initiated by John Kerry.
If you would like to take your complaint further, you can contact Stage 2 of the complaints process, the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit, within 20 working days, and they will carry out an independent investigation. You can email them at: , or alternatively write to them at the following address:
Editorial Complaints Unit
Media Centre
MC3 D3
201 Wood Lane
W12 7TP
Should you choose to escalate your complaint we would ask that you include the reference number provided above in your correspondence.
Thank you again for taking the time to be in touch.
Kind Regards
Patrick McManus
BBC Complaints
13 June 2014
Dear Patrick McManus
Thanks for writing back.
You say that the BBC:
"made no judgement about the nature of the Prime Minister's thoughts on Middle East politics."
That's clearly false. The judgement involved the BBC stating Cameron's supposed motives as a given fact, rather than reporting it as a proclaimed view. That loaded judgement clearly underpins all such BBC presentations.
You add:
"He is on record as having said he is keen to help the peace process and it wouldn’t be practical or possible to question his intentions during such a brief intro."

Why not? Why on such a crucial issue is the BBC prepared just to assume Cameron's 'noble intentions' and 'good motives'? Just because he's on record as having stated something doesn't mean the BBC have to accept it without qualification. The excuse that it 'wouldn’t be practical or possible' to question his intentions is risible. Whether or not there had been a time constraints 'problem', where was the simple, essential insert 'Cameron says' or 'Cameron claims'?
You conclude:
"Instead, we sought to summarise the reasons for his visit and reflected the PM’s push for the Israelis and Palestinians to sign up to a framework for a final settlement by the end of April – as originally initiated by John Kerry.
No, you summarised, without qualification, your own assumed reasons for his visit, and reflected, again without questioning, the supposedly 'benign purpose' of that visit - just as you invoke Kerry's role here as somehow neutral, rather than noting that America, like Britain, is a strong supporter of Israel.   
Overall, the words you continue to use in assuming Cameron's 'fair and neutral' intentions only reinforces the substance of my initial complaint.
I will now pass this on to the Editorial Complaints Unit for further investigation.
Kind regards
John Hilley
Editorial Complaints Unit
Reference CAS-2625265-NPNCH5 
Following another unsatisfactory response to my complaint of 13 March 2014, I'd like the ECU to consider the matter further.
To reiterate my intial complaint:

On tonight's 6 O'Clock News newsreader Sophie Raworth ended her piece on David Cameron's visit to Israel and the West Bank with the following statement: 'Mr Cameron is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process.'
1. What is the BBC's precise evidence for this claim?

2. Shouldn't this comment more precisely read: 'Mr Cameron says/claims he is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process'?

3. Why does the BBC so readily accept that there is an actual 'peace process' to 'rekindle'?

4. Have the BBC breached their guidelines on 'impartiality' by speaking for Mr Cameron?

5. Have the BBC breached their guidelines on 'balance' by failing to provide a counter-view to that expressed by the BBC/Mr Cameron? 
Please can you answer these questions specifically. Previous correspondence can be viewed here:

I look forward to your deliberations.

Kind regards
John Hilley


Further update. Response from Editorial Complaints Unit:
16 June 2014
Dear Mr Hilley
Thank you for your email of 13 June regarding an item on the BBC News at Six broadcast on 13 March 2014. I’m sorry you’re dissatisfied with the BBC’s response to your complaint. We’ll now begin an investigation into the concerns you have raised, which will include a review of the correspondence so far, a discussion with the programme-makers and any other enquiries that might be appropriate.
As you may know, the remit of the Editorial Complaints Unit is to investigate cases where there may have been a serious breach of the standards expressed in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines ( In summary, I have understood you to say it was inaccurate to say "Mr Cameron is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process" and stating this as a fact rather than attributing it to Mr Cameron was evidence of a lack of due impartiality. I will consider each of your five points in the course of my investigation.
I will aim to let you know the outcome of our investigation by 14 July. I should explain that when we have completed our investigation we will send you our provisional conclusions. If you disagree with our finding, you will have ten working days in which to let us have your comments, and we will only finalise our conclusions once those comments have been taken into account.
Yours sincerely
Colin Tregear
Complaints Director