A Formal Complaint To The BBC


Background on “No Borders”: The No Campaign, The Tory and Bankrupt Britain

Dear BBC,

We’re writing to submit a formal complaint regarding a lack of balance from your coverage of the “No Borders” campaign launch. We are dismayed that this criticism is even necessary, however the coverage from the BBC of the newly established “No Borders” campaign has been disproportionate, unbalanced and failed to meet basic standards of journalistic criticism, highlighting an overall trend in the independence debate coverage.

We will set out the reasons for our criticism and invite you to respond.

On the point of proportionality, “No Borders” are unique amongst registered participants in receiving the level of coverage given. A range of grassroots Yes organisations have already registered, with more expected, and none have received anything close to comparable coverage. This includes several organisations, such as National Collective, who predate the foundation of either of the lead campaign groups Yes Scotland and Better Together. In contrast, “No Borders” only launched this week and have, so far, undertaken no public engagement, unlike the countless meetings and events organised by grassroots Yes campaigners. For these reasons, giving the level of coverage to “No Borders” is clearly highly disproportionate and gave an exceptionally misleading account of the state of the campaign on the ground.

Hourly UK-wide coverage

(via Wings)

The multifaceted and vibrant grassroots movement for independence has been consistently overlooked by the BBC and the case for independence frequently painted as the sole orchestration of Alex Salmond and the SNP, as was the case in the introduction to the BBC’s coverage of the “No Borders” campaign. The representation of the “No Borders” campaign was not only uncritical, but the involvement of musicians feature prominently. With this in mind, no approach was made to National Collective, as the artists’ movement for Scottish independence, to offer a counter view.

Since National Collective began two years ago there has been no equivalent hourly news coverage from the BBC. This is despite holding a launch event in Glasgow, a multitude of packed grassroots events being organised by our members throughout Scotland and a major scandal over donations to Better Together that saw two of our members threatened with legal action from Ian Taylor and the world’s largest oil trading company, Vitol Group. The only mention from the BBC of the significant role National Collective played in holding Better Together to account over Ian Taylor’s donation came courtesy of one paragraph on the website and The Guardian’s Severin Carrell as a guest on Newsnight Scotland on April 10 2013. In the interests of balance, we would have expected – at the very least – an invitation to National Collective to respond in the package, or equivalent coverage given to Yes campaign groups. There have been plenty of occasions for you to do this – for example, you could have aired the footage which you recorded at our #donorgate press conference. Even this level of balance would have given a disproportionate level of importance to “No Borders”, but would have at least given both sides of the campaign an equal airing.

National Collective channeled via The Guardian’s Severin Carrell

In the interest of impartiality, viewers would have reasonably expected the No Borders to be challenged on several points:

  1. Why do No Borders have a fundraising target of £500,000 when the spending limit is set at £150,000 during the regulated period, and there is now only a very short period of time in which the surplus spending could be spent?
  2. How has No Borders raised such a large sum of money so quickly without any pre-existing profile?
  3. Why has it taken so long for a grassroots No campaign involving the creative arts to be established?
  4. Does a group founded by a millionaire truly represent a grassroots people’s movement?

The failure of the BBC to challenge “No Borders” on these points is even more significant considering the lack of voice given to equivalent campaigners from the Yes side.

This complaint has been prompted by the specific case of the coverage given to “No Borders”. However, we unfortunately feel that the failure to fairly give both sides an equal hearing has been present regularly through the BBC’s referendum coverage. For example, the article “Sillars v Galloway: How the independence debate is dividing the left” chose to illustrate the two campaigns through an official Better Together image contrasted with a kilted man holding a hand-made cardboard sign unrepresentative of the tone and content of the wider Yes campaign. This sort of editorialising seems designed to marginalise the arguments made by Yes campaigners, and this is before the question of the level of coverage given to a politician who couldn’t hold his deposit when he stood in Glasgow in 2011.

We hope you take these criticisms on board and attempt to ensure that future coverage of the independence campaign is truly balanced and reflects the reality of the grassroots Yes movement. We are also grateful for the two opportunities that BBC Scotland has afforded us to appear on Newsnight (and one debate) over the past two years, but we believe that this representation must be extended to achieve more holistic representation of those campaigning in independence debate. To this end, National Collective openly invites BBC journalists to attend our Yestival events that will be taking place this summer.

Yours sincerely,

National Collective

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