We’re less than a week away from the most important poll in Scotland’s history (© Nicola Sturgeon and SNP). Most parties have now produced their manifestos, so those who take the time to read them will have a good idea what they’re proposing should they get into government. But, of course, few folk take the time to read manifestos. They depend on the information they get from the press, television and increasingly, from social media. Though social media may be challenging the press in terms of readership, there is no doubt that most voters will make their decision on who to vote for based on their own prejudices and what they are told by the TV channels.
Because of the impact of television on voters election choices, the terrestrial channels, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are required to be scrupulously fair in their election coverage. The principle is to ensure that the special impartiality requirements in the Communications Act 2003 and other legislation relating to broadcasting on elections and referendums, are applied at the time of elections and referendums (Ofcom Broadcasting Code: Elections and Referendums). Indeed, the requirement to be free from bias is covered in the BBC Charter and Agreement, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Representation of the People Act 1983 and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
As you can see, fairness in election broadcasting is so important that it is mentioned in practically all legislation relating to elections. But do these rules apply to all parts of the UK? Or is this just another situation where we can say “except for viewers in Scotland”?
Though the broadcasters have a duty of fairness placed on them during the election period, it is left to the broadcasters themselves to decide what is fair. This allows a certain flexibility in interpretation. For example, in the past, this meant that election panels could consist of representatives of the four main political parties, SNP, Labour, LibDems and Tories. The fact that three of them were unionist supporting parties didn’t seem to breach the “fairness” rules. For years now, the independence supporters have suffered from a lack of representation in political debates. This was democracy as seen though the eyes of the Scottish based unionist broadcasters. Of course, in the interest of democracy, it would have been possible for the leaders of the unionist parties to remind the broadcasters of their duty of fairness, but why wouldn’t they accept the inbuilt advantage handed to them.
In the current election campaign, another party has appeared. They currently have roughly similar membership to the Greens and the LibDems. They have, thanks to defections, representatives in Westminster and in several local authorities. They have put up 32 candidates, 4 in each of the 8 regions, though they are not contesting any of the constituency seats. They are led by, arguably, the most well known politician in Scotland, a former leader of the current party of government, whose current leader tried to get him jailed on sexual charges and who has been bad-mouthing him ever since the not guilty verdict.
Sounds like unmissable television, doesn’t it. You would have expected the broadcasters to have been licking their lips at the thought of it. Salmond vs Sturgeon head-to-head? TV program of the year? Scotland’s biggest audience for a political program?
But for reasons unknown, both BBC Scotland and STV declined to invite Alex Salmond to take part in the leaders debate, leaving us with the question – WHY? Were they frightened of allowing the audience to compare Alex Salmond’s capability to the rest of party leaders. Was it, as some have alleged, because Nicola Sturgeon refused to appear on the same program as Alex Salmond. Who knows? BBC’s alleged reason (excuse?) was that Alba had no MSPs, but those of us who remember back to 2016 will recall the appearance of David Coburn, the know-nothing UKIP MEP at a time when UKIP had no MSPs.
So was there another excuse (reason)? It has become obvious that, as the SNP push independence further and further into the long grass, the BBC Scotland and STV (and the rest of the mainstream media) have become noticeably less hostile to the SNP. There’s fewer and fewer SNP baad stories (replaced most recently by Alba baad). Could it be that the media now see the SNP as less of a danger to the union? Certainly less of a threat than Alba.
In case you think this is the way all television channels in the UK behave, have a quick look at what BBC Wales are doing. In a 90 minute pre-election debate, they have 5 leaders debating for the first hour, joined by another 3 for the last 30 minutes. Apparently only BBC Scotland feels the need to employ censorship. So I suppose “except for viewers in Scotland” is the way to describe the fairness of our media. Perhaps the television companies will introduce a ratings system for political broadcasting, similar to film classification: U(universal) for all programs not involving Alba and 100+ (only for really old adults) if Alba are involved.
What are we to take from this? Is it permissible for the television companies to decide what people and what parties are allowed to put forward their thoughts and ideas to the public? Are BBC Scotland and STV the arbitrars of what political viewpoints are so awful that the public wouldn’t be able to cope with hearing them? Or are they just absolutely determined to take every step to make sure the public can’t be infected with the independence disease? What do you think?
One last thought. Alba are not just taking a lot of stick from the media. They have been subject to almost constant attack by many members of fellow “independence supporting” SNP (and the nasty women-hating Greens), who have accused Alba of every known evil, including responsibility for the drop in support for independence shown in recent opinion polls, while, at the same time, saying no one is paying any attention to them and they’ll get no votes. Shows what happens when you let your hatred get the better of your common sense.
Another last thought. In a recent interview, Nicola Sturgeon said that if Alba were represented in the Scottish Parliament after the election and if they put forward a motion for an immediate start to independence negotiations with Westminster, as they have said in their manifesto they will do, she would instruct SNP MSPs to vote against it. Her view, just like Theresa May before her, is that “now is not the time”. Will she ever believe it’s the right time for independence? Who Knows? However, for me, that’s pretty much the last straw. How could the party of independence have sunk so low that they are prepared to allow Westminster to whittle away the limited powers available to them as a devolved parliament and their only response is do nothing but bleat about it for years and years and ………..
Another other last thought. Having just seen the photos of the new campaign buses and knowing that Nicola Sturgeon has often said she wasn’t keen on the party’s name, I foresee a change of name coming soon, from SNP Scottish National Party to NSP Nicola Sturgeon Party perhaps. Given there is no party name on the buses, it seems like a fair bet.
The SNP, the party that dare not speak its name.