01 October 2013

When is an unbiased national broadcaster not unbiased?

By Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor

The ongoing pantomime that is Rangers Football Club has provided a conveyor belt of headlines and articles for journalists throughout the country and beyond, providing no shortage of incidents or talking points for the Scottish media to cover. Unfortunately, some organisations seemed to seize the opportunity to operate outside of their remit, most notably BBC Scotland.

The media are there to report the news and to inform its audience about current affairs; it is not there to act as the manufacturer or promoter of propaganda or misinformation. However the coverage of Rangers plummeted coincidentally at the same time as our financial collapse. Professionalism and objectivity no longer mattered to certain outlets as priorities shifted to simply achieve more website hits and appease their increasingly obsessed audience.

The recent Jim Spence furore highlights that there is still a considerable problem at Pacific Quay despite recently being slapped down by their own governing body, the BBC Trust, over inaccurate reporting on Rangers. It seems bizarre that a journalist deemed it appropriate to take matters into his own hands and convey his own opinion while ignoring the valuable contributions considered by the Editorial Standards Committee.

The Report consulted administrators, liquidators, the football governing bodies and the findings of the independent commission chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith to arrive at the conclusion that BBC Scotland were wrong to refer to an “old” and “new” club. For whatever reason however that doesn’t appear to be sufficient for Spence & Co who seem intent on peddling lies and myths.

The Spence debacle however is just the latest in a long line of discrepancies where BBC Scotland are concerned. If we look back we can recall the disgraceful and deliberate stitch-up where the organisation actively edited a clip to convey Ally McCoist laughing when being questioned about the very serious issue of sectarian tensions. Quite why this was allowed I’ll never know and it is a sad indictment of the falling standards in journalism within their company. Needless to say the news outlet were consequently banned by the Club, although it seems to have little effect on their output.

The next blemish came in the form of their crass and ill-advised Mad Men montage which depicted our manager falling to his death from the stadium. Rangers demanded a “clear and unambiguous” apology from BBC Scotland but predictably none was forthcoming. Once again I feel that we were right to feel aggrieved at such coverage and this is certainly justified by the fact that this was far from being an isolated incident.

An “Off the Ball” radio show then discussed the performance of McCoist since taking over from Walter Smith and asked listeners to decide whether he was Super Ally or Fat Sally. Oddly enough no other manager seems to have been open to such personal insults and it was yet another example of the lack of professionalism on display from Pacific Quay organisation. It is embarrassing but unfortunately we have come to expect little else.

Rangers’ financial troubles seemed to delight BBC Scotland who engaged in constant hyperbole and propaganda. The tax liability relating to the Big Tax Case in particular seemed to be an unhealthy obsession of theirs when reporting on our Club and the figure appeared to increase with each passing article. 

Our Club was being chased by HM Revenue & Customs for a liability which appeared to increase each and every time the newspapers reported it. The tax bill related to the use of Employee Benefit Trusts during the David Murray era and I think it’s fair to acknowledge that the volume of misinformation produced was utterly remarkable. 

Rangers were tax-dodgers. Our Club had cost the country schools and hospitals. The very notion that we could in fact win the First-Tier Tribunal was barely considered by the majority of outlets and suddenly propaganda was the name of the game.

Up stepped Mark Daly to produce his award-winning documentary on Rangers, the Big Tax Case and the use of EBTs during the Murray era. To say that it was unbalanced would be a considerable understatement as constant references to “side-contracts” and such likes were highlighted for all to see. The programme followed in the footsteps of the anonymous Rangers Tax Case blog and helped to create a perception of guilt by telling only one side of a very complex story. In the end though they were both left with their tails firmly between their legs as the First-Tier Tax Tribunal found in favour of the Murray Group and Rangers. 

BBC Scotland have unfortunately become the epitome of substandard reporting and poor journalism. Their continued misrepresentation of the facts and deliberate portrayal of mistruths seem to be all too common when it comes to their coverage of the country’s biggest club. While other outlets pride themselves on professionalism and accuracy, the BBC have set the bar much lower and instead pander to the lunatic fringe among their audience.

BBC Scotland correctly find themselves banned from Ibrox Stadium–although still privy to details and stories delivered from Media House–and it is something which should continue until such time as we receive an apology for the crass and inaccurate reporting which they have churned out in recent months and indeed years. Unfortunately however their organisation seems to be infested with individuals who care not for standards or the quality of their journalism and so the necessary improvements are unlikely to be forthcoming. 

Thomas Sowell said of the press, “if the people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all important that the public understand that difference and choose their news sources accordingly.” Perhaps it is something we should seriously ponder. 

Some of the coverage our Club has received has been nothing short of disgraceful and such nonsense should not be allowed to stand without question. Here at the CRO we will continue to challenge those in the media who prefer fiction to fact and put forward the truth as we see it ourselves. If more of the Scottish mainstream media did the same then perhaps we would be in a better place.

It is a sad day when a national broadcaster cannot be trusted to be fair and impartial in their reporting on a football club. Professionalism and objectivity is apparently too much to ask for and to make matters worse we are in fact funding their farcical output. I think we're all due a refund.

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