Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's not just 'Nasty Nick'

THE BBC's claims to fair and objective news coverage took a couple of knocks this week, along with the notion by supporters that it is "our" BBC, a voice for the people, and the Right's complaint of "left-wing bias".

Citing what should have been 'privileged' information which just happened to have come into the BBC's possession, a report that a UK Treasury source said Royal Bank of Scotland(RBS) would move its headquarters to London if Scots voted for independence,  the Beeb's political editor "Nasty Nick" Robinson asked the SNP's Alec Salmond how Scots taxpayers would make up for loss of revenue from this and other firms. 

Robinson said:
“Why should a Scottish voter believe you, a politician, against men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits?”

Indeed he might have said men who lost billions from other people's money, and were recouped by the taxpayers. Why should voters listen to someone they elected, instead?
Robinson went on to claim in his report that the SNP leader had failed to answer his questions. In fact, Salmond had answered, and in front of international media, also raising concerns about the BBC's role in a potential breach of financial regulations. He was heckled by Robinson, the BBC's supposedly unbiased reporter.  And the part of the press conference where the SNP leader  answered was edited out so as to make it look as though he could not answer.

Some reports have sided with Robinson, media people sticking together, but a less Establishment view observes:
Robinson is hard to beat when it comes to qualifications for the Westminster establishment. He was a chum of Boris Johnson at Oxford University, where he was the President of the Conservative Association. This followed his founding of Macclesfield Young Conservatives and a stint as the UK Chairman of the Young Conservatives.

Robinson does seem to have problems with opposition.

Only it is not just 'Nasty Nick' that's the problem.

Last week the Trades Union Congress met in Liverpool. Over the years, trades unions have been weakened, not just by government legislation curbing their ability to fight for their members, but by Britain's loss of jobs and industries, unemployment, privatisation and spreading casualisation and insecurity. But they still have over five million members, and some unions at least are growing. Union leaders like the late Bob Crow,  my own union's Len McCluskey, and the civil servants' union PCS's Mark Serwotka (who I'm sorry to hear is seriously ill) regularly address bigger audiences than most politicians, and are listened to with more respect.

With so many families affected by austerity and debt, no one can say that trade unionists are discussing obscure issues of no interest to the general public. Whether they represent seafarers or railway workers, airline pilots or nurses, firefighters or teachers, the delegates who speak at the TUC generally know what they are talking about, and listening to them you can get a better picture of what is happening in society than you would relying on politicians or the media.

As a trade unionist myself I have got my own criticisms of the union leaders and TUC officialdom, and I know I'm not alone. Of that more to come. Meanwhile I think the BBC should be giving the TUC more coverage, rather than less.

The TUC's general secretary is Frances O'Grady, a popular figure, very different from the old stereotypes of union leaders as boringly grey bureaucrats or grumpy old men. 

Addressing the TUC, Frances O'Grady spoke of the need to defend public services and trade union rights, and also warned that the Tories were dragging the country backward to a class-ridden "Downton Abbey-style society, in which the living standards of the vast majority are sacrificed to protect the high living of the well to do? Where the blame is heaped on the most vulnerable – migrants and claimants – while the powerful and the privileged sit pretty"

BBC viewers did not get to hear the rest of what she had to say. Whether to shut her up, or to underline her point, 'Auntie' Beeb decided that the representative of five million trade unionists should be cut off to announce that the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting another child.

Well, that's us put in our place. Let's tug our forelocks and bless the Duchess. And be thankful we can pay our license fees.

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