Monday, November 10, 2014

Extraordinary : Channel 4 openly oppose Scottish self-government

Just out of curiosity, I started browsing through some of the published submissions to the Smith Commission, and my eye was immediately drawn to the one from Channel 4.  It turns out they went to all the trouble of making a submission for just one sole reason - to oppose Scotland governing itself in respect of broadcasting regulation.

Now, it's not remotely hard to understand why a London-centric organisation whose Scottish content and coverage has always been woefully inadequate would be uncomfortable about the prospect of being called to account by a Scottish regulatory regime.  But it's nevertheless surprising that a public service broadcaster that is obliged to provide unbiased political coverage would feel able to take sides so openly, particularly as it calls into question the underlying stance that informed their approach to the independence referendum - a contest in which Scottish control over broadcasting regulation was most certainly on the ballot paper.

Perhaps I should really have said "it ought to be surprising", because this is just the latest in a string of examples of London broadcasters seemingly believing they can have their cake and eat it - ie. that they can take sides in the constitutional debate, and yet still claim to be a trusted, impartial news source.  You might remember the BBC's Ric Bailey being asked a few weeks ago about the prospect of broadcasting being devolved to Scotland, and dismissively replying that "we're a long way from that sort of discussion".  Er, really?  When 45% of the population have just voted for full sovereign independence, and the remaining 55% have voted for an option that was explicitly tied to "extensive new powers" being granted to the Scottish Parliament, with "all the options for devolution" being on the table?  If the London broadcasters are still trying to decree that "we're a long way from even having a discussion" about broadcasting being devolved in these circumstances, something is going very seriously wrong somewhere.

By the way, one of Channel 4's excuses for why Scotland shouldn't be allowed to govern itself in respect of broadcasting regulation is that they're committed as a channel to spending 9% of their budget outside England by the year 2020.  Hmmm.  Given that a full 16% of the population of the UK live outside England, I'm not really sure how grateful we're supposed to be about that pledge.  Indeed, in this "near-federal" UK we were promised by the No campaign, you'd think Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would, if anything, be entitled to slightly more than their crude population share of spending, rather than substantially less.

STV have also made a submission to Smith in which they indirectly state their opposition to Scottish self-government in respect of broadcasting regulation, but I can almost bring myself to be slightly more forgiving of them, because it's practically apologetic in tone, and more or less admits that they're selfishly motivated by worries over losing their licence if the regulatory regime changes!  Still, it does make you wonder if that consideration influenced all of those "warning about independence" stories they used to run on their news bulletins...

23 comments:

  1. To be fair, most of Channel 4's political coverage comes through Channel 4 News which is run by ITN, not Channel 4 itself, and quite unlike the BBC which runs its own news operation. Still, I haven't read the C4 submission, so perhaps there's more than just a commercial voice at work. Just a thought though.

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  2. STV could solve their problem quite easily. Maybe they should consider that.

    As for the BBC, the only remedy is a large contingent of MPs from Scotland whose job is to get home rule for Scotland and I don't see that they have to go into coalition with any of the Westminster parties either. SNP managed to run a minority government pretty well. Let's see if the Tories or Labour can manage that!

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    1. As well as deliberate bias, one of the problems the BBC has is that the people invoved with news and current affairs are so thick, they think that Mensa is a dating agency.

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  3. But as Channel 4 are (and always have been) owned by the UK goverment can anyone be surprised at them taking such a position?

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  4. When one looks around the world at regimes and governments that the UK has long criticised there is one big difference for the broadcasting services.
    Ours is the one that keeps telling us it is fair and unbiased.
    From China to the US it is clear these are State and Party broadcasters. There is little pretence.
    There is little plurality in the UK system, except that part created by people on the internet. That will be the new target for control by the UK State.

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  5. On the plus side, it's irrefutable proof of their opposition to Scotland having a separate broadcasting service - and thus, proof of their opposition to Scottish independence. They cannot even pretend to have been neutral on independence if they oppose even devolution of broadcasting, can they?

    This could be their death blow, and the proof we need to show the 55% that we weren't making media bias up.

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    1. It can't be a death blow if it can't be communicated to the 55%. That's always the issue.

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  6. Good news then, that www.scottishnews.scot has just announced that it setting up as an independent Scottish broadcaster next April, funded by the people of Scotland and not advertisers, lobbyists or media "persuaders".
    I can't do links very well, but the above is their new website address, or you can also find this morning's announcement on Twitter.
    They need money. I have sent them my cancelled BBC licence fee.

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  7. I wonder what part Stuart Cosgrove, Head of Programmes (Nations and Regions), had to play in this?

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    1. I'd say exactly none, as he's fairly obviously a Yes man as is his sidekick on Off the Ball.

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  8. I wonder, James, if you remember last Burns Night? There was, absolutely, a dearth of any programmes about Burns in Scotland on the night. I searched and searched and absolutely nothing. I could not believe it. Well, actually, I could. I suspected that this incredible situation was quite deliberate, on the part of the London based, Unionist, CBI member, roadcasters' ruling elite. BBC etc did not want to induce any national pride whatsoever, on any subject, among Scots, God forbid(!) during the greatest state sponsored fear propaganda campaign ever perpetuated on a people since Goebbels (Germany 1933-45). In order to find any Burns programme last year, I had to go to BBC Northern Ireland & Ulster TV, which BOTH produced extremely erudite Burns programmes, featuring Scots actor, the wonderful David Hayman & sublime Scottish singer Eddi Reader!! Whilst Scotland, Burns' own country, broadcast NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING. So, this year, bearing in mind Gordon Brown's great 'VOW' timetable, which mentioned Burns Night, let's see how many programmes BBC Scotland & STV produce on our own bard, Burns, which they completely ignored during the Referendum Debate. Now that their fear of inflaming the natives into patriotic fervour is over, perhaps Pacific Quay et al can come out of their self-inflicted 'purdah' on all things nationally Scottish.

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  9. And so the TV cartels start to close ranks to continue to conceal the truth...

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  10. I didn't realise Channnel 4 was publicly owned. It also has disproportionately higher viewing in Scotland than in many other parts of the UK. This could be down to poor transmitter coverage in many parts of Scotland where fewer channels are available terrestrially, but hopefully is a sign of revulsion to BBC, hence spreading those viewers over the other channels.

    But if there's proportionately more viewers, then it's spend should be proportionately higher in Scotland as well - it's publicly owned and we're public! So in their haste to show how important they are to Scotland, they've inadvertently made the case for just why exactly, broadcasting regualtion should be devolved to Scotland. Good for them.
    Quite simply they're not spending enough in Scotland and supporting our economy.

    Personally speaking I find Channel 4 OK, didn't really notice any particular bias against Indy for Scotland. But then I actually watched BBC more than normal, looking for signs of bias, both deliberate or institutional. There was plenty of both, particularly the latter - unconcious assumptive ignorant undeducated thick as mince provincial bias.

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  11. Just as an aside having read a few of the interesting submissions, I think the Wealthy Nation one is one of the best. Basically it says all tax is a package, take it or leave it. I totally agree. My submission was along the lines of start at FFA / Devo-Max, make it coherent and then work downwards from there to find lower levels of devolution. I don't think there are any packages available short of FFA that would be coherent, including the Scotland Act 2012.

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  12. It's incredibly telling how short-sighted and insular channel 4 are with their submission.

    They bear a remarkable resemblance to the Newspaper Barons circa 2000 who thought the 'glory days' of zero interference from a State too scared of them would never end.

    Not only could they not see the inevitable result of their arrogance towards regulation (Cameron's spindoctor Coulson in prison, more being jailed from News Int./UK, truly enormous liability payments and loss of revenue with Trinity Mirror about to face much the same) but they were all totally unprepared for the digital revolution and have been fighting a losing battle ever since as their hard copy circulations just keep right on plummeting.

    London bubble TV execs are showing the precise same mindset seemingly unaware that the gradual upgrading of internet speeds will mean TV becomes just as 'disposable' and easily available as News articles on mobiles and other platforms.

    They are absolutely part of the same out of touch London bubble stupidity that has seen the main westminster parties as popular with the public as a turd in a punch bowl. That the likes of C4 could claim to 'report' on the referendum (with the colossal and unprecedented grass roots political engagement) and not see that outpouring as an opportunity rather than a threat pretty much says it all. Scotland is disgracefully ill-served by the London broadcasters with a glaring lack of the kind of community reporting and scotland focused broadcasting which we all know there is absolutely a market for.

    In simple terms C4 could have gone down the Sunday Herald route and filled a crucial (and lucrative) gap as the rest of their output is subject to ferocious competition from the internet and US based programming and platforms that they are woefully ill-equipped to compete with.

    The SNP has to get it's message across that they would be more than eager to help grow and encourage scottish broadcasting while at the same time making it clear to the scottish public that they want it to be diverse and reflect the views of ordinary scots. It might also help (after the westminster bubble parties rule out devolving broadcasting and the Smith Commission bends to their will) for the SNP to repeatedly make it clear how the money is being misspent right now and how they could cut the bill an already hard put upon scottish public has to pay for an already bad deal.

    The license fee will not be around all that much longer. Not because of boycotts or non-payment but because it simply will not survive a commercial landscape where subscription based platforms are the norm for the public and sooner or later even the tories and labour are going to realise they could, at a stroke, massively reduce the cost and bureaucracy of the license fee by changing to a freemium subscription type service. A populist policy like that is inevitable. The SNP should support such a move as it will increase transparency in spending and indeed it is simply the fairest way to pay for broadcasting as opposed to the unfair TV tax even the poorest are bullied into paying right now.

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    1. Actually as Channel 4 is 100% UK government owned there is no way on earth they'd have gone pro-Indy - if they had their shareholder would have soon yanked on their strings.

      As to a subscription against a license model I'd need to see how it works as it could mean that less popular political/news programs receive less funding in favour of populest "realism" or entertainment which would draw in more subscriptions. The problem we have is how the proceeds of the license are spent.

      They are spent purely on a BBC whose board are appointed by government and who's management are stuffed full of establishment figures from the old boys network. What we need as a first step is devolution of broadcasting so that we can decide where the license fee gets spent - on a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation or in other ways (e.g. funding specific programs or strands of programs from other providers, etc).

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    2. "Actually as Channel 4 is 100% UK government owned there is no way on earth they'd have gone pro-Indy"

      I never suggested they either would or even should have. My suggestion was towards filling the glaring gap in scottish focused programming, not taking an overt political stance in their news programming. (though to be fair they were just as guilty as the BBC with a London centric unionist agenda at times and their submission to Smith is incredibly revealing as James highlights) Actually being impartial would have been the very least we could have expected were Ofcom anything other than a toothless plaything of the westminster parties and full to the brim of 'buggins turn' placemen.

      "as it could mean that less popular political/news programs receive less funding in favour of populest "realism" or entertainment "

      A quick look at the C4 and indeed BBC schedules should tell you that is the case right now. Bella has an excellent piece on the incredible shortcomings from the London based network media when it comes to scotland. It is therefore not much of a 'threat' when the scottish public is already so poorly served.

      "The problem we have is how the proceeds of the license are spent."

      As long as the BBC's unfair TV Tax is in place then the BBC and C4 have little to no incentive to actually listen to suggestions as to where the money is being spent since they have a default monopoly on the public spend on TV. Every other spending choice the public makes has to be made after they pay the unfair TV tax. It is the main reason the BBC are so ridiculously unrepresentative everywhere outside of London. When the public is forced and bullied into playing the unfair TV tax under threat of fines, imprisonment and a criminal record there is self-evidently nothing remotely resembling a fair playing field in broadcasting. Only when the public has the power to choose what TV they will pay for will we ever see an end to the arrogant London establishment broadcasting with some actual accountability for their actions at the hands of the public.

      It would indeed be far more equitable to have a real say on the spend with devolved broadcasting but it just ain't gonna happen. Nor will the BBC or C4 correct their London centric bias. So we might as well push for a fair and less costly way to pay for the BBC and C4 in the meantime.

      As I already said it's only a matter of time before it happens anyway. Technology will force the issue while the three westminster parties have been looking at it as well since the unfair TV tax is growing ever more unpopular and they look around desperately for policies popular with the public. It goes without saying that a FAR cheaper subscription based system would be popular as well as fair.

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  13. OK so I kinda feel cheated for being a Soft No, and on reflection think Scotland should have gone for it.

    And think Labour should, on reflection, have distanced themselves from the toxic Tories in the campaign, been more ambivalent.

    But since we're all in it together for 2015 now, and all want rid of the Tories, can you stop nicking our voters please?!

    Cheers!

    Hugh.

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    1. If Labour want people to trust them again, they have to prove themselves worthy of that trust. SNP aren't "stealing" Labour voters: Labour voters are abandoning Labour to a party that they feel will represent them where Labour can, or will, not.

      Back in 2011, thirteen votes were taken on what would become the Scotland Bill, which included votes on devolving further powers to Scotland such as the coastguard, mining & quarrying tax, crown estates, and so forth. Not a single Labour MP voted more than 51% in favour of further devolution, and many actively voted against devolving such powers.

      You want Labour to stop haemorraging voters? Get rid of the parasites in Westminster who aren't representing the wishes of their electorate, and replace them with people who will. If Labour won't do it, then the SNP will.

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  14. O/T I watched the Agenda on ITV tonight in preference to the network Newsnight which was all London centric.

    I had to switch it off half way through as Michelle Moan (sic) tried to ingratiate herself with George Osbourne. What an idiot she is.I thought business people were supposed to be enlightened when it came to immigration, but not oor Michelle. She went on about immigrants coming to our shores and joining the benefit culture. Her evidence - personal experience. Aye right. You could see the blushes beneath the layers of make-up when she was asked for proof of what she was saying.

    George Osbourne also defended the EU Ref pledge and categorically said that it would not be a threat to investment. Isn't he on record as saying that the Indyref was a threat to investment?

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  15. Amusingly, the incompetent fop hasn't even waited until after the Rochester by-election as Cameron was in full John Major mode tonight with a jaw-dropping EU omnishambles in the commons. Cameron and Osbrowne's absurd Europe posturing and flouncing have only deepened the massive chasm and split in the tory party.

    What a surprise.

    LOL

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