On Richard Sharp, the BBC and Israel/Palestine Coverage

Former GoldmanSachs banker Richard Sharp is the new chairman of the BBC chairman. John Mitchell asks: will Richard Sharp the new Chairman of the BBC pursue ‘impartiality’ in the Israel/Palestine coverage?

Richard Sharp the BBC’s newly appointed chairman, begins his incumbency this month against the background of concern over equal pay, the increasing commercial competition from various online streaming companies and brings into focus the question of the licence fee. Whilst not at the forefront of these immediate issues there is a long-standing controversial one which Sharp will no doubt influence – coverage of the Israel/Palestine question.

The Chair of the BBC is a governmental appointee and, not unexpectedly, reflects the will of the present Tory administration given his political patronage and financial résumé.

Sharp, a multi-millionaire, worked in the banking sector like his predecessor Sir David Clementi and played various economic advisory roles in high level financial institutions. He was once Rishi Sunak’s boss and became an economic consultant to the Chancellor prior to his appointment to the BBC.

In the past, Sharp donated over £400,000 to the Conservative party and was on the board of the right-wing think-tank, Centre for Policy Studies founded by Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph.

From the Electoral Register of donations. You can see all the amounts that the new BBC boss Richard Sharp (ex Goldman Sachs and Quilliam donor) has donated.


His £160,000 salary is being donated to charity through his Sharp Foundation, which recently, gifted £35,000 to Quilliam a ‘counter-extremist’ think-tank targeting Islamic organisations. Led by co-founder Maajid Nawaz (who has been associated with Tommy Robinson the far right English nationalist), the Palestine issue is only emphasised within context of Jihadis support and not Israel’s occupation. The Jewish Chronical wrote approvingly:

‘The terrible irony of Quilliam’s predicament is that it has always resisted offers of generous funding from “enlightened” figures from the Gulf. The reason? The think-tank was not prepared to shift to a more critical position on Israel.’

Sharp’s support to Qulliam alludes to the decades of BBC’s bias in favour of Israel which has been documented by academic scholars in media and journalism.

In the book, Publish it Not…The Middle-East Cover-Up by Christopher Mayhew and Michael Adams (1974), correspondence from Jim Norris, the then BBC Head of Secretariat, to Christopher Mayhew MP displayed the admittance of imbalance:

‘Meanwhile one must acknowledge that journalists doing an honest job in this country have to take account of the fact that Israeli or Zionist public relations activities are conducted with a degree of sophistication which those on the other side have rarely matched, and that supporters of Israel in this country represent a much more vocal and powerful minority than supporters of the Arab cause. In other words, an accurate reflection of publicly expressed attitudes on the issue may well inevitably reveal at times a preponderance of sympathy for the Israeli side.’

The continuing debate over BBC reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian chapter led to the commissioning of the Balen Report in 2004 which was never published despite court action by the Israel supporter, Steven Sugar.

In response to the continuing and increasing volume of criticism on its reporting of the issue, the BBC commissioned a panel headed by Sir Quentin Thomas in 2006 to investigate and to make recommendations. Its conclusion stated;

‘There are, in particular, gaps in coverage, analysis, context and perspective. There is also a failure to maintain consistently the BBC’s own established editorial standards, including on language. There are shortcomings arising from the elusiveness of editorial planning, grip and oversight. In summary, the finding is that BBC coverage does not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture.’

Contributing to the report’s findings, the Panel had commissioned a qualitative and quantitative statistical analysis from Loughborough University which showed, ‘That a disparity (in favour of Israelis) existed in BBC coverage’ when it came to interviews between actors of both sides. They also found that more coverage was given to Israeli fatalities than to Palestinian. Despite the report’s recommendations, the BBC did not invoke the necessary criterion upon which a more balanced and impartial approach could be implemented.

In 2011, Prof. Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Group stated in their media research publication, More Bad News from Israel:

“While the broadcast media give a clear account of the Israeli perspective on this conflict, many journalists and especially in the BBC still find great difficulty in doing the same for the Palestinians. This is in spite of the report originally commissioned by the BBC Governors, which made clear the weaknesses in the BBC’s approach to presenting the history of the conflict and the nature of the military occupation imposed by Israel on the Palestinians.”

One example of the sparsity of historical context is the description of Gaza as being ‘one of the most densely populated areas in the world’. Out of a population of 1.8m, 1.2m are Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were evicted from their homes by Zionist para-militaries in Palestine in 1948 to make way for the establishment of the state of Israel.

The use of linguistics conditions the cognitive understanding of the issue which the BBC has determined by editorial guidelines and strictly applied in the BBC Academy where journalists are trained. BBC journalists are confined by the strategic straitjacket of BBC reporting which was exemplified by Jerry Timmins, when head of the BBC Africa and Middle-East Region, said,

‘We will train you as a journalist. We will give you guidelines you must read and understand. We will empower you to go and report what you see in a way that conforms to our overarching editorial ambition.’

In their critique of BBC news Prof. Leon Barkho and John Richardson wrote,

“BBC‟s discursive practices, regardless of the intentions of its social and institutional actors, tend to reinforce the discursive claims of the most powerful side in the conflict…BBC journalists are then expected to reproduce, and disseminate, this ideological vocabulary in their reporting irrespective of their own views of its legitimacy.”

The use of ‘terrorism’ has always been used to describe actions by Palestinians. The crux of most definitions of terrorism describes the intentional killing of innocent civilians but the BBC have never applied that term to ‘security operations’ by the IDF.

The guidelines have now substituted ‘terrorism’ with the words, ‘bomber’, ‘attacker’, ‘gunman’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘insurgent’, and ‘militant’ and the use of the word, ‘liberate’ (which infers a ‘denial of freedom’) is discouraged:

‘We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.’

What kind of ‘assessments’ would viewers hold after hearing reports using such a derogative lexicon? Certainly, some Palestinians have killed innocent Israeli civilians but these words are never used in describing Israel’s actions when Palestinians are killed.

Despite the evidential contributions made by official and non-official institutions, the BBC continues to fail in abiding by its own editorial guidelines and the BBC Charter on impartiality which weakens the BBC’s responsibility to its viewers.

The conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism was widely propagated in the media including the BBC that the specious belief that criticism of Israel is ostensibly racist. The predilection of the BBC to invite proponents of Israel, whether they be Israelis or not, to appear on television with people who were less forceful or capable of presenting the opposite view was all too clear.

The failure to present ‘the other side of the debate’ particularly on the accusation of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, was conspicuous. There was another side of the argument out there and to end reports by saying, ‘The Labour Party was invited to appear but refused.’ was uncredible. There are many advocates, including Jews, who would be more than willing to take part and present the argument of how anti-Semitism was being exploited by right-wing members of the Labour Party and the Israel lobby.

But it’s not only what the BBC says but what it doesn’t say. Margaret Hodge MP made accusations against Jeremy Corbyn for being anti-Semitic but was never seriously challenged by interviewers. In 1987, Islington Council tried to sell a historic Jewish cemetery to property developers and was opposed by Jeremy Corbyn who successfully campaigned against the sale – and who was the council leader? It was Margaret Hodge. This story has been out there for some considerable time so why was she not questioned on this?

In the Al Jazeera exposé of how the Israeli embassy planned to ‘take down’ the junior government minister, Sir Alan Duncan because of his Palestinian sympathies, Newsnight did not report on it. Had it been Iran the likelihood would have been a never-ending story.

Perhaps the greatest public reproval the BBC has ever faced was their decision not to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal in 2009 when every other broadcaster obliged. The late journalist, Robert Fisk, wrote,

“And this, remember, is the same institution [the BBC] which said that to broadcast an appeal for medicines for wounded Palestinians in Gaza might upset its “neutrality”. Legless Palestinian children clearly don’t count as much as the BBC’s pompous executives.”

The recent (19th Jan) BBC Radio Scotland show, The Kaye Adams Programme discussed the issue of Israel’s vaccination distribution. She started by saying that the ‘political’ issue would not be raised. That issue was Israel’s decision to deny the Palestinians receiving the vaccine.

The BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent did raise the issue and Kaye again censored it by saying, that she did not want to ‘diminish’ the issue but did so by not allowing any discussion of it.

The issue of the vaccine and the virus has always been political as to how it could have been done better as it is debated in Westminster and Holyrood. Had this government denied an ethnic group the vaccine wouldn’t that have been important enough to discuss? You can’t isolate an issue when it has major health and wellbeing consequences for a section of the population. Kaye Adam’s decision to not allow the ‘politics’ to be discussed was in itself – political. This was clearly an editorial decision to censor any criticism of Israel.

The creation of BBC editorial tenets and practices stem from the interaction of human discourse. Some of those interlocutors have manifestly shown their allegiance and sympathy for Israel.

James Harding – Director of News & Current Affairs, BBC News (2013–2018) and past editor of the Times said at a Jewish Chronical event,

“I am pro-Israel,” he said. “I believe in the state of Israel. I would have had a real problem if I had been coming to a paper with a history of being anti-Israel. And, of course, Rupert Murdoch is pro-Israel.

Danny Cohen – Controller of BBC 1, 3 and Director of BBC television (2007-2015) wrote a letter while still a BBC executive condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement which campaigns to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian West Bank and Gaza.

James Purnell – BBC Director of Radio and BBC’s Director of Strategy (2013-2020) was the chairman of Labour Friends of Israel during his parliamentary career.

Raffi Berg – BBC online News Middle-East Editor (2013-) had written emails to his BBC staff asking them to be more lenient towards Israel in their reporting on Gaza.

As Richard Sharp begins his leadership of the BBC alongside Tim Davies the BBC Director General (a previous Conservative Party member) the public broadcaster would, unsurprisingly, start leaning to the right. In his interview with the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee impartiality was raised, Sharp gave an example of how the Conservatives were maligned in a programme.

Impartiality is considered the paramount maxim of BBC broadcasting but it is impossible to claim impartiality when the senior executives in BBC management are political appointments which will inevitably reflect their ideological outlook. Left, right or centre reporting is partial and can never be anything else. What can be achieved is an equal balance of viewpoints something that has been denied to the Palestinians.

Comments (36)

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  1. MacNaughton says:

    Sharp is just another extreme right wing appointment by the most right wing country in Europe, England that is, along with Hungary obviously. He is an absolutely unacceptable appointment for all the reasons outlined above in this piece by John Mitchell.

    What is underway in the UK is a far right English revolution fuelled by years of Brexit jingoism and led by a lying, racist Prime Minister who will stop at nothing to implant the right wing extremist agenda of the Britannia Unchained crowd, including a Home Secretary who is on record for backing the death penalty….

    The mainstream.media, including the BBC, has more or less folded entirely to this new extreme right wing regime in which deceiving the public forms an essential part of everyday life.

    Johnson and Gove are two pathological liars, two highly dangerous men….They lie every day….they lie to the public,they lie in parliament,they lie of course to the BBC…..

    I am all for a quality public service broadcaster, but the BBC is deeply classist and racist and it can only go even further to the right….

    It will inevitably become yet another tool to dismantle British democracy with and destroy any last shred of probity or dignity in office in British public life…

  2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    I don’t think impartiality is a reasonable expectation. Every report is made from some perspective, and every perspective is partial. God is dead; there’s no perfectly objective ‘view from nowhere’.

    The trick is twofold: it’s to make one’s own perspective a constellation or forcefield of multiple perspectives; and it’s to play those perspectives off against one another, rendering one’s own perspective dynamic and responsive to/creative of an endlessly mutating truth. This is wisdom.

    1. I agree you can end up with ‘false equivalence’ in the search for ‘balance’ (“and now we hear from the scientist and the climate denier”) – but this is a case of institutionalised bias.

      1. Michael says:

        It almost smacks of rich people with overlapping interests conspiring to further their own agendas. But… lizards… so it must be “institutional bias” – there can’t be any private discussions going on in the background between these elite’s from the networks of privately educated super wealthy families, nor any conscious effort to shaping things for their own benefit, that would be “conspiracy theory” (that devastating phrase that kills any and all debate and proves that the utterer speaks the truth), so we aren’t allowed to entertain such ridicules notions. Not even if the evidence should lead us there. These issues can only be discussed in terms that sound “reasonable”, “rational”,, “academic” and “middle-class”. The actual evidence and reality is much less important 🙂

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          No, Michael: a conspiracy theory is an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful groups, often political in motivation, when better explanations are available.

          A good explanation, in the theoretical sense, is falsifiable but as yet unfalsified by empirical observation, propositionally precise, parsimonious its assumptions, explanatorily broad, and productive in the generation of further research projects, and it has to perform better than its rivals in all these respects.

          Conspiracy theories seldom, if ever, present the best explanation of some state of affairs. Better explanations can usually be found.

          1. Michael says:

            Judging by your language pattern, patronizing tone and verbose and yet meaningless reply, I can assume that you are a certain person, going by a new name, that has been hanging around the comment sections here for some time? Other than for some kind of academic self-pleasuring by way of ordering explanations into hierarchies, surely the “best” explanation is the one that the evidence – material, circumstantial, testimonial and by result of outcome – supports? Which may at times be that bad actors conspire to commit, or engage in, some small or large criminal act or ongoing process? i.e., if the evidence points to a conspiracy surly that is the best explanation?

          2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, but ‘the evidence’ almost always supports several different theories and is almost never conclusive by itself. That’s why in the critical evaluation of those theories we need to look beyond the evidence to structural features of the theory itself.

            Philosophers are a bit like dogs in this respect: when you point to something, they sniff your finger.

            Now, if a conspiracy theory meets the criteria that are generally assumed by the scientific community as definitive of what constitutes a comparatively ‘good’ theory, which I adumbrated in my last post, then – yes – it will provide the best available explanation of an event or situation. But conspiracy theories, on examination, seldom do best meet these criteria.

            Regarding these criteria, Alan Chalmer’s 1976 book, What Is This Thing Called Science?, is still hard to better as an introductory text; its latest edition was published by the Open University Press in 2013, and it’s been widely translated. It was the text I recommended to the members of my tutorial group when I taught the history and philosophy of science as a ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject to STEM undergraduates at Edinburgh in the 1980s, and I’d stil recommend it today.

      2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        I don’t see the difference. The BBC presents one [editorial] perspective; other broadcasters present alternative perspectives. At one time a case could be made that the BBC had a virtual monopoly on broadcasting, which made pluralism and competition within a plurality of editorials all but impossible; but that case can hardly be made now, with the proliferation of media channels that are accessible to us nowadays. ‘Institutional bias’ just means that institutions like the BBC present each its own particular perspective on the world.

        1. James Mills says:

          But why must I , with a different world view , have to pay to have THEIR view of the world imposed on me !

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            That’s a very good question. Perhaps ‘their’ view of the world should only be selectively available through voluntary subscription rather than universally through a statutory licence fee. If you choose not to consume the output of the BBC, why indeed should you have to pay for it?

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    This piece speaks nothing but the truth. Our polititians and, as night follows day, our publically funded broadcaster are biased in favour of Israel and continue to propound the propaganda that Israel is under constant and ferocious attack from Palestinialns and their supporters. The truth is exactly the opposite. Israel is in process of ethnically cleansing all of the land between the river Jordan amd the Mediterranean sea. Once completed, these lands will become the home to the Jewish people and nobody else. Like the Red Indians before them Palestinians will be herded into small areas of poor land where they will be unable to survive in any sensible economic way and be encouraged to leave for more welcoming areas.

    As we saw with Jeremy Corbyn and parts of the Labour party those that speak out against these policies and support the rights of the Palestinians will be branded as AntiSemits and ostracised from polite society. The definition of AntiSemitism as propounded and now accepted policy in the mainstream includes an example that says implicitly that the actions of the state of Israel are beyond reproach – “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” In my view Gaza is no more than a concentration camp and more areas within the west bank are becoming the same. Palestinians imprisoned in these areas are not allowed to work in Israel without permission and that is often withdrawn, they cannot move about freely, what they is likely to be taken away and the means of life, water, food, fuel, building materials and medical treatment are routinely denied to them.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Spot on, Dougie.

    2. james gourlay says:

      Yes, the Israeli government under Natanyahu IS a terrorist organisation.

      1. james gourlay says:


  4. MacNaughton says:

    I am a little puzzled by why the author picks out Palestine for attention especially where the BBC and the western media in general have always favoured the Israeli version of events over the Palestinian’s….

    It is much more worrying than that. The old Tory party has basically been sacked and a extreme, alt right Tory party has taken its place and is appointing people with extreme right wing views like Sharp to all the top public jobs, yet no one seems to care.

    Where is Keir Starmer? How is it possible he hasn’t taken Johnson and Gove to the cleaners about cozying up to Trump and Farage? How can the Labour Party go from one bad leader to another so many times….

    Starmer couldn’t fight his way out a paper bag…..he’s never a leader….

  5. SleepingDog says:

    An Israeli human rights group recently published an analysis backing their description of the Israeli state as apartheid:

    Israel is carrying out ongoing illegal colonisation as recognised by, for example, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) which was unanimous except for USA abstention (historically Israel has benefitted from vetoes from one of its five permanent member protectors):
    “a flagrant violation under international law”

    And of course the UK helped the Israeli state acquire that ultimate terrorist weapon, the atomic bomb.

    All of the serious analysis I have encountered (and I think it is obvious to anyone with an open mind watching BBC reporting) shows systematic pro-Israeli-government bias from the BBC. The Al Jazeera undercover exposé about Israeli embassy media and political activities in the UK was not only enlightening, it was especially informative about the grubby methodology used.

    Although the BBC is unlikely to use the term ‘state terrorism’, Israel (like many other states including Western liberal democracies) is a liberal deployer of terrorism, as Ruth Blakeley in 2010 study State Terrorism and Neoliberalism describes. Passing comment briefly on Israel in the context of its role as premier recipient of USAmerican military aid:
    “Yet abuses by Israeli forces are well-documented, and include the widespread use of torture by the Israeli intelligence services.”
    Of course, the BBC is not likely to report frequently on UK or US participation in the global torture industry either.

    Capitalist states are especially vulnerable to blockade and boycott, as the South African apartheid regime found out (although it was replaced by another capitalist regime). Israel is especially vulnerable, and apparently still quite reliant on USAmerican aid (and perhaps support from the most repressive UK/US-backed regimes in the region). Yet a two-state political solution must remain a possibility, if the political will was re-established, however parts of the Israeli establishment seem to be dreaming on expansion towards a Greater Israel. I think there may be widespread global support for the view that God-given grants of land should not feature in international law, given the trend of UN deliberations on the middle east. Peace through Justice sounds a lot more realistic than the current trajectory, within a global application of a consistent standard. So many states are guilty of so many ongoing crimes of various sorts, yet those (real or imagined) of official enemies are typically the only ones the BBC seems interested in, and this trend may well accelerate under the new regime.

    I did mention briefly my concerns about pro-Israeli-government BBC coverage in my recent feedback to that august organization when it sent out its surveys. It is an object lesson for an independent Scottish broadcaster: how to avoid becoming a propaganda arm for a foreign power.

    1. MacNaughton says:

      It isn’t a question of a public broadcaster becoming the propaganda arm of a foreign power so much as what is in the so called British national interest…

      ….the BBC has never been objective or impartial when the national interest is at stake (the national interest being another way of saying the interest of the British ruling class or the British elite) as was seen in the case of the miners strike back in the 80s, the Falklands War, the endless wars in Iraq, the coverage of the Troubles in N.I, or the treatment more recently of Julian Assange.

      In all those cases, the BBC skews the news to distort reality and favour the narrative of the British elite. Given Britain was so fundamental to the creation of Israel, it comes as no surprise the BBC distort news coverage of Palestine and always has done…

      But all that said,it is equally true that the BBC has never simply been the instrument of the government of the day, as state news channels often are ( in Spain, when the govt changes, the person who reads the evening news bulletin changes!!!).

      Well I feel sure that,under Johnson’s govt of liars and crooks, that is something which will change, as will a robustly independent judiciary….which leaves what exactly to hold the govt to account?

      A lame duck opposition in a Tory dominated parliament…

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @ MacNaughton, where would a public broadcaster come from in an independent Scotland? Who would staff it? Where would it get its charter from? There is likely to be an imperial hangover unless the ground is well prepared. Perhaps a constitutional obligation to hold all states and governments everywhere equally accountable so the Scottish people get the best information.

        Sure, Reith’s BBC backed the government in the 1926 general strike and the pattern extends through to today. Perhaps in Spain, the country’s foreign policy might change with a change of government, unlike in the UK? In his introduction to The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain, Richard Norton-Taylor sets out to document his:
        “struggles with Whitehall, Britain’s unaccountable ‘permanent government’, what in the United States they call the ‘deep state’”
        Foreign policy (including, of course, relations with Israel) is not generally open to democratic choice in the UK. It has been British imperialism all the way, whatever colour of government (the couple of times that a Labour manifesto suggested a break from tradition, they lost the general election). The exceptions have been rare referendums, although it may be that Labour backbenchers eventually forced out Tony Blair.

        The ever-present problem with news is the lack of context, which is particularly problematic in the UK where British imperial history is so badly taught and subject to continuity of propaganda (again, something that Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry’s Labour manifesto challenged, but ended in electoral defeat). For example, while WW2 casts a giant shadow over British culture, where are the tellings of the Palestinian Revolt of 1936–39 concurrent with Spanish Civil War but largely ignored by history books? John Newsinger in The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, 2nd Edition (2013), recounts how grievances flared into violence and general strike led by youth, then reprisals by the British. p142 “The British responded to what was becoming a guerrilla war with mass arrests, shootings, torture and the blowing up of houses.”

        British foreign policy (largely commanded by and on behalf of the monarch, at least in name, who appoints senior diplomats and armed forces chiefs, and steeped in secrecy and protected from its own incompetence and criminality) is crippled by people abroad remembering British colonial history better than the British do. Yet the problem the British establishment seems to share with the Israeli establishment appears to be that their overweening belief in each of their own centrality (to human history, the universe, whatever) that they can warp any attempt at objective criticism into disloyalty or anti-semitism respectively. However the problem of setting bad examples is that they encourage further bad examples elsewhere, therefore bad actors on the global stage, however powerful or otherwise, should all be held to account for their actions. But if BBC news moves from being a part-time Foreign Office sock puppet (its World Service used to be run by the FO, after all) to being a mouthpiece for an extreme faction of Conservative neoliberalism (who love to express their hate for the BBC, if only because they had not yet seized control of it), then we are in unchartered waters, and UK general public may increasingly turn to other online sources for news (or maybe many rump UK will in future be tuning in to an independent Scottish public broadcaster, which will almost inevitably lead to some kind of conflict).

        1. MacNaughton says:

          Well, you’ve hit the nail on the head. When people talk frequently on Bella why England doesn’t want to lose Scotland, the media aspect is rarely mentioned.

          Imagine if in an independent Scotland we had a plural, democratic public broadcasting service which took the provision of quality journalism and news information as seriously as a clean water supply. This would cause deep discomfort in Tory England. A Scottish quality public broadcaster (in the event) which offered, for example, critical coverage of the UK’s never ending foreign wars, or the lamentable state of Westminster democracy, would be a threat to the far right hegemony in England.

          Almost total media control is not something they want to give up, and an indie Scotland offers the prospect of a counter power…..

          1. MacNaughton says:

            I should also say that in Spain, no matter the newscasters losing their jobs along with the govt – which is as crass as it is ridiculous – nonetheless, there is still far more diversity and political plurality on the airwaves than in Britain.

            Spain is a quasi federal state, so there are 19 autonomous regional govts, and each have their own fully autonomous public service broadcaster. To take the most obvious example, the Catalan public TV station, TV3, was favourable to an independence referendum and even independence itself in a way which is just unimaginable for BBC Scotland which is just a branch office of BBC London…

            Britain is one of the most centralised countries in Europe, and one of the least democratic….and that is reflected by the patrician BBC who patronize us to death with their Oxbridge presenters who talk down to us peasants about national and international.events and always, always, always, the royal family….

        2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          I’d hope that, in an independent Scotland, we wouldn’t have a public broadcaster. I’d rather we had a cacophony of voices, of which none has any more authority than any other, and from which we might each create his/her own fluctuant polyphonies of truth. Indeed, we have that now: so many media channels; a superabundance of information to weigh and examine!

          1. Jim Scott says:

            Whilst at a tangent to the main thrust of the thread, in one short post about Spain and its media , @McNaughton, despite having previously accurately stated that the central government chooses the newsreaders and news anchors on the BBC-equivalent channels, makes a number of serious errors:

            Spain is not a “quasi federal” state. The autonomous regions, with the possible exception of the Basque Country, though there only in economic matters, are wholly dependent on the largesse and subject to the political control of central government in Madrid. The ruling of the Madrid Constitutional Court striking down many elements of the 2010 Autonomy Law for Catalonia makes this clear beyond peradventure.

            The “diversity and plurality” which s/he sees in the Spanish media is hard to discern from Catalonia at least. Editorialising of a sort unknown in the UK is de facto ever present in radio and tv here. Paradoxically, only the Catholic church “controlled” COPE radio station makes the slightest effort to own up on air to this practice. The versions of “news” presented by Antena3, Telecinco, Ondacero, La Sexta are anything but objective. Whilst the directly controlled RTVE has certainly improved recently, that is measured from a base which would have made Goebbels cheer.

            The near unanimous silence in national radio and tv broadcasts over reportingin any way prominently the unprecedented recent refusal by the Belgian judiciary to extradite one of the lesser known exiled Catalan politicians to Madrid based on the double argument that the Spanish courts had misapplied Spanish law in sending them for trial in Madrid instead of at home in Barcelona and that the accused was in real and evident danger of not receiving a fair trial in Spain highlights this.

            Finally, the comparison of Catalan channel TV3 with BBC Scotland is misconceived. TV3 is financed and controlled by the Generalitat and as such is the equivalent of a Scottish channel financed by Holyrood. When the Spanish Government applied direct control to all Catalonia in late October 2017, following the keystone-cops style declarations of UDI by the Generalitat, they only decided at the 11th hour not to send their own people in to control TV3 directly. An exceedingly rare example of Spanish sensitvity to the concept of plurality in the media.

          2. MacNaughton says:

            Not really disagreeing with what you say in your post Jim Scott, but as you say TV3 reports to Catalan society and Catalonia’s democratic institutions, whereas BBC Scotland reports to London and therefore ultimately the Tories, which explains why we get endless adaptations of Dickens and Jane Austen and none of Walter Scott or James Hogg. It was owing to this point alone that I made the assertion that television is more plural in Spain than it is in Scotland (which wouldn’t be hard).

            The Catalans have the constitutional right to their parliament, and to use their language at the level of the State, to name just two things, while in Scotland we have neither of those things. The Catalans may feel frustrated that the Spanish Constitution does not allow them to secede from Spain, but we don’t have any constitutional rights at all, and indeed the Scottish Parliament could be abolished tomorrow by London and it would not be unconstitutional. Madrid could not abolish the Catalan parliament, that would be unconstitutional.

            Clearly, the Catalans have significantly more constitutional rights than the Scots do, by far….

          3. MacNaughton says:

            In short Jim, Catalan society may want more political power than they currently have ( and there is no question this is the case) but what they have at present cannot be taken away from them without a reform of the Spanish Constitution which requires two thirds of both chambers, almost impossible.

            That complete shyster Gordon Brown goes on and on about federalism ( which is simply an impossibility under the UK constitution as Brown knows perfectly well) yet he and his Labour Party cronies did not even ensure Holyrood is built on the strongest of constitutional foundations.

            Gordon Brown is simply an imposter or a dodgy second hand car saleseman, selling you something he knows is faulty or has no mileage in it. The British constitution cannot as things stand allow for federalism, to argue it can is a falsehood and if Johnson just closed down Holyrood, I can’t say I’d be entirely surprised….

          4. Jim Scott says:

            Unfortunately you compound, in my opinion, your error regarding the diversity of Spanish media by further erring regarding both the (constitutional) status of the Catalan Parliament and also of the Catalan language.

            The Parliament is not mentioned anywhere in the Spanish Constitution and as such can, as with Holyroood, be closed tomorrow by the Spanish Government.

            One subtle point which goes against the above however, is that the post-Franco government of Adolfo Suarez restored the Generalitat “by decree” in late 1977, fully 14 months before the current Spanish Constitution came into being. The only known case of an entity dating from the Second Republic (though the Catalans assert that its origins are in 1359) being recognised under Francoist legislation. So, paradox of paradoxes, it is to some extent “furth of” the constitution.

            Money there for the lawyers in Madrid, Barcelona, Strasbourg and Luxembourg City, methinks.

            More important however is the erroneous assertion that Catalans have “the constitutional right to … to use their language at the level of the State”

            In the obvious sense that this implies that a Catalan speaker can use her/his language in Madrid, Seville, Salamanca at least in state contexts this is not so.

            The legality of Catalan is theoretically guaranteed in Catalonia only (I leave apart the issues of Valencia and The Balearics)but there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip. Outwith these areas it has no status and is seldom used, even of sufferance, by the central administration. There is no point in expecting a 4 language ticket [Castilian, Catalan, Basque, Galician] beside a painting in the Prado Museum in Madrid. It just doesn’t exist.

            I append below the website for this museum paid for by all Spaniards and Spanish residents. In the top right hand corner you will discover that, as a native born Scot perhaps, with almost certainly an acceptable command of English, your needs are catered for in a way that users of minority Spanish languages are not.


            There were discussions about allowing these languages in the upper house of Parliament in Spain, the Senate, some years ago. It was thrown out to indignant cries that senators would not accept the abject humiliation of wearing ear-pieces to listen to “other” languages in their own country.

            Much much more recently, as a flavour of Catalan social and linguistic reality, last Friday the main TV3 news magazine interviewed live a senior judge from a major court centre in the Catalan heartland. He muttered “Bon dia” followed at break-neck speed by “Buenos días” to his interlocutor and from there on all his words were in Castilian.

            I took the trouble to look up the record and he has been in that court, posted there from his home far from Catalonia by the Madrid judicial authorities who still control the national court structure with a rod of iron, for more than 7 years. That interview is, I would assert, most certainly an accurate insight into the true status of the Catalan language in any Spanish court anywhere within the state.

            [I trust that this will appear in the correct location, as I do not readily understand the “Reply” buttons on the site.]

          5. MacNaughton says:

            Catalan is an official language of State in Catalonia, of course, not in the rest of Spain. Why would it be? And as you know perfectly well, Catalonia is one of the “historical nationalities” referred to in the Constitution and enjoys the provisions as such along with Galicia, Basque Country and Andalusia.

            I will repeat to you for the third time the point I was making: neither Gaelic not Scots have any status in Scotland as languages of State, and we do not have a written Constitution and so our constitutional status in the UK is none too clear..

          6. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Scotland’s current constitution is enshrined in the various constitutional statutes that have evolved around the Union over the centuries, including the Treaty itself. These statutes are written, but they remain uncodified.

            The fact that our constitution is uncodified means that it isn’t ‘fixed’, like those of other associations, and it’s this flexibility that makes it contestable.

            If we were locked within a codified constitution, then we’d really be in trouble.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Foghorn Leghorn, on the contrary, the UK quasi-constitution is shrouded in secrecy and crufted in confusion, making it one of the least contestable constitutions on the planet. Successive rulers have ensured that it remains as backwards as possible. Even when British constitutional lawyers were helping to draft new constitutions around the world, they could not use the bad example of their own quasi-constitution, but went for the rational, rights-based codified forms.

            You seem to have forgotten about being a dialectic Hegelian-Marxist again. A codified constitution represents a clear thesis, a position from which criticism and improvement can be made (the USAmerican constitution is largely composed of amendments, including its ‘bill of rights’ and later addresses of its many earlier flaws and injustices).
            The Protestant Reformation had a clear predecessor in the Catholic doctrine and practices. European science in Aristotelean scholarship. The voice of the sea is heard against the shore. To effect change on a social level, it is vital that there is a socially-understood ‘official’ basis to stand upon when you work your lever. The social contract must be understood before it can be collectively changed.

            Your cacophony preference is virtually nihilistic. Din drowns out sense. The small, still voice of conscience is silenced. You might favour cacophony if you were a status-quo-loving reactionary. Of course, a lot of supporters of the British imperial quasi-constitution are likely to be royalists. One wonders if they will be excited or concerned about the new series in the Guardian on the Queen’s consent.

            Massive, shadowy powers are retained by the Executive in the UK. Dictatorial Henry VIII powers were plucked from five centuries ago to rewrite legislation that Parliament had previously passed. This is not ‘flexibility’, it is a swamp with uncharted ways and depths, sucking progress soggily downward and backward, as the Queen directs her lawyers to maximise her mafia family’s siphoning off of the country’s (empire’s) wealth. If there was popular demand for a right (say, freedom of expression, reasonably constrained), how exactly would the populace in the UK establish one? There is no UK constitutional mechanism for placing a subject’s rights above the royal prerogative. Ignorance of how the intentionally-opaque British quasi-constitution works is understandable but the real source of trouble (not to mention false friends of Scottish independence who seem to think the UK status quo is so great).

          8. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            No, the British constitution isn’t shrouded in secrecy; it’s cloaked in centuries of law, all of which can be contested in the courts (including our parliaments), and which evolves ‘organically’ through such contest rather than engineered ‘ideally’ through fiat. (And, by the way: the dialectical moment of sublation lies in this ‘organic’ evolution, rather than in any positivist managerial process of continuous improvement such as you describe.)

            For example: the social movement towards Scottish independence and the dissolution of the UK is just such a contesting of the Treaty of Union and associated elements of the British constitution and part of its ongoing evolution. You talk about the British constitution as if it doesn’t and can’t change, whereas it’s been changing continually throughout its history and continues to do so in adaptation to the exigencies of real social change, such as those that have occurred in Scotland over the past fifty years, and the material conditions that underlie it.

            Regarding ‘cacophony’: take another look at what I wrote.

            “I’d rather we had a cacophony of voices, of which none has any more authority than any other, and from which we might each create one’s own fluctuant polyphonies of truth.”

            And on the ‘Cacophony of Human Noise’ thread:

            “Certainly, being part of the fifth estate doesn’t require you to be silent… [it] requires you to descend into a Giant Squabble, a cacophony of human noise, among all its toxic elements and in all its worst aspects, and curate one’s own truth.”

            What’s nihilistic about creating or curating one’s own truth, over and over again, from the superabundance of information we have access to? Why do some folk seem to think they can and should be spoon-fed the Truth by a single trusted source like the BBC, and greit-an-girn about the lack of ‘balance’ and ‘impartiality’ when they aren’t?

          9. SleepingDog says:

            @Foghorn Leghorn, well your bluster seems intended to add to cacophony level. What good is this “one’s own truth” of which you speak? What hope is there of modernising the British quasi-constitution if you need a mess of constitutional lawyers to mediate for you? There are different levels of secrecy. My old British politics lecturer told us there are many curious and would-be controversial things known to academics that did not make it into the public sphere of discourse, for various reasons. There is much archival material waiting to be squeezed through the de-secretion glands of the British state into the declassification pipeline. Expert opinions on the British Constitution differ greatly. How is the UK is apparently able to fight multiple covert wars without Parliamentary oversight? So mysterious.

            As anyone with a cursory knowledge should appreciate, the UK is known for its ‘glacial’ pace of legal reform, so you have no empirical justification for your claims. For example, the women’s suffrage campaign is often represented as the decades leading up to WW1, but the efforts to effect constitutional electoral reform stretch back to at least the early 19th century. It was just that the UK system was so corrupt, especially the reactionary-packed House of Lords and the anti-democratic lobbyist-in-chief monarch, that the establishment was able to easily block popular, rational and just changes. And we still have many of the same features today, and some similar ones which have been newly added (secret laws, secret courts, hidden archives, new powers for security services, new impunities for crown agents and so forth).

            According to Wikipedia, the Israeli state is also one of the few unmodified constitutions:

            Would you advise using the British ‘constitution’ as a template for setting up the constitution of a new state?

          10. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            No, I wouldn’t advise using the British constitution as a template for a new state. It’s not fit for such an idealist purpose.

            But I would stick by my original claim: that (in the words of the article you cite) ‘An uncodified constitution has the advantages of elasticity, adaptability and resilience. A significant disadvantage, however, is that controversies may arise due to different understandings of the usages and customs that form the fundamental provisions of the constitution.’ Where I disagree with Johari (the author whom the article cites) is that, unlike him, I don’t consider the contestability of uncodified constitutions to be a ‘significant disadvantage’.

          11. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            And as to what good ‘one’s own truth’ is: this will depend on the criteria by which you measure ‘goodness’.

            By the criteria that inform my evaluation, living by one’s own truth (autonomy) is eminently preferable to living by someone else’s truth (heteronomy). You might evaluate things differently.

  6. Tom Ultuous says:

    There are some great comments on this post regarding broadcasting in Britain. Unfortunately below is an example of the shite many are exposed to.


    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      The point is that, rather than attempt the impossible task of holding back its tide, we should learn to take our shite with a pinch of salt.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Indeed we should Foghorn but we should also be careful we aren’t trampled by stampeding Murdoch Muppets like the English.

      2. rayt says:

        Fair comment, but I fear there just isn’t enough salt in the world……

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