Can a country’s government-funded national news empire be objective when some propose splitting that country up?
This is the question some are asking about the BBC’s reporting on the Scottish independence referendum, due for a vote on Sept. 18, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) that has put it forward. Criticism has been lobbed at individual journalists and the institution as a whole.
Most recently, an SNP politician took aim at Nick Robinson, the BBC political editor, on Thursday for asking questions about a rumor that the Royal Bank of Scotland will relocate to London if the Scots vote to separate from England.
“It is part of a political gambit during this referendum campaign from the United Kingdom Government,” Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, said, as the Telegraph reported. “Perhaps the BBC today will investigate or even reveal who that source was.”
Robinson wasn’t the first BBC journalist to come under fire. Last year, presenter Andrew Marr was criticized for saying anti-English sentiment is “entrenched” in the SNP. “There is a very strong anti-English feeling, everybody knows it, there always has been,” he said.
The SNP took exception. “It is simply wrong to suggest that aspirations for Scotland to make our own decisions are based on anything other than a desire to build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland,” a spokesman said.
But Marr and others said that fair and balanced reporting about what some consider secession isn’t in the BBC’s job description.
“The BBC is not impartial or neutral,” Marr said in 2006. “It’s a publicly funded, urban organization with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, and gay people.”
Some have even suggested that the BBC’s relative lack of resources in Scotland is a result of fear of the independence vote.
“The people of Scotland pay for this service, and we have a right to expect that the BBC will provide first class, impartial and informative reporting of this debate,” said Joan McAlpine, a Scottish Parliament member and member of the SNP, said in 2012. “The BBC are currently front-loading job cuts in news and current affairs in Scotland — in light of what is happening in Scotland over the next few years, surely this is the wrong approach for our national broadcaster at this time.”