Thursday, 12 June 2008

Dear BBC,

I’m a bit behind, but yesterday the BBC was critiqued for its poor coverage of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish news.* A study shows that people outside of England feel that their country is poorly represented in the BBC’s national news and that there needs to be more coverage to promote fuller and clearer democracy. There are various comments by leading figures saying that we need more ‘local’ news on the link. But the thing that is not really being said is that it is not just about ‘more’ news. It is about how UK news is reported and made relevant to viewers outside England.

First of all, the UK is not synonymous with England; if you are using the term, you are including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no such thing as UK law, a UK education system or, for many purposes, even a UK NHS. There is definitely not UK weather (please note snow in England does not mean the whole of the UK has snow). Studies of England are not studies of the UK. Please get the terminology right. It is just bad reporting to have headlines that talk about the UK, when you mean England. Don’t believe they do it, check out these statistics for the ‘UK’, the scroll to the bottom to find out where they got them- yup England.

Second, just because something is important in England does not mean it matters to the rest of the UK. House prices aren’t yet falling in Scotland and there is no reason why they should as we did not have similar rates of price inflation to England. Yet, reportage suggests that the plummeting house prices in England also apply to Scotland, making Scottish buyers nervous. You are reporting us into an unnecessary downturn. Similarly, while English economic growth rates are in decline; this is not true of Scotland. Our growth rates are stable. Stop including us in your proclamations of doom.

Third, major events do not affect all nations of the UK equally. This is really important to remember as it is key to democratic processes. The rise in immigration that has England upset and frightened has been great for Scotland. It has brought in young people into our aging population, filled undesirable jobs (which I am sure is problematic at other levels, bu,t...), and increased our declining birth rate. A BBC that perpetuates the myth that immigration is harmful to all of the UK, because certain areas experience over-crowding in England and, through doing so creates hostile attitudes to immigrants amongst the Scottish population, doubly harms Scotland, both through encouraging racism and through damaging our economy.

The problem is that there is a general assumption that England is the norm and that the rest of the UK is peripheral and our experiences interesting curiosities. The ‘United’ in UK is meant to suggest that all four nations are equal, that our experiences are similarly valid, if different. Treating three of the four nations as if their experiences are not relevant or assuming that one nation’s experience is relevant to the rest of the UK, but that the rest of the UK has nothing to offer in return, is undemocratic and removes any sense of true partnership.

So, BBC, it’s good that you recognise that you have a problem with news reportage, but, when you fix it, please don’t ignore the actual problem in favour of ‘more’.

*To any readers not convinced by Scottish Nationalism, go read the comment thread that goes with this article.

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