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BBC accused of 'lies' over Scotland politics coverage

Published 16/10/2015

YES campaigners demonstrate outside the BBC building in Glasgow ahead of the Scottish referendum last year
YES campaigners demonstrate outside the BBC building in Glasgow ahead of the Scottish referendum last year

The BBC was accused of peddling more "half truths and lies" than the Nazis as SNP activists vented their anger at its perceived bias against Scotland and independence.

Senoir corporation executive Ewan Angus was heckled and booed at a stormy meeting on the fringe of the party's annual conference in Aberdeen.

Feelings are still running high over what pro-independence campaigners believed was a pro-Union slant to the public service broadcaster's coverage of last year's referendum.

That culminated in street protests targeting then BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

Mr Angus faced cries of "shame" when he declined to comment on the priorities given to stories on the BBC's news website, with one delegate complaining it had put a news about SNP investment at the bottom of the list.

Others demanded the reactivation of the ability to post comments on the site, something the commissioning editor for television in Scotland said he was unaware of but would raise.

During a bad-tempered session, the BBC was also accused over its coverage of tennis champion Andy Murray, the relative scale of Scotland on the weather map and insufficient items about other global independence movements.

Scotland's Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop joined some of the criticism but declined to be drawn on editorial decisions and appealed for a "calm" debate, warning "closed minds" could jeopardise efforts to resolve the "real challenge" faced by the BBC over coverage north of the border as part of the negotiations over the renewal of its charter.

"We've got to work with the BBC and BBC Scotland to get where we want to. If we close our minds to that then I think we are all going to lose out," she said.

"I expect journalists to call government to account - that what's good democracy is, freedom of speech. But I do think there's a general point about how our country is reflected to itself."

"There's no reason why (BBC Scotland political editor) Brian Taylor can't be telling the story of Scotland within the rest of the UK. Do we really need to parachute somebody in who doesn't know Scotland as well?"

Among the more outspoken critics was Glasgow councillor Phil Greene.

He told the meeting: "Max Hastings, who is a fairly eminent historian, in his reflections on the Second World War with regards to propaganda said that Goebbels ... fighting against the BBC was boxed out of the park because the BBC had a far greater mixture of half truths and lies than the Germans. I don't think things have changed that much."

Mr Angus said the BBC accepted it had an "issue" with the failure of its news coverage to reflect adequately the realities of devolved government in Scotland and the other nations of the UK.

But he dismissed claims of political bias.

"I do not accept its biased. This could turn easily into some kind of a slanging match if that's what people prefer but it's certainly not what I'm here for," he said.

"The BBC does understand that there is an issue that needs to be addressed in terms of the news offer in the nations.

"It would be fair to say that the BBC as a whole has been slow to respond to the changing face of the UK and the impact of devolved institutions.

"What we need now is to move forward with a shared ambition to improve these aspects of the offer for the audience in Scotland.

"What we have announced is that there will be a change and a consultation before that happens."

He did however admit that he was "not sure I would like to defend our complaints process" after one audience member said it appeared to have been "designed to make people lose the will to live".

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