A NEW, separate BBC channel for Scotland – is it too good to be true? The plan was generally welcomed, with enthusiasm from some while others were more cautious. Some of the reservations expressed in The National were coupled with the notion that a separate BBC broadcast for Scotland could turn out to be a platform for even more anti-independence bias.

Among the suggestions of how to secure non-partisan political reporting in a future BBC Scotland channel, one particular idea caught my eye. It was a call for scrutiny of editorial decisions involving punitive measures should there be any bias apart from the odd accidental glitch. It was suggested that any public body should be entitled to send a scrutineer to editorial meetings.

This suggestion must be given serious attention and really needs to be discussed in more detail. For example, which kind of bias should be targeted: pro-Union or pro-independence? Pro-Brexit or pro-EU? Anti-Scottish or anti-English? Bias can take all sorts of shapes and forms. If so, then all bias should be fair game. But is it possible to eliminate bias from all media? It would be more realistic to maintain a clear distinction between information and comment and to allow for diversity of opinion.

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Another point is the notion of external scrutineers sitting in editorial meetings and the prospect of journalists being penalised for content which might go against a certain political grain.

This raises a number of questions. Which criteria would these scrutineers use to assess content and decisions? Would the release of news, political comments or other programmes ultimately hinge on their approval? Could their judgment in the end inflict sanctions on journalists and editors whose reporting is deemed undesirable? And what would these sanctions be – fines, court orders, employment bans or even prison sentences?

This would require clear guidelines as to what is or isn’t an enforceable offence in political reporting – is that really what we want?

Finally, would this only apply to the new BBC Scotland channel or, for reasons of fairness, also to all other media in Scotland?

The idea of taking self-regulation out of the hands of the media and implementing external control mechanisms isn’t new. It’s common practice in all those political systems which are either downright undemocratic or purport to be democracies but in reality enforce political compliance on journalists. The common denominator is elimination of political dissent.

Accusing the mainstream media of bias or even of lying is a double-edged sword. While it’s fair and just in a democracy to criticise media where appropriate or necessary, this freedom can also be misused for undermining trust in independent, investigative journalism.

Donald Trump makes ample use of this strategy and other populist movements do it, too. For example, the German far-right, neo-nationalist Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) apply the terms “biased” and “lying press” to every newspaper in the country that doesn’t explicitly support them. I am sure they also would like to see scrutineers sitting in editorial meetings.

If we in Scotland want to do better than populists, we need to drop any idea of external control and sanctioning of journalists as this would create an unhealthy climate of fear and intimidation. Instead we need to maintain and develop our culture of informed, rational and civil debate, even if we don’t always like to hear what others have to say. Freedom of speech, diversity of opinion and independence of the media are precious values on which we all rely – not least the people who work for this newspaper.

Regina Erich, Stonehaven

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The BBC is trying to disrupt our political discourse 

ONE should never underestimate the artfulness of the British establishment. When Jackson Carlaw MSP and his Tory colleagues gladly welcomed a new public broadcasting channel for Scotland, which they insisted until recently would be an unnecessary expense because the BBC already served the Scottish public well, they confirmed that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

Some may not have noticed the declining references to the SNP and Scotland in general across the BBC’s UK news and current affairs programmes, unless of course it is to report or highlight bad news, nor noticed the contraction of the Reporting Scotland afternoon news from the scheduled 15 minutes to around 8.5 minutes while the UK news has been extended from the scheduled 30 minutes to around 33 minutes (a UK/Scotland news ratio of 4:1 instead of 2:1).

It is clear that not only will there not be a Scottish Six in the lead-up to a new Scottish independence referendum, but that the voices of self-determination will be deliberately suppressed on BBC programmes through almost exclusive coverage of the Tory, Labour, Ukip and Liberal Democrat parties.

The meagre funds proclaimed for a separate BBC Scotland channel and for future Scottish programming will not even match what the BBC spends annually to secure the rights to broadcast limited football highlights on Match Of The Day, never mind come close to returning most of the money raised in licence fees from Scotland.

Given the persistently accumulating evidence of bias at the BBC it would not seem unreasonably cynical to suggest that having an autumn 2018 launch for this new channel is not coincidental given the dates currently predicted for a new referendum to solicit the Scottish public’s view on self-determination with the huge implications of Brexit for both Scotland’s economy and our society.

The fact is that the fake news that emanated from the Scotland Office prior to Scotland’s previous referendum was probably only the tip of the massive iceberg furtively directed at sinking the ambitions of the Scottish people to fairly and objectively decide Scotland’s constitutional future.

The challenge ahead for those who wish to overcome the insidious establishment forces, led by a pernicious Tory Government at Westminster, in order to build a prosperous but compassionate society, has not been diminished by launching a BBC Scotland channel intended to politically distract as well as to minimise informed and serious constitutional debate.

Stan Grodynski, Longniddry, East Lothian

NOTHING to do with Brexit or May’s plan for our council polling day, but here’s hoping for a slice of National space anent a March election that’s definitely different, and maybe half a century overdue.

Anyway, it’s better late than never. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step, etc. And for Scotland, that step can be taken in the month ahead – by choosing the first heroine entrant to the Hall of Heroes at the towering Wallace Monument outside Stirling. It seems a diabolical disparity to rank one woman alongside 16 men. The shortlist of 14 female candidates made me ask: if each is worth a place, why not induct them all?

For example, there’s medic Elsie Inglis; Mary Slessor, the Mother Teresa of her day; pioneer engineer Victoria Drummond, awarded a War Medal for bravery at sea; university greats; Gaelic poet/singer and crofters’ campaigner Màiri Mhòr nan òran; swimming marvel Nancy Riach, who died from polio at 20; and Maggie Keswick Jencks, co-founder of Maggie’s Centres for people hit by cancer.

So why can’t the whole 14 join brave-hearted hero Wallace, Robert Burns, John Knox, Robert Tannahill, Adam Smith and Walter Scott et al? One simple reason: there’s no space and no cash at the moment for 14 more marble busts, male or female! Must add that voting on www.nationalwallacemonument.com was an enlightening and enjoyable exercise.

P.S. I wonder what it takes for a politician to be voted a courageous and determined national hero(ine).

Jack Newbigging, Irvine