BBC Scotland and the question of football freedom

Last updated : 13 August 2015 By Mark Dingwall

It’s a major marker that has been laid down by the removing of press passes for these two serial offenders.   Over the years bad PR, as opposed to reasoned criticism, has cost Rangers millions and damaged “the brand” dreadfully.   This Board is determined to see an end to that.

Don’t underestimate the resolution of the current Board - by and large they are hardened by years of struggle and exposure to the unwelcoming and unprofessional climate of Scottish football journalism where Rangers were expected to play the part of Aunt Sally in perpetuity.  The long road back has been set out upon.   The moves against McLaughlin and Spiers are merely to encourager les autres.

The reaction of the BBC and the rest of the media has been two-fold and stinking of hypocrisy.  On the one hand the BBC has mounted a boycott of Rangers; defended McLaughlin’s professionalism; provided Spiers with a platform on Radio 4 and the Off The Ball programme and devoted almost an entire sports show last week to the issue.  Like any bully their response has been to up the bluster in the hope their target will back down.

I should mention here Craig Houston’s excellent performance on Sportsound where he tied Tom English in knots over the issue. The Sons of Struth spokesman noted that Jim Spence had been banned by Dundee FC recently but no similar boycott was announced.   The bold Tom said ‘but the circumstances were different’ - Houstie charged and in and established that Tom English had been briefed by senior BBC staff before coming on air and made aware of the Dundee situation and told that the circumstances were different - but we are asked to believed that they omitted to tell him how they differed!   In short - said Houstie - it’s one law for Rangers and one law for everyone else.

The other prong of the BBC’s strategy, if one can dignify it with such a title, is to carry on as before.

They went cap in hand to Rangers asking if the club would release for use the footage of the St Mirren game - the club said yes, no problem, it’s McLaughlin who is banned not the Beeb.   They then dubbed an “as live” commentary from John Barnes over it in their highlights show.   Likewise they kept up a running commentary on the radio on Friday by watching the live BT coverage in the studio and working from that.   They’ve announced they will continue to provide the public with a service regarding Rangers by taking copy from freelancers - and lo and behold if on Twitter Mr Spiers himself announces it’s him who is picking up that paycheque!  Who says the Beeb don’t look after their own?!

Let’s further consider the reaction of the Celtic-minded in the media, the anger is palpable with defenders of freedom rushing to the barricades comparing Ibrox to North Korea; the SPFL offering to mediate; etc, etc.

But let’s also consider the reaction of each and every one of these gentlemen and institutions to the bannings by Celtic Football Club in the last couple of season of Hugh Keevins, Keith Jackson and Peter Smith of STV.   What, you never heard?   That’s right.  Silence.

This is a classic example of the fallacy of free speech as practised by the footballing media in Scotland - it’s a ‘freedom’ to lie and invent and distort with regard to Rangers without regard to normal journalistic ethics.   Where was the collective commitment of the Scottish media to free speech when Keevins, Jackson and Smith were banned?  One law for Rangers, another one for the rest.

Behind the scenes, as you can imagine, the BBC are trying the old soft soap routine.   Perhaps Rangers ‘don’t understand’ how the media works, etc, etc.   By making a public issue of the bannings and proving various platforms for squealing - BBC4, Off The Ball, SportSound, freelance lolly, etc - they had simply added to the list of examples the Board of the club was complaining about in the first place.

BBC Scotland were warned over the summer that a level playing field would be insisted upon and any example of bias would be acted upon.   Those are the new rules.  Enjoy them.