Not settling for less

bbc_union_at_any_costIt’s like being promised a new house only to find that what you’re actually getting is a garden shed. Not a top-of-the-range garden shed, but the smallest, cheapest, flimsiest, most low-spec garden shed on the market. It looks great in the brochure. But the one you’re getting isn’t painted. And, if you look closely just below that image in microscopic lettering are the words “Not shown actual size”. The attractive young lady in the bikini pictured gazing up in delighted wonder at the imposing edifice is actually only four foot three inches tall. You feel disappointed. You feel cheated. You feel Scottish.

Even if you don’t fully comprehend all the stuff about budgets and production costs and all the jargon of the TV industry, it’s easy to understand the difference between standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). Anybody who has a fairly modern TV can appreciate the fact that HD is very much better than SD. For most of us, I suspect, HD is now the standard. It’s what we expect. SD actually stands for sub-standard definition. What the BBC is offering us is sub-standard. That crappy wee garden shed isn’t even made out of real wood.

But there’s more! Belatedly realising that the uppityness of the Jocks has now reached such a level that the ingrates decline to be fobbed-off with factory rejects, the BBC amended its offer. On 14 March 2018, Chris Roswell (Head of Regulation & Economics – a BBC title if ever I heard one) wrote to Ofcom (PDF) advising that the new BBC Scotland channel would only be broadcast in sub-standard definition part of the time. The great news was that the BBC had graciously deigned to provide the quality of picture viewers in Scotland pay for a few hours in the evening. The letter was (not really) signed, yours in anticipation of some grateful forelock-tugging from those pestilential provincials.

It has to be said that Mr Roswell (HoRE) took some of the shine off this grand new offering when he gleefully proclaimed that it didn’t involve spending any more of Scottish licence fee-payers’ money in Scotland. Due to “recent technology changes” the shabby little garden shed could be equipped with the luxury of a fourth wall (part-time only) at no additional cost.

We’re told nothing about the nature of those “technology changes”, and whether they are anything to do with the fact that the HD for the new BBC Scotland channel is being provided by taking it from the children’s channel, CBBC (in Scotland only). Will we, I wonder, be able to truly enjoy that glorious HD knowing it’s been stolen from our own bairns?

Am I the only one struck by the apparent effort the BBC puts into avoiding viewers in Scotland with the services we pay for? It’s almost as in there was something in the corporation’s charter about ensuring Scotland is always relatively worse off. The attitude seems to be that the BBC may grudgingly make some kind of gesture if we make a big enough fuss, but on no account must this amount to anything approximating the kind of public service broadcasting provision a real nation might enjoy.

It’s not about the money. We know that licence fee revenues raised in Scotland are sufficient to pay for a full broadcasting service. It’s as if the service provided by the British state broadcaster is being purposefully curtailed and diminished. It’s as if we are being deliberately short-changed. And not necessarily or entirely for financial reasons.

We swim in a media sea. We are immersed in it. There is no part of our lives that is not touched by the media. We view the world and ourselves through a media lens. Increasingly, we interact with others only through media. Our culture evolves in and is conveyed by the media. Our political discourse conforms to the demands of the media. It is baffling that people scoff at the idea of media studies as a ‘serious’ academic subject when the media looms so massively in all our lives. We live in a world made of media. So it stands to reason that established power will seek to control the media. And to use the media as a means of control.

Whether anyone in the BBC would admit it, or even be aware of it, that is what lies behind the extraordinary effort to detract from broadcasting in Scotland – even as they try to look as if they’re providing shiny new services. The British state requires that Scotland must be less than it might be. Therefore, the media in Scotland must be less than it might be. It is not a question of resources. The BBC’s stranglehold on Scotland’s media is both practical and symbolic. In practical terms, it prevents Scotland from either perceiving or presenting itself in they way we would choose were we permitted to do so. Symbolically, the BBC’s dominance of Scotland’s media represents the supremacy of the British state; while the paucity of the service provided by the BBC reinforces Scotland’s subordinate status within the UK.

Some in Scotland are content to settle for a dilapidated garden shed, so long as it has a Union flag flying above it. Others want the house we’re paying for.


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