There was a time when I loved the BBC.
Growing up, there weren’t many opportunities for me to watch live television: for a number of years, we didn’t have a television in the home at all. Therefore whenever we visited friends and family, live telly was a special treat. We’d watch Star Trek with the grandparents – repeats of the original series, and the UK premieres of Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBC2; sometimes we’d catch Dòtaman on days off from school, or City Lights, The High Life, or Red Dwarf if we stayed up late; big events like the Proms and Hogmanay Live were essential viewing. But most of all, I remember the documentaries and current affairs programs – Natural World, Horizon, Panorama – because they were the “adult” programs. As a precocious wee Aly, I was indeed very interested in being very grown up.
Some of our family and friends worked at the BBC, and in the 1990s, I got the opportunity to visit BBC studios with the rest of the family. I couldn’t wait: back then, the BBC felt like one of those wonderlands where ideas and dreams came to fruition. Even though it didn’t have quite as many rides or attractions as Disneyworld or Universal Studios, it was more than enough for me to see all the cameras, the lights, the scurrying crew, the chattering headsets, the flickering monitors with analogue countdowns. This, thought wee Aly, was where they made Jackanory, Blue Peter, Record Breakers, Tomorrow’s World, Natural World, Horizon, The Living Planet, The Trials of Life, Lost Worlds Vanished Lives, and a host of other programs that informed, inspired, and enthralled. Best of all, David Attenborough himself was present! While we never got an opportunity to meet him personally (We did, however, get a chance to meet Philip Schofield, who was as warm and friendly as he was on television) it was amazing enough seeing him as they filmed Going Live! from afar.
The BBC continued to be a positive thing in my life growing up: I’ll never forget when Hartbeat was interrupted with breaking news of a ceasefire in some war off somewhere (much as I wanted to see the rest of Hartbeat, knowing a war was over was good news); seeing the Scottish Parliament opening ceremony; watching that first episode of Walking With Dinosaurs. Then Iraq. Then Hutton. Then the Gaza War. Then fascism. Then the internal scandals.
My support for the BBC as an institution started to crumble as I saw them support the insupportable, defend the indefensible, and hide that which they didn’t dare admit. This was before the Scottish Independence Referendum, the General Election, and the EU Referendum. Before this week.
Because there’s something else that happened this week beyond YouTube forcing two of the most valuable Scottish independence-supporting channels to be shut down on behalf of the BBC – and something that shocked me even after everything I’ve witnessed.
Kirsty Wark: But what you’re presumably saying is for the future, you want to make sure that everything is open, fair, and honest.
Christopher Wylie: Well, I mean, this really gets to the elephant in the room, particularly for Britain, which is that, you know, Facebook facilitated illegal campaigning on the part of Vote Leave, which allowed them to cheat-
KW: (interrupting) Well that’s an allegation as well.
CW: Well no, it’s not an allegation, because if you look at the Electoral Commission and the ICO reports, you know, Vote Leave have been found to, you know, found to have committed unlawful acts where that money went onto Facebook ads, right? Facebook – Facebook facilitated cheating in the referendum-
KW: (interrupting) Well let’s just say that’s an allegation that you’re also making, but I want to make the broader point about-
CW: (interrupting) These aren’t allegations! Every time I come on to BBC, I always get stopped by saying “these are allegations, we need to wait for a report, when the report comes out.” The electoral commission found that Vote Leave broke the law. That’s a fact. Vote Leave broke the law. That’s a fact, that’s not an allegation.
KW: (interrupting) Tell-
CW: Facebook facilitated that because they allowed these ads to go onto their platform using money that was unlawful.
Why on earth would a BBC journalist consistently and repeatedly assert that findings by two independent watchdogs of extreme importance to the United Kingdom were only “allegations?”
I think of how much I admired the BBC as an institution, how they tried to be balanced and measured and fair. I think of how my sister and I, and hundreds of other children, ran around a studio that I now know was either blind or complacent to the predators in their midst. And now, I think of how ever present, ever watchful that institution is, dominating Scotland’s culture by law and by practise. Once, the BBC idents and tones and sounds were thrilling and exciting: now, I find them sickening and repellent. It doesn’t work even if you don’t have a TV license – my household hasn’t hosted live broadcasting for years now, but that doesn’t end the BBC’s influence on our lives.
The Scottish Independence Referendum campaign felt like a constant assault on a nation’s hopes and dreams, broadcast into every household which complied with its mad licensing law, its news sites all over the internet, its headlines all over the newspapers. We couldn’t escape it. On the doors, out canvassing; in the street, stalls out campaigning; in the Yes Inverclyde shop, organising: people would tell us about what the BBC told them, or what they saw on the BBC, or what the BBC thought about independence. We couldn’t escape it even if we wanted to. And now, it is utterly failing all the nations of the United Kingdom in its handling of the greatest political crisis this century – if not a century – by refusing to hold the architects of that crisis to any sort of account, and indeed, cushioning them from the most damning indictments. It is good to see so many voices – especially those who supported the BBC in the independence campaign – seeing their dereliction of duty to the people of these islands, and reacting as we all did. I only hope it isn’t too late.
For the first half of my life I thought nothing but the best of the BBC. Now, as an adult, I’d be happy if the BBC disappeared from my life forever.
You can’t feel my stare
I zoom into you
You don’t know I’m there
My tearless retina takes pictures that can prove
My circuits gleam
I am perpetual
I keep the country clean