Feeding the Elephant – The BBC's debt to Rangers

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I write about this again as it was covered on a recent H&H podcast, not for the first time and I’m guessing not for the last time. The BBC's treatment of Rangers is a topic that crops up often because it’s always there, sitting in our front rooms like a 4 ton elephant. In summary, the BBC are still choosing to boycott Rangers and Ibrox because they prefer to back the tribal unprofessionalism of some of their staff. This was covered on Gersnet years ago and from the outside not much has changed - Rangers have valid concerns and the key people at Pacific Quay are quite comfortable to have Rangers excluded. A convenient and popular pariah for many.

My opinion is that PQ wanted us out, engineered the situation and intended to sit back and watch Celtic coast to their mythical ten. However, the plan has derailed and is reaching an unexpected and awkward tipping point for them, as Steven Gerrard puts Rangers into a great position to ruin their little license-fee-funded love-in. Gerrard was news-worthy before but delivering 55 would put him, and everyone else at the club, into a different stratosphere of demand and attention. This should be a problem for the BBC.

Public opinion suggests there’s two dominant points of view to hold within the support. The first is that it doesn’t really matter. We ignore it as an inconvenience and just get on with things. Even years ago I can remember people telling me that the next title is all that matters. It’s hard to argue with thinking and in a way this is exactly what Rangers has done. After all, they are in the right on this one, they have the unanimous backing of the Rangers support, they should never yield on this and shouldn’t have to.

The other view, which I more strongly prescribe to, is that this is a continuing injustice against Rangers and it matters too much to overlook. I’ve never been able to ignore it, hence the frequent rants. If the BBC turned around tomorrow and said ‘ok, boycott’s over, we’ll pop round for interviews in 5 minutes’, I’d be furious if Rangers even considered accepting that. You see, every passing day is another slight against Rangers and this ill-will has been building up for five years now.

I call it an injustice because I'm confident of what’s behind it, it’s not an accident, it’s not a difference of opinion or understanding. The allegiances of those involved are well documented and it’s hardly a leap of faith to then understand their actions. Hey, if I had the opportunity and inclination to forego professional decency I'd probably do the same. It could be PR, or business, or needle, or mischief - it doesn't matter, it's the same result.

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One way of demonstrating the importance of holding the keys to the BBC is to imagine how different prominent topics would look if over-zealous Rangers supporters took over strategic roles within Pacific Quay.

- EBTs would be a non-story. In fact, Rangers would be applauded for their ingenuity. Morality wouldn’t be an issue, the same way it’s not an issue for other tax avoidance schemes. The narrative certainly wouldn’t be about cheating. It would about be about how unlucky and wronged Rangers were and that the HMRC were malicious, aggressive and unreasonable. Any action from the SPFL or SFA would be set-up and directed to benefit Rangers and the ‘Yes to Newco’ campaign would dominate the airwaves for months until the next season kicked-off as if nothing happened.

- Sectarianism would never have been a topic. Certainly, not for Rangers. Orange this and h*n that would been highlighted and hammered into the public subconscious as overtly sectarian, whilst the F word filed neatly under political and satirical. MSPs and experts would be invited on across various platforms to explain this reasoning and reassure the public on what to think.

- Sportscene. Any flash points involving Rangers infringements would be brushed over, certainly not replayed from incriminating angles. The only incidents discussed involving Morelos would be to question why McKenna or Brown or Porteous were allowed to get away with it in the first place and ask, ‘do we need that type of behaviour on our game’? Every incident involving Brown would be dissected on a High Definition petri-dish before demanding action from the Rangers-supporting Compliance Officer. Let’s see if we can get citations into double-figures this season, eh lads? An orderly queue of pundits formed to carpet his antics and discuss just how big a national disgrace he is.

- Pacific Quay would grasp the nettle of historic child abuse in Scottish football. They would give long overdue oxygen and fair-hearing to the victims and discuss how football, the governing bodies and the government should deal with things. They’d back a full public enquiry and keep at it until it came into being. John Beattie would conduct an interview with a victim and it wouldn’t be cut because a family member of the Celtic board happened to work in the editorial department.

Some of this seems ridiculous because it’s so removed from the narratives that Pacific Quay has provided us over the years. But understanding their motives and drivers, we realise that much of what they’ve fed us was equally absurd. Control the media and you control the minds of the public.

But it’s not all glib or flippant point-scoring, there’s some very serious points hidden amongst it. There really was a campaign led to demote Rangers, to tarnish the club. A single sectarian angle and agenda was presented and pushed for years, and still is. Highlights and discussions have been edited and tailored to target our players. And more serious than all of that, interviews were recorded with victims but never made the airwaves, whilst the same scandal of unpalatable enormity is seldom mentioned because of the team and people involved.

Those are some pretty serious accusations against BBC Scotland’s behaviour and policy. And this isn’t just from the outside: in November the departing long-time Drivetime presenter Bill Whiteford felt it necessary to question the newly appointed Director of BBC Scotland Steve Carson about the bias against Rangers. The desire to speak out is there, even from within the BBC, but the existing environment and culture suppresses it.

One thing is clear and it is that some at BBC Scotland have their primary allegiance to entities other than the BBC. The problem for the BBC is that it has allowed them to foist this allegiance upon their positions at BBC Scotland – and then actually back them.

Upon reflection, they have dripped a hell of a lot of poison into the well over the years. An elephant-sized lump of ill-will sits menacingly astride our favourite chair. I’m not sure how this can be overlooked without some serious answers and loud, clear apologies - where any apology then only opens the door to further questions on practises within the department. I know cannot just forgive and forget it all and I hope Rangers don’t either.

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