The BBC boycott of Rangers – over two years and counting

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The BBC/Rangers “boycott” has been rumbling on for some time now. Occasionally you’ll see a comment on social media or catch something in the BBC's reporting that reminds that you all is not normal. And has not been for some time. Time is certainly ticking on with this, a quick search threw up reports with dates of August 2015 for the opening salvos, and January 2016 as the beginning of the long running boycott. That’s more than two whole years where the national broadcaster has voluntarily boycotted one of the biggest sporting institutions in the UK.

To summarise, the situation arose when Rangers withdrew press privileges for their senior football reporter Chris McLaughlin. The reason given was that the reporter was involved in “misleading and unbalanced reports”. The BBC management took exception to this and then engaged in a boycott of their own, whereby no BBC staff attend Ibrox or Auchenhowie. It’s not clear at what level this decision was made.

In my experience the club's stance or at least intent has the backing of the majority of the fans. The BBC (by which I mean certain members of the BBC Scotland staff) had been pushing the envelope where Rangers were concerned and at the tip of that iceberg were several incidents that actually resulted in withdrawals and formal apologies. For a company with the perceived historical standards and code of ethics of the BBC, not to mention a company distinct in its freedom from financial pressures of the tabloids, it is unbelievable that they’d put out content that gets anywhere near censor. McLaughlin, as the highest profile football reporter and a subtly cunning repeat offender, took the fall for what was perhaps an unavoidable clash.

The BBC's response seems to be one without precedent and I can’t recall any other entity being subject to a self-imposed boycott. Especially a sporting institution which has a valid, if subjective, complaint and one where similar complaints against the BBC had been backed up by regulators. From memory Alex Ferguson had a period of seven years where he never talked to the BBC (for comments contained in a documentary) and certainly the BBC never reciprocated by not attending Old Trafford. The lack of movement or comment on it from both sides is something of a concern and as an onlooker I certainly haven’t seen any mention of it. A recent Club1872 interview with Stewart Robertson in December 2017 stated that “discussions were ongoing towards a solution” and I understand that is also the BBC stance on the situation.

As a Rangers fan I find the fact that this is still ongoing absolutely ridiculous. Not that I object to the stance against the reporter, rather the fact that the status quo doesn’t suit Rangers. Every day that we don’t get fair, normal coverage and exposure is a hindrance to the club.

Simplistically, football clubs are brands in an entertainment industry. Brands tap into pop culture and rely on exposure, repetition and association to grow and to continue to stay relevant. If you take away the oxygen of exposure then you are damaging the brand – even if only relatively by denying it something competing brands are allowed. Likewise, if you subliminally undermine the brand then this filters into the listening population. Taking it further, if you obstruct exposure to the consumer base, especially at formative stages, then you erode the brand's value within that consumer base. It might be tiny percentages or unquantifiable, but it is a factor. If you then compound any effect with time then you have something more tangible - this is unacceptable.

Ironically of course, protecting the brand would be intrinsic in the reasons for McLaughlin’s original ban. I also don’t think you’ll find many Rangers fans who don’t believe that there’s a number of influential journalists and reporters at the BBC who don’t like Rangers. And anyone who listens will know they are none too subtle at hiding it. Call me a cynic but I would guess they would have welcomed the boycott and are pleased with the status quo.

I don’t doubt the Rangers board are busy men. I don’t doubt they have a mile-long list of issues that need their attention. Unfortunately this is another one and this one is dragging on and needs brought to a head sooner than later. I don’t know if it’s been elevated beyond the walls of Pacific Quay but I’d certainly like to see a bigger fuss made about it. There are undoubtedly employees at the BBC who have proven they cannot be impartial or professional with Rangers. It’s a solid claim to make and a just call to ask the BBC to up its game and put its house in order instead of handling Rangers to a different set of rules.

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