Nick Robinson is wrong – alternative news sites have an important role to play

Nick Robinson. Picture by Tom Page (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson is quoted in the Guardian today bemoaning alternative media such as Wings Over Scotland, the Canary and Westmonster.

These alternative news sites are waging a “guerrilla war” against the BBC and undermining the public’s faith in their national broadcaster, he says.

Perhaps Nation.Cymru would also make it onto the list of ‘alternative news sites’. Last month the BBC’s Welsh Affairs editor indicated that he considered this site and Wings Over Scotland to be birds of a feather.

I agree with some of Nick Robinson’s criticism of these sites. They are overtly political in many ways and often go to much greater lengths than the BBC to bend the truth to serve their agenda.

The Canary’s ongoing war against BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg is a good example of this.

However, if the public is becoming more critical in their analysis on news from the ‘mainstream’ media, that’s no bad thing.

The problem is when they begin to swallow news provided by other alternative news sources, be they the Canary, Wings Over Scotland or Breitbart news, with the same credulity.

Nation.Cymru exists to provide a perspective which is currently lacking in English language online news – a national Welsh perspective.

However, the aim is to expand the Welsh public sphere, not to raise an army of blinkered followers who get all their opinions from Nation.Cymru.

In the age of digital journalism, most news sites are inevitably going to cater for niche tastes. To get all your news from any one narrow perspective is unhealthy.

As it is, sites like the Canary and Wings Over Scotland play an important role, which is to point out that there is nothing inevitable about the political status quo.

The BBC is deeply embedded within the British nation-state because it’s dependent on the institutions of that nation-state for its information.

It’s ‘biased’ insofar as one of the most centralised nation-states in Europe has created a national public service broadcaster that is just as centralised.

The BBC can’t help but reinforce the status quo because it’s largely dependent on those in charge to shape the daily narrative.

Inevitable

‘Impartiality’ and ‘bias’ are worthless concepts when what you’re dealing with are systems that are man-made.

‘Impartiality’ just means looking at what those in power are saying and presenting a case that’s somewhere in the middle.

For instance, Brexit was largely presented as an argument between old Bullingdon Club mates David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

What the BBC generally doesn’t do is ask the question ‘why are these people in power and why are we listening to them and not others?’

What alternative news sites do is say ‘hang on, there’s nothing actually inevitable about the current political order’.

Accident of history

The conflict between Wings Over Scotland and the BBC is a good example of this dynamic at work.

The BBC were ‘biased’ during the Independence Referendum campaign, but not because the organisation had an implicit agenda.

They were biased because journalists amass like insects drawn to by light around institutions that produce news – even if they’re mostly soap-opera-like pseudo-events.

Most of the BBC’s top political journalists are inevitably London-based because that’s where the news is. As a result, their analysis is inevitably skewed by a small collection of London-based politicians.

Sites like Wings Over Scotland point out that there’s no good reason why Britain’s political firmament is the way it is. It’s just like that because it’s like that, an accident of history, and there’s no good reason not to change it.

This brings it into inevitable conflict with the BBC because while WoS points out that the Emperor has no Clothes, the BBC’s first instinct is to ask the Emperor’s tailor for comment.

Fact-check

I’m in Brussels today and will be speaking later at a conference at the European Parliament on stateless nations and the media.

There is a big contingent of Catalonian journalists here and one explained to me that his primary job every day is to write an op-ed column for the main Catalan paper fact-checking the Spanish press.

It’s interesting to see that, even in a country that is at the cusp of independence, with a very well-developed media, that journalists play a very similar role to Wings Over Scotland and Nation.Cymru.

That is, to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. And, on top of that, why is he Emperor in the first place?


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marcvjones
Guest

The BBC isn’t very good at accepting it isn’t the font of all wisdom. What was notable in Robinson’s list was the omission of any of the right-wing sites that have consistently attacked the BBC for left-wing bias. Guido Fawkes being the most obvious example. My problem with the likes of The Canary is just poor journalism – the latest cock-up re its Laura Kuennsberg story being a good example.

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

I’ve always found, Robinson to be smug superior journalist and its because of people like him millions of people worldwide are turning to alt-media. But more than that the advent of the internet and alternative voices has allowed people to access information for themselves. No longer do we have to have it filtered, interpreted by gatekeepers like the BBC, Sky, or print MSM, etc. Absolutely not: We can now source material ourselves and come to our own conclusions. Infact, we can hear from myriads of indepenent journalists, citizen journalists, in fact anyone with a voice can speak , unshackled by… Read more »

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

Robinson is ultra-smug and this kind of outburst from him only serves to confirm his immense belief in his own superiority and the institution that employs him. He may buzz off back to ITV for bigger bucks in due course, though I doubt it, as he epitomises that institutional elitism that enjoys telling us how things should be. There are plenty of others like him, Ms Kuensberg being not far off the pace in irritating both interviewees and viewers, and many others aspiring their way up the league table of persons that make you want to chuck a brick at… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Robinson is a right wing activist who started with the young concervatives and worked his way, with a leg up into a position of influencing the BBC News in favour of the right!

Simple as that, if you see him you have shoes!!!

The Bellwether
Guest
The Bellwether

Sorry but I don’t think attacking the BBC is a worthwhile activity as on the whole they do and can afford to do a very good job no matter how irritating some of their content, bias, presenters and editors are. A more productive campaign would be to get sufficient funding for sites like this and others to be able to function better and to pay for professional (alternative?) news gathering. Media and journalism costs money. Perhaps a more co-operative approach needs to be taken as many of these so-called alternative news sites are often at loggerheads with each other as… Read more »

nosuchthingasthemarket
Guest

The sheer wrongness of this article is astonishing. Let’s start with the links. Even though the discussion is supposedly about alternative media, the only links provided are to sites and journalists who unquestionably represent mainstream media. The Guardian, the New Statesman and Twitter provide your entire evidence base. It’s almost as if you don’t consider alternative sources of information quite legitimate. And all three journalists who you invite your reader to link to are employed, prominently, by the BBC. Perhaps failing to give links to anyone except high-ranking BBC journalists was a careless oversight. We’ll move on. Laura Kuenssberg. The… Read more »

Ken Barker
Guest
Ken Barker

A focus on Welsh news and opinion, both English and Welsh language, would help address the media deficit in Wales.

Tame Frontiersman
Guest
Tame Frontiersman

“The Media Show”, episode “What’s wrong with the BBC”, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 16:30-17:00, Wednesday 27th September 2017” is worth a listen. Mr. Robinson is a contributor. Something Piers Morgan said on the programme about clauses in employment contracts for journalist struck me as significant. This relates to an expectation by employers that journalist will develop and maintain a social media presence. The purpose of this is to feed followers into MSM. One assumes that in a competitive market place, the journalists most in demand will be those with the biggest following –and that may have absolutely nothing to… Read more »

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Excellent, thank goodness there is an outlet to take news programmes such as Newsnight to task for their bad journalism, as it was called by Huw Edwards re the programme on the Welsh language after the narrow English nationalist propoganda.

Trailerboy
Guest
Trailerboy

This is unusually thought provoking and that’s to be welcomed – thanks.

History has documented the agricultural and industrial revolutions and ever since we have been trying to make up new ones, that haven’t really stuck – technology revolutions, that history may regard as mere steps towards what may be about to happen.

Something is changing, changing globally and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

CapM
Guest
CapM

From the Guardian article – “In the talk he [Nick Robinson] will call on the BBC to do more to engage with people disillusioned with news bulletins and who instead get their news from social media.” I’m not sure how the BBC is going to lure back the “disillusioned” unless it includes in it’s broadcasts news stories carried by social media and invites comment from those running those sites. The BBC is forever bringing the public’s attention to stories that are carried by the Daily Mail, Guardian et al and gives a platform to editors and journalists working for these… Read more »

Roger Harris
Guest
Roger Harris

Yeh ex President of the Oxford Conservative Association. I wonder why he says this.

Rob
Guest
Rob

Yeah. He used to be a political activist. The BBC should commit to only employing as senior political correspondents those that have shown no previous interest in politics.

nosuchthingasthemarket
Guest

Obviously Rob, that’s intended ironically. But there’s the germ of a very good idea in it. The BBC, as a high-profile employer with a vast pool of potential recruits, has the means to weed out and reject journalism applicants who have shown a clear and career-building interest in party politics. In fact, it has the power to demand that all its potential political journalists have made, and keep making, a lifetime commitment to seek truth and objectivity ahead of party, organisation or personal interests. If it wants to regain the reputation it once held (I think undeservedly, but that’s another… Read more »