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04 June 2006

World cup: broadcasters fail to qualify

Why I won't be supporting England in the World Cup

It's the sign of a nation that never really grows up that every 4 years we have to go through the same old debate. Regardless of your point of view on supporting another footballing nation, the continual return to the same question over and over is about as predictable as hearing about 1966 yet again. The Scots can certainly not claim to be innocent either - for every mention of 1966 we can retort with 1314 and Mel Gibson impressions.

Scotland and England are independent footballing nations - they compete as two separate teams on the international stage. In that regard on a purely sporting level they are no different to Austria and Germany.

Austria, with a population about 50% bigger than Scotland has its own TV channels and its own broadcasting network. It doesn't have to endure a regional opt-out of a few hours a week. This is a normal state of affairs for a country and it is a sign of the power of the media that in countries where there have been coup d'etats, that the media is often the first thing to be overthrown.

However, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales find themselves the only footballing nations not in control of their own broadcasting. Worse than that, they are part of a nation where one part (England) comprises over 83% of the population and almost 5 times as much as the other three parts put together.

Hardly surprising therefore that the BBC, or to give it its satirical name, the English Broadcasting Corporation has an England bias.

To illustrate just how biased this is I reproduce here an extract from an article written in January 2000 for the Scots Independent.

Just suppose that a millennium meteorite landed on the Greenwich dome and caused an electronic storm so powerful that London, as a centre of communications, was completely paralysed.

And just suppose that the BBC decided it was best to move lock, stock and barrel to Scotland to reorganise its operations under a new Scottish based regime. What would our UK audiences make of having their schedules turned on their heads?

In Scotland, there would be a massive increase in all forms of broadcasting activity and connected industries; and Scottish viewers and listeners would be spoilt for choice with four or five indigenous television and radio stations with which to choose their fare.

In England, the story would be very different. Audiences there would have to get accustomed to merely nominal English output; and to news, analysis and current affairs programmes, being dubbed with the tag "BBC England" when broadcast south of the border. But the real draught would be felt on the radio scene. England's "home service" - Radio Four, would be lost to Scotland - together with their own light, classical and pop channels. In their place they would have one single "national regional" Radio England (probably produced from Manchester when London was disabled). Worse is to come.

Radio England would be set to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the cultural spread. Its morning flagship would be hosted by a comedian and interspersed with reports of England's national weather and national traffic problems. There would be lengthy sports bulletins every half-hour and sport would completely take over the station at week-ends under the slogan "We are the only people who dare to broadcast sport all day long up to the limit that the law allows". The evenings would be dominated by an eclectic mix of pop, rock, funk and jazz music with a strong North American influence. Those listeners not courageous to have switched to the other five Scottish based channels would be greeted with such programmes as the "English Connection" and on Saturday nights "Anglo Saxon connections" with musical contributions from equatorial Africa, the Red Army choir and the Amazon basin. On Sundays they will be spared any religious observance. At every pause between programmes there will be banal and repetitive programme trailers. Their impact will be enhanced by an in house sense of humour redolent of a Primary One pantomime skit. Meantime, back on the tellies, sports reporting will carry detailed Scottish results first followed by a brief "round up" of English ones. Whole selections may be altered to cover shinty cup finals.

The English would soon learn that to complain, with any persistence, to the BBC about any of the contents of their national regional TV or Radio England would result in their being placed on a black list of those deemed unworthy of further communication.

There would be one concession for English viewers. A select panel, chosen by the broadcasters themselves would form the "Broadcasting Council for England". This would at least lend the appearance of some form of consultation with the public over what they require; but, of course, it would have no executive remit - and it would be subject to being over-ruled in such fundamental areas as news provision and political coverage.

It was the English who put up the stiffest fight against Margaret Thatcher's fatal poll tax, although Scotland had tholed it for a full year first. Perhaps if our southern neighbours were to be given a dose of Scotland's broadcasting regime, they might show us how best to dispose of that too. But do we really have to wait for a bolt from the blue to obtain broadcasting in Scotland fit for embarking on the third millennium?

[article ends]

Back in 2000, I added a few more satirical comments

1. England would be told about going back to work on January 3, the Scottish return to work even though England goes back a day early. On the Scottish August holiday, England would receive children's programmes even though their children are not on holiday. During the summer, the schedules would observe the Scottish summer holiday and articles about "back to school" would be broadcast before English schools have even broken up.

2. Any article about England, particularly ones about high technology would be prefixed with a tired old cliche, an attempt at a joke and some faint Anglo Saxon tune drifting through the mist with battle cries in the background before opening the article with "You wouldn't think that this remote part of England could be hi tech, but ..."

3. Any article about London would be prefixed with "And now from our England correspondent down in London, what's the weather like down there".

4. In celebration of England's main cultural icons a combined national event would be instigated on St George's day (also the day Shakespeare was born on and died on). To reflect the cultural significance which England has had worldwide, this event will be covered worldwide with English descendants around the globe joining in the fun. This event would be broadcast from Edinburgh with particular emphasis on a new building by the shore in Leith. The main events would of course all take place in Edinburgh as it is the capital (naturally enough). We would go "around the regions" to see how English people in Scotland were commemorating this event and during this regional interlude would receive token input from London, Manchester, Birmingham and in the bard's birthplace there would be traditional morris dancing to anglo saxon instruments in a small back room. A fringe event in this global festival would be for broadcasters to see how many cliches, stereotypes and historical inaccuracies they can carry off within a 2 minute regional opt-out.

Back to the present day

All of these serve to underline the English emphasis on Scottish Broadcasting schedules - an emphasis that is there all the time but which is particularly noticeable during the World Cup and especially when England qualify. This influence means that much of Scottish life is set within an English context, even where such context is not relevant or applicable. France does not define itself in relation to German attitudes. Ireland does not define itself in relation to English attitudes. Scottish icons and attitudes therefore should not have to define themselves in relation to what "England expects" either. A bit like going to Northern Ireland and being asked if I'm protestent or catholic and my response would be "I don't think of myself in those terms".

I mentioned Austria earlier. Whilst independence would establish a Scottish broadcasting authority, it is not a precondition for a more balanced broadcasting regime. We could have more balanced broadcasting within the devolution framework.

I was one interviewed on the NBC Today program when I was in Minnesota on a cultural exchange programme. The TV station, KTTC is based in Rochester Minnesota. (K is the prefix for US broadcasting stations west of the Mississippi, W for East). TTC stands for Tri-states TV coverage. Yes, a town 2/3 the population of Dundee has its own TV channel and can be picked up in three states and has a catchment area about the population of Edinburgh.

A few years later, I was in Chicago and was impressed with the variety there which eluded me in Scotland. WNUA filled my needs in terms of Jazz and new age, neither of which is available on Scottish terrestrial radio. In Boston WUMB was great for folk music. I did some of the research for my Masters in Seattle and the radio there was similarly interesting.

So the trend is repeated across America, even colleges have their own broadcasting. There is choice and variety. In Scotland, we have just seen Grampian TV gone forever and merged into the monolith which is STV. Pretty much all the commercial radio stations play more or less the same chart material with the exception of Classic FM.

The token joke that is Radio Scotland is another case in point. What a mess. Yes, Scotland's broadcasting equivalent to making it to the world cup then being eliminated on goal difference, the national embarrassment. Radio Scotland, like the football team, simply fails to progress to the next stage. Put into context, what other national radio station can you think of anywhere in the world which when you turn it on might be covering sport (for hours on end), then it's gardening tips, then its current affairs. Anyone interested in music is relegated to evenings only and it's an eclectic bunch there too as it tries to figure out if its aiming itself at people interested in traditional music from Scotland or unusual music from the other side of the world that's about as relevant to me as hearing about 1966 all over again. We don't even get The Thistle and Shamrock (a hugely successful program about Celtic music) - perhaps this could be made available in Scotland.

It is that inadequate broadcasting background which if we addressed properly would allow us to opt-out from English specific commentating and broadcasting for a more Scottish perspective on football or indeed any other matters, if we wanted to. Rather more productive than having the same sad debate every 4 years.

So like Jack Mcconnell First Minister I won't be supporting England. David Beckham, England captain supports the First Minister's stance. Being a supporter means giving support. Like giving money to charity, like going along and cheering your team, like fundraising for a good cause. That's support. The thing you are supporting is changed by your efforts. Being stuck at home however in front of a TV with a few tins and some mates is hardly support is simply enjoying yourself and wanting one team to win.

If Scotland was in the competition, I would want them to at least progress to the next round. Since my country isn't competing, I don't feel any more obliged to "support" England than an English fan should feel obliged to root for either of the teams in a Germany Vs Argentina final. Why I don't want to support England is because of the presumed support that I will and the fact that I need to justify myself if I don't. No such justification should be required. Lost amongst the headlines of papers covering this story recently is information from The Scotsman showing that although 1/3 of Scots support England, more than half of Scots support Ireland. Clearly plain to see where our cultural allegiances lie there then. It's about celebrating differences and I should no more be expected to change my allegiance to another country than a Moslem would be expected to turn up and support the Pope if he's in town. This isn't meant to be anti-English, many of my relations are English and they see this as a perfectly reasonable point of view. It seems to be media bias which is the main culprit here rather than English citizens.

I would like to see the best team win. And I wouldn't even mind England winning either if I didn't have to put up with broadcasting from England mentioning it at every opportunity for almost half a century. The England Team winning the Rugby World cup was rather more moderated, hopefully the football commentators have paid attention to this.

From a recent article in the Sunday Herald.

If the England football team prove themselves on the pitch in Germany by their sportsmanship (ha! an archaic concept, that), their commitment and their brilliance, then they will have earned the support of the Scots. But then, I can'’t promise that I won't turn off the commentary.

I agree. I hope the commentators and the media will also appreciate the fact that support should be earned, not taken for granted.

I thought this article was over a few paragraphs ago. Well, it is now.


Anonymous said...

No comments yet?!? theanswerbank has mentioned this excellent, reasoned rant, so stand by for even more traffic. Ask any London-born person of foreign origin (we are drowning down here in a sea of red-and-white) why they don't support England, and the thoughtful will come down to their arrogance and anglocentrism. On regionalism, the English themselves complain rightly of broadcast London-centrism.
Well blogged.


Anonymous said...

I would just say from my own point of view and I believe that of many other English fans, if England were not in the World Cup but Scotland were I would be backing Scotland 100%.

The reasons for this English support?, it may be for the sake of reflected glory, even worse it might be a case of English arrogance (we feel we own/rule you anyway so whats the difference). Speaking for myself I have always supported Scotland if England were not involved, it was just taken as read in our house but I do not exclude the possibility that the above reasons might also apply to me. I do remember the 1978 World Cup and being so angry with Ally McCleod after the disaster against Peru which put paid to Scotland's chances of qualifying for the later rounds. I am also old enough to remember watching Celtic win the European Cup in 1967 and getting as excited if it was my home team had won it, (Coventry - Ha!!).

You are quite right, no way should the English expect Scottish fans to support England in this World Cup (another case of English arrogance)and certainly there is no need to justify it.

So where does that leave us? well where we have been for hundreds of years I suppose. An ongoing Scottish v English rivalry. It goes a little bit deeper than our other international rivalries because of our shared and not always happy history, as well as our close proximity to one another. It certainly makes fertile ground for those on both sides who like to cause a fuss by making inflammatory remarks about the other side. Nothing will change in this regard and it will be a subject raging long after I have shuttled off this mortal coil.

Craig Cockburn said...

The story rumbles on. This time the First Minister's lack of support for England has caused English companies to misinterpret this as anti-Englishness. How petty can you get? Do you think the Americans would turn down Scotland if we failed to support them in the world cup or does "England expects" every country to fall in line and support them by default?

Anonymous said...

As a Scot living in Austria I can tell you we have a similar relationship with Germany with the difference being back in Scotland you get 1966 stuffed down your throat every four years. We receive German TV through cable and get an insufferable THREE titles analyzed,dissected and regurgitated not to mention computer-enhanced images of how, when and why Germany won. Sounds familiar? Another similarity is the fact that the majority of Austrians don`t care who beats Germany.Our only claim to fame is when we sent them home after the first round in Argentina in 1978. Oh, happy days! tara20 Vienna

Anonymous said...

While one can quite understand the English supporting the small countries around them, in the absence of direct English involvement, that's largely because we feel comfortable with patronising these smaller neighbours who don't really threaten us. It's a novelty for us.
The smaller countries however, tend to identify more with other, small countries, rather than with their larger, threatening, patronising, & even imperialist neighbours.
Their support for 'anyone but England' is somewhat more passionate than the indifferent support afforded them when the situation is reversed.

Bill Hughes said...

It amazes me, as a Scot who's lived much of my life in England, that these debates prevail so intensely NOTB.

And what nonsense prevails at times.

BBC Radio 4 the "English Home Service"? Prime-time presenters James Naughtie, Eddie Mair, and Andrew Marr, not to mention fellow Celts Liz Barclay, John Humphrys, Diana Madill, Martha Kearney, might beg to disagree. I'm also certain that the content on BBC Scotland is no worse than what we would endure on BBC Radio Solent (so thank goodness for national broadcasts - like R4 - providing quality to the whole of the UK eh?)

Football competitions are just about the only times that England lays claim to any notion of nationhood - it's arguably the region of the UK that's embraced cultural diversity the most (a great thing) while conversely, 'we' seem to spend our time admiring our sense of Scottishness and sharpening our claymores all the better to slice the chips on our shoulders.

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