IN the late 1970s I ran a film and video project in the Western Isles called Cinema Sgire. On our mobile cinema circuit we showed not quite the latest blockbusters in village halls across the islands.

Our video production work was part of a wider movement which sought to involve ordinary people in the media and to build their skills as critical participants rather than just passive observers.

There were similar projects in the Vale of Leven and in parts of England and Wales, though ours was the only one to use Gaelic as well as English and the only one which fitted into a network of innovative community development activity in the same locality.

All this was funded by what was then a new and ambitious local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean, along with a range of external bodies. It flourished for a while but was then severely undermined by the squeeze on local authority finance imposed by Thatcher after she was elected in 1979.

READ MORE: Kenny MacAskill calls for devolution of BBC due to pro-English bias

I was pleasantly reminded of that exciting period in my life on Tuesday this week when I visited the Moving Image Archive, part of the National Library of Scotland. It have just acquired the original half-inch, black-and-white tapes made by Cinema Sgire more than 40 years ago and it was quite an emotional experience to see them after all that time. I look forward to working with the archive to try to raise the funds for their digitisation and future use.

The idea of citizens as enabled participants in our media was and is a good one and in some ways it has made progress. As consumers in a very different media world, we all now curate our own personal digital streams plucking material from many sources.

Many of us also create and publish our own output on social media, cutting out moderation and mediation by gatekeepers, though that has its dangerous downsides too. Yet in other ways things have deteriorated. Every time I speak at an SNP branch or constituency meeting someone asks about the bias of the media.

The National: Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations Michael Russell on day three of the SNP autumn conference at the SEC, Glasgow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday October 9, 2018. See PA story POLITICS SNP. Photo credit s

Certainly some of the written press is a cauldron of SNP-bad vitriol but – to put it bluntly – it is entitled to be so. There is no regulation that forces impartiality on written news sources and while they are bound by the laws of decency and defamation, they are entitled to take and pursue any political stance they like, even if that risks making their journalists into mere propagandists.

But broadcasting is another matter. There are laws regarding balance and there is a particular obligation on the “state broadcaster”, the BBC, contained in its charter and enshrined in its history.

Last week, however, the BBC Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce inadvertently confirmed that the BBC definition of balance is quixotic, to say the least.

For the producers of Question Time – a tired show with an out-of-date format – a balanced audience is not one that is fairly chosen but one that reflects only the outcome of a past UK General Election and a past UK referendum – the one on Brexit.

Of course the distinctive Scottish political ecosystem has long been marginalised by the BBC at UK level, to the detriment of democracy. In addition recent detailed analysis, published in this newspaper, shows that the manner and language of BBC coverage of the Scottish Government differs greatly from that applied to the UK Government.

The National:

But Fiona Bruce’s (above) revelation now makes clear what was only until now suspected – that even programmes broadcast from Scotland are heavily weighted against nationalism, the SNP and the reality of Scottish politics and discourse.

That approach is BBC-wide. For example, I noticed it myself when taking part in a recording of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions in Campbeltown in July. The “wee toon” certainly has a Tory presence, but in nothing like the strength represented in the audience and in the questions called.

The journalist Alan Massie wrote a piece in, inevitably, The Spectator in June 2014 which was headed “Yes, of course the BBC is biased against Scottish Nationalists ”. In it, he made the cogent point that the BBC, as the “creator and guardian of much of modern Britain’s identity and culture” was bound to feel itself threatened by the possible outcome of an indyref and act accordingly.

If anything, the constitutional threat is even greater now, and the reaction appears to be even more Westminster centric, no doubt enforced behind the scenes by a Tory UK Government determined to bring the organisation (and Scotland) to heel, and with a willingly compliant, Tory-sympathising BBC chairman and BBC director-general.

So it is likely that the current imbalance is only going to get worse. The arithmetic formulae will become more inimical and more English-centred. The right of reply and the acceptance of challenge will be further eroded and those who protest will be presented, just as they were characterised in Massie’s piece seven years ago, as (and I quote him) “petty, chippy, clowns”.

As a programme-maker, I have experienced at first hand the technical excellence of the BBC. I have also often admired the standard of BBC journalism when applied outwith Scotland and particularly in its global coverage and many still hold that view.

Now, however, I have to reluctantly admit that in Scotland today we are a long way from that old type of BBC let alone from the type of welcome and engaged participation by ordinary citizens which I worked to secure a long time ago.

Alas the current organisation has let itself down very badly with regard to serving Scotland with impartiality and shows no sign of being able to change.

In fact, the institutional treatment of Scotland by the BBC is an open sore and will remain so until we have a truly independent Scottish Broadcasting Service that focuses on our nation as it really is and fairly and accurately represents it at home and abroad.