Below is a complaint submitted on January 20th 2018 to the BBC Trust. The complaint centres on the so-called ‘EU Withdrawal Bill’ issue and the curious coverage afforded the issue by BBC Scotland.
Good Morning Scotland, Broadcast 17th January
On January 17th two interviews were broadcast on BBC Scotland’s flagship morning radio programme Good Morning Scotland [GMS]. Both interviews were conducted by GMS presenter Gary Robertson.
The first interview was with Labour MP Lesley Laird. The second interview was with SNP MP Stephen Gethins who was being interviewed alongside Tory MP John Lamont. Both interviews dealt with a House of Commons vote that took place the previous evening. The vote witnessed Scottish Conservative MPs refuse to support a Labour amendment that would have ensured the EU Withdrawal Bill would have respected the Scotland Act with regards to reserved versus devolved powers.
Below are two very short clips from first Lesley Laird’s interview and then Stephen Gethins’ interview.
In both clips, presenter Gary Robertson hastily interrupts as first Laird then Gethins try to highlight what they believe is Scottish Conservative duplicity. Robertson is particularly aggressive in the case of Gethins, speaking over the SNP MP in an attempt at preventing him from continuing. Gethins’ audio is faded when it becomes clear he has no intention of being closed down.
The immediacy and manner of the interruptions suggests an element of premeditation on the part of the GMS presenter. It’s difficult to not to conclude that Mr Robertson and/or his producer had decided to challenge any such criticisms of the Scottish Conservatives the moment they were raised.
The behaviour of the GMS presenter was unacceptable. Whilst it is normal practice to adopt a Devils’ Advocate role during interviews, it is not acceptable to aggressively hector and attempt to shut down interviewees in the manner witnessed.
The treatment of Mr Gethins was particularly bad, being talked over in the manner he was, and having his audio faded because he refused to back down, was quite shocking. An acknowledgement that this was totally unacceptable would be in order.
BBC Scotland Online, 17th January
The EU Withdrawal Bill vote took place in the evening of January 16th. By 08:00 the following morning there was still no mention of the story on the BBC Scotland main online news page. The situation led to widespread complaints on social media.
Just before 11:00 am, the Yes supporting website Wings Over Scotland published an article highlighting the situation. At 12:45 that afternoon an article duly appeared. Whether this was prompted by social media anger and/or the Wings Over Scotland article is not known.
What is known is that it took BBC Scotland almost twenty hours to report a story the importance of which demanded it be covered a great deal sooner. Stories of far lesser importance, and some that were days old, peppered the BBC Scotland main news page. At one point, with anger growing over the lack of online coverage, a story about a swimming hedgehog was the third top item on the main news page.
All of the main components of the story were known by 22:00 the previous evening. There was no excuse for not having an article drafted and published well before 08:00 the following morning. The failure to publish an article in a timely fashion on an issue of such importance requires explanation.
Reporting Scotland – Broadcast 16th, 17th and 18th January
On the morning of January 16th the 0630 edition of Reporting Scotland covered the forthcoming vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill. The short report was the first item, which was an acknowledgement of the issue’s importance to Scotland. The item can be seen below.
By the time the main 1830 edition aired, the EU Withdrawal Bill story had been relegated to ninth place in order of priority. The item can be seen below.
The item is lengthy, which indicates its importance. But why has it been relegated? The top story on the 1830 programme was deemed to be the weather – snow to be precise. It was of national importance given the severity of the forecasts. However the second top story was yet another Accident & Emergency waiting times story. A&E waiting times had dominated BBC Scotland news for the previous three weeks, yet a marginal change in weekly stats was deemed more important than a looming constitutional crisis and the possibility of Scottish Conservative MPs supplying key votes to ensure the Bill passed and with it a U-turn on their pledge to ‘fight Scotland’s corner’.
On the morning of January 17th there was no mention of the EU Withdrawal Bill vote. The issue was covered that evening on the 18:30 edition. The item can be seen below.
As had happened the day before, the issue was again allotted a relatively low priority position. It was the sixth news item on the programme. Ahead of the issue was Snow, RBS branch closures, Child abuse inquiry, Mental health provision in schools and Scottish GDP figures.
Also missing from the programme was any mention of a speech given by the First Minister at the David Hume Institute on the evening of January 16th in which she focused on the issue of Brexit.
On the morning of January 18th the 0830 edition of Reporting Scotland covered the fallout from the EU Withdrawal Bill vote. The short report was the first item. The item can be seen below.
By the time the 1830 edition of Reporting Scotland aired, the issue was nowhere to be seen. It had been dropped from the programme. Issues deemed more newsworthy were in order 1. Snow, 2. Possible Peak-Flu, 3. Police Scotland complaints, 4. Former Olympic Hammer thrower, 5. Tackling Obesity, 6. HIV positive pilot trainee, 7. V&A Museum preview, 8. Next Scotland manager, 9. Celtic Connections festival begins, 10. Funeral of a 103 year old lady, 11. A preview for BBC2 programme Timeline.
Rather bizarrely, the programme was shorter in length than normal, the 24 minutes being around four minutes less than a typical programme.
The EU Withdrawal Bill, like Brexit itself, will have profound implications for Scotland. There have been warnings from both sides of a looming constitutional crisis, yet in the space of three consecutive days, the 1830 edition of Reporting Scotland has relegated the issue to ninth place on the programme, then sixth place on the programme and finally ignored it altogether.
The other significant element of the story was of course the behaviour of the thirteen Scottish Conservative MPs. These MPs have been touted by the media [including BBC Scotland] as being prepared to ‘fight Scotland’s corner’ by voting against their own party at Westminster. Ruth Davidson, we have been told, wields more power than ever at Westminster.
Yet in this crucial vote Ruth Davidson’s MPs sided with their UK colleagues.
Even if we accept there were valid reasons for heavy snow leading all three evening editions of Reporting Scotland on January 16th, 17th and 18th, it is not acceptable that the EU Withdrawal Bill was not deemed significant enough to occupy the second top spot in one or more of the programmes.
To have ignored the story altogether on January 18th beggars belief given it was the unanimous decision of Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee that Clause 11 as it currently stands is incompatible with the devolution settlement. The Convenor, SNP MSP Bruce Crawford and Deputy Convenor, Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, were attending talks at the House of Lords to emphasise how important it was that the Bill was amended to “avert a constitutional crisis.”
A Scottish Tory MSP accompanying a Scottish National Party MSP in an official visit to London in a bid to “avert a constitutional crisis” brought about, in part, by colleagues of Mr Tomkins voting through the EU Withdrawal Bill, is a massive story of significance to Scotland. It should have occupied a significant spot on Reporting Scotland that evening. It absolutely should not have been ignored.
There is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest the 1830 edition of Reporting Scotland is operating an editorial policy that sees Brexit related stories pushed down the running order, or ignored altogether. A look at Brexit related items from August through to October 20th shows a very worrying trend. A Brexit related story led Reporting Scotland on just six occasions. Meanwhile Brexit related stories were placed fifth or more in the running order or ignored completely a total of twenty times. The worst of the ‘ignored’ stories was a speech given by the First Minister in Dublin on October 8th in which she focused on Brexit.
The research below provides details. Even allowing for human error, the trend should cause concern. If November and December show the same, or a similar, trend then we have a situation that requires explaining.
Aug 3rd – Brexit Fishing access story ignored
Aug 4th – RBS Brexit warning relocation story ignored
Aug 7th – Housing market Brexit warning ignored
Aug 8th – IHS Brexit warning ignored
Aug 9th – Brexit 1st item
Sept 5th – Brexit 8th item
Sept 6th – Brexit 7th item
Sept 7th – Brexit 6th item
Sept 11th – Brexit 1st item and then again 5th item
Sept 12th – Brexit 1st item
Sept 15th – Brexit 7th item
Sept 17th – Brexit 5th item
Sept 18th – Brexit 3rd item
Sept 19th – Brexit 1st item
Sept 22nd – Brexit item 1st and 2nd
Sept 25th – Brexit item 1st
Sept 26th – Brexit item 7th
Sept 28th – Brexit item 2nd
Sept 30th – Brexit item 2nd
Oct 3rd – Brexit item 7th
Oct 8th – FM Dublin speech on Brexit ignored
Oct 9th – Brexit item 6th
Oct 11th – Brexit item 5th
Oct 11th – A separate Michael Gove story on on foreign fishing boat access was ignored
Oct 16th – Brexit item 2nd and again in 9th
Oct 19th – Brexit item 7th
Oct 20th – Brexit item 6th and again at 9th
Response from BBC Scotland to complaint 1 which related to Gary Robertson’s interruptions, received Feb 02nd 2018.
Gary Robertson is certainly robust in his questioning of contributors, but no more so than regular listeners might expect. Politicians should of course be given the opportunity both to explain their thinking on matters of public concern and answer criticisms of it, but equally, political interviewers need to put the questions likely to be in the minds of listeners and look for answers.
When Gary or any of the programme’s presenters interrupt, their intention is always to keep the interview on track and ensure that the interviewee’s views are properly scrutinised. Gary has a reputation for chairing robust interviews and this was in keeping with what guests and listeners have come to expect from him and from Good Morning Scotland.
[There was no further complaint submitted on the behaviour of Gary Robertson]
Response from the BBC to the complaint that an online article did not appear in a timely fashion, received Feb 08th 2018.
We do not agree the BBC failed to cover this story in a timely fashion. The BBC featured extensive reporting online before, during and after the debate you refer to.
On the evening of 16 January, the BBC published an online report covering the debate in the House of the Commons as it happened. It also featured a live video feed of the debate so that viewers could watch the contributions and votes.
This report highlighted the contributions from all parties including the SNP (http://bbc.in/2BLiKdp ), the Labour party ( http://bbc.in/2BMeoTg ), along with comments from Scottish Conservative MP Stephen Kerr describing his disappointment a deal had not been struck ( http://bbc.in/2nsI2sH )
The BBC reported the debate result of the vote on the amendment from the Labour party you reference within minutes of it taking place at 7.30pm: http://bbc.in/2BJW25B
An archived version of the full coverage (which has since been updated) is available here: http://bbc.in/2E8JNEI
Aside from online, these developments were then highlighted on Reporting Scotland’s evening bulletin and on social media from one of our correspondents.
This was, of course, a two-day debate featuring a series of amendments by various parties. The BBC’s online coverage ran into the following day, 17 January, taking in further contributions and covering the various votes.
Moreover, the BBC continued to report on the reaction to the debate. On the morning, politicians were invited onto Good Morning Scotland radio programme to discuss this issue. This reaction was then summarised in an online report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-42719324
All of this was published before the debate finished at 8.40pm on 17 January and coverage continued into the next day as the focus switched to the House of Lords: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-42718691
You also comment on the range of stories displayed on the Scotland index page of the BBC News website. The BBC has a wide range of index pages devoted to politics and news and not every story can feature on every index page. Index pages are also a way of showcasing a range of stories and are constantly being revised and reordered in part to give viewers exposure to serious and also lighter stories.
Finally, we are happy to reassure you that the BBC does not decide how it will report politics based on blogs or comments on social media.
Follow on complaint submitted on Feb 08th 2018
The response from the BBC official is quite the most bizarre I have yet encountered. It provides links to a website that I have not complained about then, for reasons I have yet to fathom, adds a link to the article that was slow in appearing as evidence that it wasn’t.
As I said in my initial complaint, it took BBC Scotland almost twenty hours to report a story the importance of which demanded it be covered a great deal sooner. My original complaint also referenced an article published by online site Wings Over Scotland. The article will help understand the basis of my own complaint. Read it here: https://wingsoverscotland.com/the-great-whiteout/
To be clear, this complaint is about the BBC Scotland main online news page and no other.Views: 24209