Below is a complaint submitted to the BBC on April 15th, 2018. The complaint relates to coverage of a politically motivated attack on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who, at the time, was leading a Scottish trade mission to China.
Full complaint submitted on April 15th.
On Friday April 13th a headline appeared on the front page of The Herald newspaper. The headline read: ‘Fury after Sturgeon pulls rank on Chinese wind farm’. Beneath the headline, a sub-heading read: ‘FM overrules council planners a day before Beijing meeting with financers’.
The newspaper headline was read out by Good Morning Presenter Gary Robertson that same morning.
An image of The Herald front page appeared in the BBC Scotland daily newspaper section that day. Headlined ‘The papers: Sturgeon’s China wind farm row‘, the article was the third item on the BBC Scotland main online news page. The introductory sentence read: “A row over Chinese investors makes Scotland’s front pages as the first minister calls in a planning decision.”
Both The Herald front page and the BBC’s own brief summary were false. Nicola Sturgeon had neither called in a planning decision nor had she pulled rank on, or overruled, council planners.
The day after The Herald published its front page, the newspaper issued a correction and an apology.
Given the false front page accusation was broadcast word-for-word on Good Morning Scotland, then it is only fair that the correction and apology is also broadcast word-for-word on the same programme.
Given an image of the front page appeared in BBC Scotland’s online newspaper promo that same day, then it is only fair that an image of the apology and correction also appear in the same section.
Finally, a correction from BBC Scotland is also required for its own erroneous claim that the “first minister calls in a planning decision”.
A wider point is the practice of promoting politically motivated newspaper stories on the BBC. The Herald claim is not the only newspaper claim promoted by BBC Scotland which turned out to be false, and for which an apology was published by the newspaper.
In January this year The Scottish Daily Mail was involved in a similar issue after making false claims relating to the Union Flag about the FM. Like The Herald, the story was promoted by BBC Scotland both online and on radio before it was proven to be completely false.
The subsequent admission from The Scottish Daily Mail, that the story was false, was never covered by BBC Scotland.
The practice of promoting politically motivated newspapers needs to be ended if, as can be seen, it is assisting in the circulation of fake news.
Response from the BBC received April 18th
We believe it was clear in both cases you have mentioned that we attributed the claims made to The Herald. Our online piece introduction reads: Nicola Sturgeon faces criticism in several papers during her trip to China. There is then a link to the amended Herald story which reads: The Herald’s top story details a “planning row” after SNP ministers intervened in a controversial application backed by the Chinese government. We regularly report on what the newspapers are reporting on any given day and are satisfied it is appropriate for us to do so.