A BBC Scotland complaint: Reporting Scotland misled viewers

The following complaint relates to an edition of Reporting Scotland broadcast on Sunday, July 8th.

 

Complaint submitted on July 16th.

On Reporting Scotland on Sunday July 8th, viewers watched a short clip of Michael Russell answering a question posed to him earlier that morning on Sunday Politics Scotland.  The Scottish Govt minister had been asked what would happen if a second EU referendum resulted in Scotland voting to remain but the rest of the UK voting to leave.

Mr Russell answered: “Well that has to be laid out before the vote takes place. That’s what I’m saying.

“Now, quite clearly in those circumstances, it would be a question, would that be a recognition that Scotland would wish to be independent?”

Viewers then heard reporter Graham Stewart state: “That comment was immediately seized upon by opponents.”

A clip of Labour MP Paul Sweeney was then shown.  Mr Sweeney was heard to say: “It’s utterly unacceptable, it’s a travesty of democracy to try and use people who want to remain in the European Union and in the United Kingdom’s votes as a proxy for independence.”

The problem is that Mr Sweeney was not responding to Michael Russell’s comments, he was in fact responding to a question posed by BBC presenter Gordon Brewer.

Gordon Brewer had already directly asked Mr Sweeney to respond to Michael Russell comments, asking: “What did you make of what Mike Russell was saying about what could happen in the eventuality of another [EU] referendum?”

Failing to obtain a satisfactory answer, the BBC presenter then posed a questionable paraphrasing of Mr Russell’s comments and obtained an understandable reply.

Viewers were thus misled by Reporting Scotland’s claim that Paul Sweeney had “immediately seized upon” the clip of Michael Russell.

 

Response from the Editor of Reporting Scotland, received August 06th, 2018

In the course of his report, Graham Stewart used clips from Scottish minister Michael Russell and two MPs, one Labour, one Conservative. They were clearly identified, by labelling and by picture context, as being from that day’s Sunday Politics Scotland. The long interview with the minister, although pre-recorded, was being played out on the programme for the first time, on which programme Paul Sweeney and Andrew Bowie were live guests. Their reactions were therefore correctly styled in the reporter’s words “that comment was immediately seized upon by opponents”. It is difficult to imagine more immediate responses than those secured in the same programme.

In an interview, if it is not to descend into anarchy, the interviewer is generally held to be the prime mover: he or she asks the questions, challenges assumptions, questions assertions, invites one guest to react to another, and so on and so forth. May I suggest therefore that it may be seen by some as a little disingenuous to say that “Mr Sweeney was not responding to Michael Russell’s comments, he was in fact responding to a question posed by BBC presenter Gordon Brewer”: he was responding to a request to give his view of Mr Russell’s words about what could happen in the eventuality of another referendum (on Europe, understood).

You say that Mr Brewer “[failed] to obtain a satisfactory answer” and “then posed a questionable paraphrasing of Mr Russell’s comments”. It is your point of view – and it is just that, a point of view, to which of course you are fully entitled – that an interviewer exploring an issue further necessarily means he was not satisfied with the first response.

Further, your conclusion that the words “that would give some sort of mandate for independence” in reference to a similar outcome in a second EU referendum are “questionable paraphrasing” is, I think, not sustainable: if history were to repeat itself, Mr Russell said “there would be a question – would that be a recognition that Scotland wished to be independent”; he added later “If (the UK Government) are determined on a Brexit at some stage the people of Scotland will have to be able to say that they want that or whether they want to be independent.”

In Graham Stewart’s report in Sunday Politics Scotland, he used a clip of the SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford MP saying on Question Time the previous Thursday night: “If we are dragged out of Europe (…) we must have the right to put the future of Scotland to the people of Scotland – we have a mandate (…) It is right the people of Scotland are given the option at that time.”

For all these reasons, I cannot agree with your conclusion that “viewer were thus misled by Reporting Scotland’s claim that Paul Sweeney had ‘immediately seized upon’ the clip of Michael Russell” or with your accompanying assertions.

 

Follow up complaint submitted on August 13th

The BBC Scotland reporter tells viewers of Reporting Scotland that a Labour politician has immediately seized upon comments made by an SNP politician.

Viewers are presented with Michael Russell saying the following: “Well that has to be laid out before the vote takes place. That’s what I’m saying. Now, quite clearly in those circumstances, it would be a question, would that be a recognition that Scotland would wish to be independent?”

Graham Stewart says: “That comment was immediately seized upon by opponents.” Viewers are then presented with Labour MSP Paul Sweeney saying: “It’s utterly unacceptable, it’s a travesty of democracy to try and use people who want to remain in the European Union and in the United Kingdom’s votes as a proxy for independence.”

Although the editing appeared to make it look as though Mr Sweeney had indeed responded immediately to Mr Russell, the presentation was misleading.

The Labour MSP wasn’t ‘immediately seizing upon’ Michael Russell’s comments. He was in fact responding *directly* to a comment from the presenter of Sunday Politics Scotland, Gordon Brewer who was [presumably] trying to paraphrase [poorly] Mr Russell’s comments from an earlier interview.

Gordon Brewer said: “This idea of a referendum where, if Scotland voted to stay and the rest of the UK voted to leave, now that would give some sort of mandate for independence.” See this link.

Paul Sweeney had indeed been asked *earlier* to respond directly to Mr Russell’s comments, and did so. The clip shown by Reporting Scotland was not it as this link of the actual exchange will show.

 

Response from BBC received August 17th

We have discussed your comments with the Editor of Reporting Scotland who has nothing further to add.  For this reason I’m afraid we cannot correspond with you further at this first stage of the complaints process.

 

Complaint moved on to the Editorial Complains Unit on Sept 02.

My complaint is quite simple.  A Labour MSP was described as having “immediately seized on” comments from a Scottish Govt Minister when in actual fact what viewers saw and heard was the Labour MSP’s response to a rather pejorative paraphrasing of the Scottish Govt Minister by a BBC presenter.  Careful editing by Reporting Scotland made it look as if Paul Sweeney had indeed responded directly to Michael Russell.  His *actual* direct response to Michael Russell was not shown.

 

Response from ECU received Sept 28th

Thank you for your email of 4 September about an item in Reporting Scotland.
You had complained that this had inaccurately presented comments by Paul Sweeney MP in response to an extract from an interview with Mike Russell MSP, Scottish Minister for Europe, about a putative second referendum on the EU. The BBC’s approach to such matters is set out in the Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy and Impartiality. These refer to “due” accuracy and impartiality – that which is “adequate and appropriate” in the context of the output
I have reviewed the report on Reporting Scotland and the item on Sunday Politics which provided the source material. The section of the report in Reporting Scotland which is relevant to your complaint was introduced as follows:

Name: Of course two years ago a majority of Scots majority voted to remain in Europe but the overall UK vote was in favour of leaving. So what would happen if history were to repeat itself?

Russell: Well that has to be laid out before the before the vote takes place. That’s what I am saying.Quite clearly in those circumstances it would be a question, would that be a recognition that Scotland wished to be independent?

Name: That comment was immediately seized upon by opponents.

Sweeney: It’s utterly unacceptable, it’s a travesty of democracy to use people who want to stay in to stay in to stay in the European’s (sic) and the UK’s votes as a proxy for independence.

Bowie: This is all a very theoretical discussion. There is not going to be another vote on whether we leave the European the British people have taken that decision and we are following through on that decision by implementing a sensible, pragmatic and business friendly Brexit.

The extracts in the news report were taken from Sunday Politics on BBC One broadcast earlier that day when Gordon Brewer interviewed Mr Russell. He posed a number of questions to him about the possible implications of a second referendum on membership of the EU if the results replicated that in the vote in 2016.

The question put to Mr Russell which elicited the answer used in the report was:

What would happen if a majority of people in Scotland voted again to stay in the EU but the rest of the UK voted to leave?

Following the interview with Mr Russell, Gordon Brewer asked Mr Sweeney

What did you make of what Mike Russell was saying about what could happen in the eventuality of another referendum?

And

But this idea of a referendum where Scotland voted to stay and the rest of the UK voted to leave , that that (sic) would give some sort of mandate for independence?

It was the reply to the second question which was used in the report.

Your complaint is firstly that the report referred to Mr Sweeney’s comment and that of Mr Bowie as being “immediately seized upon by opponents.” Secondly you regard the question put to Mr Sweeney which led to this reply as a “poor paraphrasing” of what Mr Russell said.
It is quite clear that early in their live discussion Mr Sweeney and Mr Bowie were asked to comment on what Mike Russell said in his interview, so it is fair to say that their response was immediate.

As regards the accuracy of the use of the clip from Mr Sweeney, you contend that Mr Sweeney was responding to a proposition presented by Gordon Brewer, which did not accurately present what Mr Russell said.

I have reviewed the interview and the questions Gordon Brewer put to Mike Russell on the implications of the scenario of a second EU referendum mirroring that in 2016. In another answer in the interview Mr Russell said

I believe that people have the right to say but I don’t believe that the people of Scotland should be trumped in that right by everybody else as they were two years ago. This is far too important an issue for that so we have to find an arrangement that makes that happen. I believe the people of Scotland have the right to say what happens if they vote in a certain way.

Taking into account this answer and the one used in the report I have considered whether a viewer might have been misled by the suggestion that Mr Sweeney’s comment was a direct response to what Mike Russell said in his interview on Sunday Politics.

I think it is clear from the answers he gave that Mr Russell was not prepared to countenance the idea of a second referendum on EU membership resulting in the status quo; i.e. Scotland remaining in the UK but not the EU.

Whether such a result would equate to a mandate for independence on its own or might necessitate a second referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK was not spelt out in his answers. But it was evident that he felt that Scotland’s continued membership of the UK could not be assumed following such a result and that a constitutional change should ensue.The interpretation by Gordon Brewer that this would equate to “a sort of mandate for independence” was a little vague but given the lack of exact detail in Mr Russell’s answers seems to me to be a reasonable summarisation.

Accordingly I am not upholding your complaint. There is no provision for further appeal against this decision within the BBC but I would be happy to consider any comments you may wish to make about my finding. I would be grateful if you could let me have any such comments by 11 October.

 

Complainant’s response to the ECU submitted Sept 29th

ECU writes:

Your complaint is firstly that the report referred to Mr Sweeney’s comment and that of Mr Bowie as being “immediately seized upon by opponents.”

… It is quite clear that early in their live discussion Mr Sweeney and Mr Bowie were asked to comment on what Mike Russell said in his interview, so it is fair to say that their response was immediate. 

Complainant writes:

The complaint was not about the immediacy of the response. But rather Reporting Scotland’s claim that Mr Sweeney was responding to a specific comment by Michael Russell.  Below in blue is the actual wording of the complaint.

Viewers then heard reporter Graham Stewart state: “That comment was immediately seized upon by opponents.”

A clip of Labour MP Paul Sweeney was then shown.  Mr Sweeney was heard to say: “It’s utterly unacceptable, it’s a travesty of democracy to try and use people who want to remain in the European Union and in the United Kingdom’s votes as a proxy for independence.”

The problem is that Mr Sweeney was not responding to Michael Russell’s comments, he was in fact responding to a question posed by BBC presenter Gordon Brewer.

… Viewers were thus misled by Reporting Scotland’s claim that Paul Sweeney had “immediately seized upon” the clip of Michael Russell.

ECU writes:

Following the interview with Mr Russell , Gordon Brewer asked Mr Sweeney

What did you make of what Mike Russell was saying about what could happen in the eventuality of another referendum? 

And 

But this idea of a referendum where Scotland voted to stay and the rest of the UK voted to leave , that that (sic) would give some sort of mandate for independence?

It was the reply to the second question which was used in the report.

Complainant writes:

This is an important segment.  You are absolutely correct that it was the second question Paul Sweeney was responding to in the clip shown by Reporting Scotland.  The Labour MP had already been asked to respond directly to what Michael Russell had said, and did so.  You can see his response to what Michael Russell said here: https://youtu.be/NQmbyFz0F6w

Reporting Scotland should have used this clip in its report if it wanted to show viewers what Paul Sweeney had said in response to Michael Russell’s comment.  It didn’t.  It used the clip of Sweeney responding to Brewer’s second question and made it appear as though Sweeney was responding to Michael Russell’s comment.

If, as you now appear to accept, Paul Sweeney’s response was to Gordon Brewer’s second question and was not [as claimed by Reporting Scotland] a response to what Michael Russell had said, then you must uphold my complaint.

ECU writes:

As regards the accuracy of the use of the clip from Mr Sweeney, you contend that Mr Sweeney was responding to a proposition presented by Gordon Brewer, which did not accurately present what Mr Russell said.

I think it is clear from the answers he gave that Mr Russell was not prepared to countenance the idea of a second referendum on EU membership resulting in the status quo; i.e. Scotland remaining in the UK but not the EU. Whether such a result would equate to a mandate for independence on its own or might necessitate a second referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK was not spelt out in his answers.

But it was evident that he felt that Scotland’s continued membership of the UK could not be assumed following such a result and that a constitutional change should ensue.

Complainant writes:

Constitutional change takes on many forms.  Independence is the most extreme form.  You simply cannot interpret Michael Russell’s comment in the way Gordon Brewer did and then present a response to that interpretation as though it was a response to Michael Russell’s comment.  You concede the thrust of the point yourself when you write “Whether such a result would equate to a mandate for independence on its own or might necessitate a second referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK was not spelt out in his answers.” [my emphasis]

Reporting Scotland edited segments of a political programme to make it appear as though a Labour MP had responded to an SNP MP when in fact the Labour MP had responded to a programme presenter’s own question which included a scenario you yourself now acknowledge was not spelt out.  Below in blue is part of my follow-up complaint to the BBC.

Viewers are presented with Michael Russell saying the following: “Well that has to be laid out before the vote takes place. That’s what I’m saying. Now, quite clearly in those circumstances, it would be a question, would that be a recognition that Scotland would wish to be independent?”

Graham Stewart says: “That comment was immediately seized upon by opponents.” Viewers are then presented with Labour MSP Paul Sweeney saying: “It’s utterly unacceptable, it’s a travesty of democracy to try and use people who want to remain in the European Union and in the United Kingdom’s votes as a proxy for independence.”

Although the editing appeared to make it look as though Mr Sweeney had indeed responded immediately to Mr Russell, the presentation was misleading.

The Labour MSP wasn’t ‘immediately seizing upon’ Michael Russell’s comments. He was in fact responding *directly* to a comment from the presenter of Sunday Politics Scotland, Gordon Brewer who was [presumably] trying to paraphrase [poorly] Mr Russell’s comments from an earlier interview.

I urge you to please deal with the actual complaint which is that Reporting Scotland misled the audience by claiming that Paul Sweeney was responding to Michael Russell’s comment.  If Paul Sweeney was not responding to Michael Russell’s comment but rather was responding to Gordon Brewer’s own peculiarly loaded question, then the audience has been misled.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “A BBC Scotland complaint: Reporting Scotland misled viewers

  1. John Lamb

    Until we free ourselves from the British Broadcasting (propaganda) Channels this type of dishonest doctoring will continue. It is admirable that people such as yourself submit complaints and perhaps if enough of them start to shower into the BBC postbox they might take notice (yeah right!)
    The only way I can see to circumvent this Unionist domination of the broadcast media would be through a setting up of an independent radio channel.

  2. Robert Graham

    Half of Scots viewers know how the BBC operate , the twists turns and contortions have only one aim , damage the Scottish government and the SNP , The people involved must be questioning by now , is this right ? this deception will probably suit hard line unionists , but normal people ? ,
    That is of course if their vetting system is so good and so strict that any normal people are not allowed through if thats the case and these people are beyond persuasion ,Then all the staff at the BBC must be made aware the day we vote for independence their employment with the BBC ends ,
    No notice ,no niceties of employment law observed ,because they choose to be part of a propaganda and deception organisation their rights will not be observed , and they can take it up with their employers the English Government .

    Sound a little vindictive ? , tough shit they have been warned . actions have consequences .

  3. Lochside

    Well done…yet again IndyRef2!……but where is the SG’s ‘media unit’?..Why are they not inundating the BBC weekly, if not daily on the constant mis-representations and fabrications being presented by both radio and tv. Fake News is what we are fed by this corrupt BRITNAT mouthpiece. In any other country, there would have been an occupation by now of angry citizens of the Propaganda Palace of Pacific Quay. But in the land of the embarassed shrug all we get is muffled mumping and tweeting from the SNP.

  4. johnny rudkin j

    I agree with lochside well done indyref2, again the silence from the snp is deafening, when is the snp going to stand up for scotland against the english propaganda, that is getting poured down our throats day in day out,there seems to be a just accept it attitude from the snp, surely the snp can see the bbcs drip drip of anti scottish propaganda is the reason that the % of voters is staying the same for independence, if the snp dont do something to change this situation, the question of independence is in jeopardy .

    1. @charterhall

      Unfortunately it is not as simple as that, Immediately SNP officially challenge the BBC all sorts of claims of intimidation, bullying and clamping down on free speech will be seized on- not only by the BBC but by all sections of our biased media. It is up to us to complain en masse.

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