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.