Below is a complaint submitted to the BBC on Thursday April 26th. The complaint relates to the characterisation by BBC Scotland of a failure of the UK and Scottish governments to reach an agreement on the so-called Power Grab.
Complaint in full
On April 24th BBC Scotland reported on the outcome of negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments with respect to the so-called Power Grab issue which saw both sides fail to reach an agreement.
That evening on the flagship TV news programme Reporting Scotland viewers heard presenter Jackie Bird introduce the item with the following words: “The Scottish government is tonight under renewed pressure to strike a deal over the return of devolved powers post Brexit after Welsh ministers reached agreement with the UK government.”
The claim from BBC Scotland that the Scottish government “was under renewed pressure” also appeared in multiple news bulletins on Radio Scotland.
There may be some people who feel the Scottish government is indeed under pressure and may also feel that pressure is ‘renewed’. There will also be some who feel the UK government is under pressure and may also feel that pressure is ‘renewed’. The BBC however ought to adopt a neutral stance.
The claim that the Scottish government is “under renewed pressure” is a subjective and partisan viewpoint and something that the BBC, as a supposedly impartial public service broadcaster, should not be doing.
BBC Scotland may argue that the decision by Welsh Labour to accept the UK government’s proposal justifies its claim that the Scottish government is ‘under renewed pressure’. The counter argument could be made that it has always been the UK government which has been ‘under pressure’ to reach agreement with both devolved administrations and that having managed to reach agreement with only one, means that it, and not the Scottish government, is under ‘renewed pressure’.
It can thus be seen that there is more than one interpretation, in terms of pressure, of the outcome of the talks between the UK and Scottish governments.
An acknowledgement that on this occasion BBC Scotland failed in its duty to remain impartial is required. Given this issue is very much live and current then a timely response would be in order.
Response from the editor of Reporting Scotland received May 4th, 2018.
There are examples across all platforms of our referring to the “Scottish Government” being “under pressure”. There are also numerous examples of our describing the “UK Government” as being “under pressure”. In other words, if one or other government is under pressure, we may say so. I do not regard that as being exceptionable.
I think it is clear to all those of our viewers, listeners and online readers who have been following this story that previously the Welsh and Scottish governments, acting in tandem in their opposition to what they both called a “power grab”, were putting effective pressure on the UK government to come up with compromises suitable for both devolved administrations. The dynamic changed when the government in Wales decided to accept terms offered by the UK government, leaving the government in Scotland isolated from their previous “tandem” position.
To suggest that in these circumstances, and on that day, the use of the phrase “the Scottish Government under pressure” is “subjective and partisan” is, I believe, unsustainable.
Follow up complaint submitted on May 10th
I argued that singling out the Scottish government as being “under renewed pressure” on the issue of the Westminster ‘Power Grab’ was partisan. The response from the Reporting Scotland Editor actually strengthens my argument.
She writes: “I think it is clear to all those of our viewers, listeners and online readers who have been following this story that previously the Welsh and Scottish governments, acting in tandem in their opposition to what they both called a “power grab”, were putting effective pressure on the UK government to come up with compromises suitable for both devolved administrations.”
Given that the UK Govt was able to come up with a compromise that was suitable to only one administration then it could be argued that it is the UK Govt that continues to be under pressure. It could also be argued, as I have conceded, that the Scottish Govt could be under pressure. Thus there are two valid standpoints, not one.
The Reporting Scotland Editor adds: “The dynamic changed when the government in Wales decided to accept terms offered by the UK government, leaving the government in Scotland isolated from their previous “tandem” position.”
Again, it could be argued that the Welsh Govt capitulated and the Scottish Govt ‘stood firm’. Indeed it has been argued that this is the case. It should also be noted that the Scottish Govt stance is backed by Scottish Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens as well as Plaid Cymru. This cross party support undermines BBC Scotland’s claim that *only* the Scottish Govt can be seen as being ‘under pressure’.
Whether deliberate or not, BBC Scotland has adopted a partisan stance. It should not have reported as unarguable fact that only the Scottish Govt was “under renewed pressure” on this issue when both parties can reasonably be portrayed as being “under renewed pressure”.
BBC Scotland really needs to accept a mistake was made and it inadvertently adopted a partisan stance on an issue of considerable constitutional importance.