Below is the full text of a complaint submitted to the BBC following an item broadcast on Reporting Scotland on March 1st, 2018. The complaint relates to the use of a term ‘SNP Ministers’ by a reporter.
Complaint submitted on March 04th, 2018
On the March 4th edition of Reporting Scotland an item covering the so-called ‘Continuity Bill’ heard the reporter refer to “SNP Ministers” instead of the technically accurate “Scottish Government Ministers”. There then followed an attack on the Scottish government by Ruth Davidson on the issue.
This habit amongst reporters and presenters of using the term ‘SNP Ministers’ or ‘SNP Government’ on issues deemed controversial and that offer an opportunity of attack by opponents of the SNP, is one that is pervasive on BBC Scotland. Over the last few weeks it has been adopted in stories related to Police Scotland, Income tax changes and the OBFA.
The ‘SNP Ministers’ or ‘SNP Government’ terms are never used in stories that may show the Scottish government in a good light. They are exclusively used for controversial issues.
An equivalent term ‘Tory Government’ or ‘Conservative Government’ is never adopted by BBC Scotland reporters in areas deemed controversial or that might offer an opportunity of attack on the UK Government by the SNP. The politically benign term ‘UK Government’ or ‘Westminster government’ is always used.
It is perfectly legitimate for opposition parties to use politically loaded terms such as ‘SNP Government’ or ‘SNP Ministers’ when they see an opportunity to attack the SNP, such is the nature of political cut and thrust. However it is not acceptable for a public service broadcaster to ape this behaviour, whether consciously or not.
Response from BBC received March 26th
Thank you for getting in touch about Reporting Scotland broadcast on 4 March 2018.
We have noted your feedback and shared your comments with the production team.
Follow up complaint submitted on May 10th
On March 4th 2018 I lodged a complaint with the BBC. The complaint highlighted a habit amongst reporters and presenters at BBC Scotland of using the term ‘SNP Ministers’ or ‘SNP Govt’ instead of the more accurate ‘Scottish Govt Ministers’ or ‘Scottish Govt’ on issues deemed controversial. I cited numerous examples of this from TV and Radio.
The ‘SNP Ministers’ or ‘SNP Government’ terms are never used in stories that may show the Scottish government in a good light. They are *exclusively* reserved for controversial issues.
I received the following response. “We have noted your feedback and shared your comments with the production team.”
I accepted the response at face value. However since then this habit has continued. Several broadcasts, all on areas deemed controversial [Minimum alcohol pricing, Power Grab row etc] have witnessed exactly the same practice being adopted. Indeed in the example this complaint relates to the presenter gives the Welsh and UK Govts their correct title but calls the Scottish Govt the ‘SNP Govt’.
There is a clear lack of consistency here. Conservative and Labour run administrations are not identified along party lines, only the SNP led administration is. I gave BBC Scotland the benefit of the doubt when complaining in March.
I no longer see this as an option and would appreciate:
1. An acknowledgement that this lack of consistency is unacceptable, a mistake and will not be repeated.
2. I would also appreciate a formal acknowledgement that production teams at BBC Scotland will be informed that the practice of describing the Scottish Govt as the ‘SNP Govt’ on exclusively controversial issues will end, unless reporters or presenters are quoting a third party.
Response from Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs, received Sept 6th
You contend you did not receive a response to your complaint of 10 March. That is not correct, as you yourself confirm you did receive a response (sent on 26 March), within your submission to ECU (and as noted below).
You contest that the complaint submitted on 10 May was ‘a separate, standalone complaint’. You also know this to be incorrect and this is made clear to you by ECU, in its observation that:
“Your complaint of 10 May makes reference to the earlier correspondence and indicates you had accepted, at the time, the reply you received. It then goes on to complain about the same issue using a different example. I can therefore understand why this was treated as a follow-up. Indeed this is confirmed in your email to me when you state that you gave BBC Scotland the benefit of the doubt when complaining in March. Effectively on your own admission therefore you are picking up the same complaint but citing a different broadcast.”
So both of the points you make, above, are disproven – by you.
In terms of the issue you raise, you suggest that occasional references in our reporting to the ‘SNP Government’ are inconsistent with references to the UK Government and are deliberately pejorative. Your contention is without foundation and has no basis in fact.