A BBC Scotland complaint – ‘SNP Government’

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.

 

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.

 

Response submitted to ECU Sept 8th [Ian Small comments in blue]

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).

I have never claimed not to have received a response to my March 10th complaint.  Indeed in my complaint of May 10th I confirmed I had indeed received a response to my March 10th complaint.  I wrote: “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.”

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.

Mr Small’s first point was that I had contended I never received a response to my March 10th complaint.  Mr Small’s assertion was false as I have already shown.  His second point related to my second complaint.  My second complaint was indeed a standalone complaint that related to a single broadcast on Weekend Good Morning Scotland.  It is this complaint that I have sought a response to.

Following BBC Scotland’s refusal to address my May 10th complaint I appealed to the ECU.  I won my appeal.  You yourself wrote: “First, I agree that you have cited a new example of your concerns taken from a different programme. Second there has, as yet, been no substantive response to the general point you raise and I think the onus remains on BBC Scotland to provide one.

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.

My contention does indeed have a basis in fact.  The broadcast from April 29th demonstrates it.  There are other historic audio and video clips that demonstrate it.

In my May 10th complaint I requested the following:

An acknowledgement that this lack of consistency is unacceptable, a mistake and will not be repeated.

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.

For reference, the broadcast being complained about is this one from April 29th.

http://indyref2.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/snp-govt-lonely-gms-290418.mp3

I would also be grateful if the behaviour of BBC Scotland throughout this complaint could be addressed.  An initial refusal to address the complaint was followed by a tardy, and inaccurate, response to your own ruling.  Indeed I actually received the original response [again citing the 30 day ruling] ten minutes before receiving the email from Mr Small.

 

Response from ECU received Oct 08th

Let me start with the handling of your complaint. As I indicated in my previous letter to you I believe that on balance you should have received a substantive response to your most recent complaint on this issue. That is why I asked BBC Scotland to issue you with a further reply.

I did not however agree that the two complaints you made were entirely separate; indeed they are plainly on the same subject, albeit relating to different programmes. You did indeed receive a reply to your first complaint but your letter to the ECU spoke of you being thwarted twice in your efforts to obtain a response. I think this may explain why there may have been some confusion between your understanding of events and BBC Scotland’s.

Turning to the substance of your complaint, I am afraid I can see no grounds for accepting the use of the phrase “SNP Government” amounts to a serious breach of editorial standards. It accurately and impartially represents the nature of the administration in charge at Holyrood and I do not think audiences are likely to view the term as having a pejorative meaning nor that it casts the Scottish Government in an unfavourable light compared with its counterparts at Westminster or elsewhere.

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13 thoughts on “A BBC Scotland complaint – ‘SNP Government’

  1. Harry Molloy

    Keep complaining. Keep telling them

    Maybe Donalda, will get the message a pull in the horns of her pro union journalists.
    Just the Irish lady who presents good morning Scotland, interview a shin Fein EURO MP. HER TONE AND HER QUESTIONING WAS WAY BEYOND ACCEPTABLE. even Donalda must have heard the veimence in het tone questioning this Shin Fein politician

    1. Alasdair Macdonald

      This is a long-established BBC tradition. There is a sense of entitlement that the Tories should be perpetually in power.

      I can remember when Mr Harold Wilson became Prime Minister in 1964, the BBC routinely introduced reports with ‘THIS Labour Government’. There was always an emphasis on ‘THIS’, implying that it was somehow intruding into the natural state of things.

      This approach continues with references to the Scottish Government. BBC Scotland thinks it is the official opposition, because the actual opposition is mediocre.

    2. m biyd

      I heard that and thought it was just me. The Sinn Fein rep wiped the floor with her though and managed to bring Scotland into the equation so it back fired but I am deeply concerned what the BBC are stoking up. The historical parallels between the present and the causes if the war of the three kingdoms mount each day and we have a BBC agitating for trouble in suppirt of a failed London based Executive.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald

    This is a long-established BBC tradition. There is a sense of entitlement that the Tories should be perpetually in power.

    I can remember when Mr Harold Wilson became Prime Minister in 1964, the BBC routinely introduced reports with ‘THIS Labour Government’. There was always an emphasis on ‘THIS’, implying that it was somehow intruding into the natural state of things.

    This approach continues with references to the Scottish Government. BBC Scotland thinks it is the official opposition, because the actual opposition is mediocre.

  3. Robert Graham

    A free press that would take the unionist blinkers off sometimes would highlight what the BBC are up to , all day every day , having set out their stall of SNP bad viewers probably dont realise the constant negative slant they put on everything ,

    According to the BBC in Scotland its armageddon out there nothing works and it isn’t safe to leave home .

    They have been doing it for so long even the staff probably dont realise what they are doing its just how its always been done .

  4. Bill Gardner

    I do think that the First Minister is entitled to raise this directly with the Director General of the BBC.

    As you point out also whenever Scottish Government opposition individuals are reported for serious misdemeanours or even convicted of serious crimes, their Party attribution is never ever given.

    Any SNP person in a similar situation , their Party attribution is highlighted .

    The trouble is the BBC is losing credibility and viewers and listeners and like many other am wondering why do I have pay for this lazy and biased journalism?

    As a retired ex BBC Manager, formerly working in Current Affairs political programs I am ashamed of what is currently going on in BBCQT, Reporting Scotland , etc,

  5. David McBeath

    I think editors, reporters and announcers should really think of their future employment chances once Scotland is independent. Certainly the BBC will have no further use of them in Scotland. Scotland will be looking to establish their own SBC (Scottish Broadcasting Company) I really don’t fancy their chances to gain employment there. And newspapers! Similar chances.

  6. 100%Yes

    It’s all designed to make Ruth Davidson the First Minister of Scotland or give her the best chance, that fiasco (continuity bill) in the Scottish parliament was all staged. What is the point of complaining when the BBC is working on behalf of the British government, our occupier. All attempts are being made to put the SNP in a bad light and it is solely down to try and get Ruth Davidson to come across as Strong leader just like they did with Theresa May. Now I have just moved up to Scotland and I can not believe how bad it really is. It’s clear that any referendum that comes the SNP should want to see the questions being asked before they do interviews etc, just like Theresa May does. Unless you’ve lived in England you wouldn’t believe their attitude to Scotland, they believe Scotland belongs to them and it’s part of England . I know people bang on about the best way to win a referendum, and you hear a lot of it’s the British way to play fair, forget it, their the most nasty bastards you’ll ever come across. If the Scottish people want to win any referendum it has to be realistic about what lays ahead. The British state is already trying to eliminate any reference to Scotland as an individual Country, they are already branding goods identified as Scottish as being British and marking them with the British flag, why? because they know this referendum is coming and they are already fighting to keep us in this union. I Joined the SNP like most people, if I had two criticism of Nicola Sturgeon they would be, she’s trying to play the Westminster game, forget it, you’ll lose every time (the Conservatives have had hundreds of years manipulating facts, look at Ruth Davidson’s interview about continuity bill, trying to make out its illegal, when the highest lawyer in Scotland has said it’s legal and so have the Welsh Government), and that she should never put on hold the second referendum, because the British state now know she can be played, but is she canny enough to realize before its to late. Go back 2000 years who would ever thought the Roman Empire would have fallen, so don’t give up hope keep fighting for independence, it has to come.

  7. Abdullah

    Gandhi never gave up…Remember that

    I hope there is a indy ref2 while the SNP still hold power in Scotland. Otherwise I don’t see a indy ref in the next parliament as the Tories and Labour will keep the SNP out. My bet is on labour minority government in the next scottish parliament.

    1. m biyd

      Yeh but they divided the nation he (Gandhi) wanted to liberate by divisive sectarian politics… as they continue to do in Scotland and N Ireland and it has taken India 50 years to reestablish her textile and steel industry that English overlordship destroyed when she was British controlled.

  8. Cadogan Enright

    This is good enough to be escalated to Ofcom

    My complaints have focused on mis use of statistics

    But sometimes, like this, bias is so insidious, one does not even notice

    Please escalate this all the way

  9. Pingback: GMS presenter claims Scottish Govt in “a very lonely position” over Power Grab row – Towards Indyref2…

  10. Iain

    A small victory, but we know that the BBC is never going to be impartial. It may not be deliberate – indeed, there may be efforts to correct bias, but at root there is an presumption that the UK should continue, and the cause of Scottish independence is thus something to be opposed.
    You’ve got to reckon that almost all of those who work for BBC news are of this mindset – indeed we know that a past head of news at BBC Scotland was well-known to have been an active member of the Labour Party. Look also at the branch office status of BBC Scotland: if you want to advance your career, you’re looking for transfer to the payroll of the head office in London. Thus James Cook, Laura Bicker, Eddie Mair, Michael Buchanan, et al. Nobody at BBC Scotland is going to make things better for themselves by pointing out too often that this or that is unfair reporting of the Scottish Government, the SNP, or the cause of independence.

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