The following complaint relates to an interview and subsequent news bulletins broadcast on Radio Scotland on July 15th.
Complaint submitted on July 22nd
On Sunday July 15th Good Morning Scotland broadcast an interview between journalist Pennie Taylor and Professor David Kerr. The lengthy interview fuelled news bulletins that criticised First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. An example of one of the bulletins can be heard here.
The first part of this complaint relates to the interview itself or more precisely the interviewer. Although Ms Taylor’s links to Prof. Kerr’s 2005 report were mentioned, they were not explored in depth or scrutinised – nor where her own views on the thirteen year old report.
Ms Taylor assisted the National Framework Advisory Group chaired by Prof. Kerr, facilitating local meetings and helping with newsletters as part of its communications team. There was thus a very clear conflict of interest in allowing Ms Taylor to interview Prof. Kerr on a report and process both were involved in.
Having listened to Ms Taylor’s interview, it was clear she sympathised with much of what Prof. Kerr had to say. Indeed some of her questions were clearly loaded, inviting the academic to agree with his interviewer.
In allowing Ms Taylor to interview Prof. Kerr, and including her own views on Nicola Sturgeon in subsequent news bulletins, BBC guidelines on conflict of interest appear to have been breached.
The second part of the complaint relates to Prof. Kerr’s past political allegiances and views. Touched on in the interview were his informal friendships with senior Labour figures. Not mentioned was his formal activities which included campaigning for Labour in 2001. In 2010 he backed David cameron’s Tory party, telling The Times newspaper: “[The Tories] are more committed to the NHS that we love and understand as free at the point of access and offering universal care. Only that degree of certainty would convince me to go and work for them.”
In 2007, months after the SNP took office for the first time, he attacked the saving of A&E departments, describing the decision as “emotional and irrational”. He is thus not someone who should be presented as politically neutral.
BBC Scotland made an error in allowing Prof. Kerr to be presented as neutral and then broadcasting his views within news bulletins that made no mention of his political past. The public were thus misled.
Finally, news bulletin claims that the interview can be heard on BBC iPlayer were false.
The programme has never appeared on BBC iPlayer. Again, listeners have been misled.
Response from the Editor of Radio News, received August 02
In the intro to her interview with Ms Taylor, Laura Maxwell said that “health journalist Pennie Taylor followed the process and took part in the consultations”. In the interview she asked “What part did you play?” to which Ms Taylor responded “I was asked to lead or facilitate the public meetings that were held in communities up and down Scotland”.
And in her own interview with Professor Kerr Ms Taylor said “You and I worked together on a series of public meetings that were held to discuss your thinking. What did those meetings bring to the process?” So we made very clear that Ms Taylor had been involved. That was the whole point – that she had facilitated a large number of meetings where she witnessed the interchange of ideas, criticisms, suggestions and so on which were aired as part of the discussion with the people of Scotland, and therefore brought to her contribution to the programme a unique perspective.
Broadcast journalists are often asked by public and private bodies to chair and manage large discussions, question-and-answer sessions and so on because they have the rare quality of considerable experience in so doing. There is an added bonus, that broadcast journalists may have a private view (most people do of most things) but they do not express it.
Having listened again to the interview, I can say that that was the case here. It follows that there can be no ‘conflict of interest’ when any association with proceedings leading to a report published thirteen years before are declared and when there is no suggestion that the person in question contributed to what the report said.
You say “it was clear she sympathised with much of what Professor Kerr had to say, indeed some of her questions were loaded”. That is your opinion and I do not agree with it. You refer to Pennie Taylor’s “own views on Nicola Sturgeon in subsequent news bulletins”. You do not name them so I have taken the 1000 hrs radio bulletin that day as an example, in which she says that when the SNP got into power, “Nicola Sturgeon was the first Health Secretary under that administration, the plans were changed and key parts of the Kerr Report were not implemented”. That is a statement of fact, not her “own views of Nicola Sturgeon”.
The second part of your complaint refers to “Professor Kerr’s past political allegiances and views”. Insofar as he may have had any, they are irrelevant to his appearance on the programme on 15th July this year. As the author of a report which recommended a course of action with certain Accident & Emergency clinics which was rejected by the incoming SNP government (replacing the outgoing Labour/Lib Dem government) it is hardly news that he was critical of their action – or, in this case, inaction. I can therefore set no store on your argument that the public were misled about anything to do with this interview. We said on the programme “You can download our new weekend podcast which included the long interview from the BBC iPlayer page.” You can access both the interview with Pennie Taylor and hers with Professor Kerr at this link https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/p06fp44r.
Follow up complaint submitted on August 12th.
Having listened to the interview again, it is obvious that Pennie Taylor should not have been allowed to interview Professor Kerr. There was a very clear conflict of interest. Her questions at times were not just loaded, but expressed a point of view. Professor Kerr’s poliical past *should* have been made clear. The Good Morning Scotland team should acknowledge these criticisms and apologise.
Response received from the BBC on August 17th
We have discussed your comments with the Editor, Radio News 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 sumitted to the Editoril Complaints Unit on Sept 02.
Pennie Taylor assisted the National Framework Advisory Group chaired by Prof. Kerr. She should never have been allowed to interview the academic. There is an obvious conflict of interest here. Some of her questions were very clearly leading. Below is an edited clip of Ms Taylor’s introductory comments and the questions she asked.