In this article we’re going to look back at the worst of BBC Scotland. Those news stories defied the BBC Charter. Bulletins that left you reaching for the remote control … to throw at the TV. Coverage that meant Jackie, Glenn, Brian, Gary, Gordon and Kaye once again failed to make it onto your Christmas Card list.
Broken Ankle Man
On January 9th a story appeared across BBC Scotland platforms. The story was based on newly published Accident and Emergency waiting time figures for the Scottish NHS. Figures, BBC Scotland reported, were the worst on record.
The story dominated news output on BBC Scotland that day. Bolstering the narrative was a case study featuring one man’s experiences after he slipped and hurt his foot between Christmas and New Year. Allan Browne featured on Reporting Scotland that morning and evening.
The implication of the BBC Scotland coverage was that Browne had been a victim of long A&E waiting times and had also been misdiagnosed by a medical professional. The coverage was so misleading it bordered on fake news.
Not broadcast on Reporting Scotland was the real reason Browne was not treated when first attending A&E. He wasn’t treated because he voluntarily left A&E before being seen by a medical professional. The person who allegedly told Browne his ankle “probably wasn’t broken” was the hospital receptionist.
But who was Allan Browne? Investigations carried out by a journalist at the online site Butterfly Rebellion uncovered a twitter account and Facebook page apparently run by Browne. The accounts contained images of ‘Ally Browne’ with links to pro-Union groups and anti-Muslim sites. They included sectarian anti-Catholic bile, disgusting insults targeting Nicola Sturgeon and messages linking the SNP to Fascism and Nazism.
Despite a complaint to the BBC, the corporation denied it had misled the public. Ofcom eventually cleared the broadcaster of any wrongdoing.
Michael Matheson smear
The then Justice Secretary had been in the Unionist cross-hairs for several months. The single police force Police Scotland was experiencing teething troubles and political opponents had smelled an opportunity.
The BBC’s involvement begins on January 10th when Reporting Scotland picked up a story published by The Herald newspaper two days earlier. The story was based on claims made by lawyers acting on behalf of former police chief Phil Gormley.
Unionists, aided by BBC Scotland, went after Matheson. The smear attempt was pushed for weeks. In all, Reporting Scotland ran items relating to the smear eight times from January 10th to February 4th.
This had nothing to do with journalism. This was a politically motivated witchhunt. To understand just how bad it was, you have to watch the items as they appeared on Reporting Scotland. They have been republished below. Enjoy.
Misrepresenting Nicola Sturgeon
On March 29th Sally Magnusson told viewers “… the First Minister said Brexit would be hugely damaging, and that those who supported it would never be forgiven.”
However a clip on the same programme revealed that Nicola Sturgeon had not targeted ‘those who supported’ Brexit, but had in fact explicitly singled out the Tory party. In the clip, Nicola Sturgeon was heard to say: “The interests of, not just Scotland, but the whole of the UK are going to be deeply damaged, and that will be the Tory legacy to Scotland and to the rest of the UK and I think future generations will never, ever forgive them for it.”
On February 7th the House of Commons published a breakdown of the Brexit Analysis papers that had been leaked just over a week earlier. The papers showed that Brexit would have a negative impact on Scottish growth. The impact on Scotland was worse than the UK average.
The inclusion of a breakdown for Scotland called into question comments made by David Mundell on November 2nd when he gave evidence to a Holyrood Committee. Mr Mundell said no such breakdown existed.
The story was thus of very significant interest to Scotland. However the 18:30 edition of Reporting Scotland ignored the story completely. BBC Scotland justified the blackout by pointing out the story had been published online.
It said: “The BBC carried the “Brexit” story on other platforms, including an online BBC Scotland version “Brexit ‘could hit Scottish growth by 9%’ ”.
The issue of devolved powers being seized by Westminster was downplayed by BBC Scotland. Presenters and reporters claimed there was little interest amongst the general public.
When the Scottish government took on Westminster, BBC Scotland portrayed it as under pressure and isolated when the Labour controlled Welsh Assembly capitulated.
Guest pundit in the third clip, Lynsey Bews, is now a Political Correspondent at BBC Scotland.
April witnessed one of the worst smear attempts ever attempted against a political party in the UK. It had emerged that a consultant working for the SNP had met with an official from the disgraced firm Cambridge Analytica. The consultant took one look at this outfit and advised senior SNP figures not to touch them with a bargepole.
The Scottish media got wind of the meeting and contorted it into an anti-SNP smear. The smear was promoted by BBC Scotland.
The Cambridge Analytica smear spawned more smears. On one Radio Scotland broadcast listeners heard studio guests ‘review’ a Sunday Times article that claimed the SNP wanted the Pro-Leave campaign to win the EU referendum in the hope it would increase support for independence. The claim was drivel.
A trip to China by the First Minister witnessed yet another fake-news smear launched by the Scottish media and promoted by BBC Scotland.
The story had first appeared in the Herald newspaper and was picked up by others.
It was covered by BBC Scotland online and featured heavily in the newspaper promo section that same day, both online and on Radio Scotland. The newspaper headline was included in a series of headlines read out by Good Morning Presenter Gary Robertson that same morning.
An image of The Herald front page appeared in the BBC Scotland online daily newspaper section that day. Headlined ‘The papers: Sturgeon’s China wind farm row‘, the article was the third item on the BBC Scotland main online news page.
The introductory sentence read: “A row over Chinese investors makes Scotland’s front pages as the first minister calls in a planning decision.”
What the public didn’t know was that both The Herald front page and the BBC’s own brief summary were completely false.
Nicola Sturgeon had neither called in a planning decision nor had she pulled rank on, or overruled, council planners.
The day after The Herald published its front page, the newspaper issued a correction and an apology.
BBC Scotland refused to accept it had misled the public and refused to issue any similar correction. The practice of reading out politically motivated newspaper headlines continues.
One of the weakest anti-SNP smears followed the donation to Glasgow Council of a Rolls Royce by an unknown benefactor. The politically inspired smear attacks on the SNP group in Glasgow began after news of the donation was revealed. The attacks, from Labour and Conservative politicians came in the same week the SNP held its June conference.
The attacks were seized on by BBC Scotland with the issue featuring in broadcasts and in online articles.
Statements from Labour MP Paul Sweeney formed the basis for headlines on June 6th.
The gift didn’t transgress rules on donations and in fact saved Glasgow Council much needed public cash.
In August an anti-SNP smear allegation appeared in a Sunday newspaper. The story involved grants being awarded to a munitions company called Raytheon. According to the Sunday Mail, the Scottish government wanted to keep a meeting between a minister and Raytheon “under wraps”. The newspaper article also contained allegations from Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay who said: “This is yet another example of the SNP’s secretive practices in government.”
The Scottish government was also accused of hypocrisy by Scottish Labour for opposing the bombing of civilians in Yemen whilst Scottish Enterprise gave grants to Raytheon.
The smear story was picked up by pro-Union broadcaster BBC Scotland who invited Scottish government minister Jamie Hepburn to answer questions on the flagship radio programme Good Morning Scotland. However, the interview quickly descended into an embarrassing farce as presenter Gillian Marles became increasingly frustrated, eventually losing her cool.
Tories not being pursued
As the year progressed it became clear that senior Tories were avoiding scrutiny by refusing to be interviewed. Time and again Ruth Davidson, David Mundell and UK Cabinet ministers simply ignored requests to be interviewed. The refusals were never headlined and continued throughout the year.
BBC Scotland had a weird reaction to the Scottish government’s Baby Box initiative.
The station put a negative spin on the policy from the get-go. If it wasn’t safety, it was cost.
The contrast with the BBC south of the border was stark. BBC England loved Baby Boxes as the clips below indicate.
More Brexit Blackout
In June the EU’s Brexit Coordinator Guy Verhofstadt was appearing in front of the Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons when he was asked by MP Joanna Cherry whether he agreed with the Scottish government’s proposals for the UK to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.
Responding, Mr Verhofstadt replied: “I think there is no opposition from the European side if that proposal comes to Brussells.”
Asked if it would solve the Northern Irish border issue, the EU official said: “Exactly”
The significance of the exchange prompted a tweet from BBC Scotland reporter Nick Eardley, which read: “Guy Verhofstadt at Brexit committee says no opposition to @ScotGov single market membership proposals on European side (Of course the big issue is the lack of support domestically…)
The comment on UK Single Market & Customs Union membership was not the only significant comment made by Mr Verhofstadt. Later in proceedings he surprised Scottish Conservative MP Douglas Ross who asked the EU official if an independent Scotland could rejoin the European Union without any major obstacles. Responding, Verhofstadt said: “That’s a fact, it’s a simple fact.”
However when BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme Reporting Scotland aired that evening, there was no mention of Verhofstadt’s comments, despite Eardley himself taking part in a live feed from London.
Presenting a programme on BBC Radio 4, Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, claimed Scotland could only afford services like free personal care for the elderly because of England.
Responsing to an explanation of Scotland’s system by Dr Philippa Whitford MP, he said: “Of course Scotland has the advantage that its current public spending is partly subsidised by England.”
Claims that Scotland is subsidised by England has been a central theme of anti-independence argument for decades.
It was one of the key planks of the pro-Union Better Together campaign during the 2014 independence referendum.
Youtube accounts closed down
In July it emerged the BBC was behind the closing down by Youtube of two accounts run by pro-independence bloggers. Peter Curran and Stuart Campbell had their accounts closed after the BBC lodged copyright complaints with Youtube.
The broadcaster had been alerted to videos on the bloggers’ accounts by a Scottish Labour councillor.
The Wings Over Scotland Youtube account was later reinstated.
A platform for Ruth
In July BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme was slammed after it handed an under-pressure Ruth Davidson a free platform to attack the SNP. Davidson, who had refused to give interviews over so-called ‘Dark Money’ donations to her party, faced not one solitary question during her brief appearance on Reporting Scotland.
The Scottish Conservative leader – whose appearance was prompted by resignation chaos engulfing her party at Westminster – was instead allowed to mount an attack on the SNP.
The appearance of Davidson on the flagship news programme followed claims the MSP had gone into hiding to avoid answering questions on the ‘Dark Money’ scandal. Davidson had repeatedly refused interviews after revelations by investigative website The Ferret questioned the source of hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations to her party.
Her sudden appearance on Reporting Scotland followed claims by her party that she was on holiday.
In August it emerged allegations of sexual harrassment had been levelled against former First Minister Alex Salmond. Unionist politicians seized on allegations in order to launch a smear campaign against Nicola Sturgeon. Scottish Labour implied the First Minister was withholding key information and was engaged in some kind of coverup.
The smears found their way onto BBC Scotland’s flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland with MSP Rhoda Grant given a platform to promote her party’s smears. Moments later the innuendo was repeated by GMS presenter Gary Robertson who asked if Nicola Sturgeon needed to be “more transparent”?
The smears were repeated in subsequent BBC Scotland broadcasts which included additional innuendo from the Scottish Conservatives.
BBC Scotland repeatedly broadcast an anti-Salmond graphic containing a Daily Record front page three nights in succession.
Other reports witnessed Alex Salmond compared to the former media mogul Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of rape and a string of serious sexual offences spanning years.
The coverage resulted in criticism being aimed at the broadcaster by pro-independence users of social media. Many contrasted the intense scrutiny and high-profile coverage of the Salmond allegations with the near absence of similar scrutiny of Ruth Davidson over Dark Money.
GERS correction and apology
August also saw a rare admission from the BBC that it had misled viewers. BBC news was forced to apologise after misleading viewers on figures contained in the latest GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] report.
The broadcaster had claimed GERS showed that the Scottish government had spent £13bn more last year than it raised.
Following the news broadcast, one SNP MSP tweeted his anger: “This is disgraceful @BBCNews – Your presenter clearly states that GERS says “…the Scottish Government last year spent nearly £13.5Bn more than it raised…”. This is a really serious factual error & I expect to see a equally prominent/high profile apology to @DerekMackaySNP!
Downplaying Scottish GDP
On August 15th the presenter of the 18:30 edition of Reporting Scotland told viewers that Scottish GDP had “roughly matched” the GDP of the rest of the UK for the first quarter of 2018.
She said: “Growth in the Scottish economy was stronger at the start of this year than previously thought. Figures published today show that it roughly matched the growth rate of the UK as a whole.”
Jackie Bird made the claim hours after it emerged that readjustments to economic data for the first quarter of the year found Scotland’s GDP was 0.4% for the first quarter. This was double the corresponding UK figure of 0.2%, and not a ‘rough match’ of that for the UK.
BBC Scotland denied it had misled viewers and claimed Ms Bird was not referring to the first quarter of 2018 but was in fact referring to another period.
On the afternoon of Monday August 6th, a story appeared across BBC Scotland platforms. The story was based on comments given to BBC Scotland by Scottish Labour MSP, Jenny Marra. Ms Marra told the BBC she understood a payment of over £300,000 had been made to the former Chief Executive of NHS Tayside.
Marra’s claim dominated BBC Scotland news that day.
Despite a strongly worded statement from NHS Tayside calling Marra’s claim “categorically untrue”, the story led Reporting Scotland that evening. Viewers saw the FM being confronted.
Tory MSP Miles Briggs issued a statement attacking “SNP Ministers” using a link to a BBC article as his own ‘source’.
It later emerged that the story was completely false. There was no £300,000 payout. The figure was complete fantasy. Where Marra obtained her information was never revealed. The Labour MSP escaped scrutiny for the fake-news story.
BBC Scotland denied misleading the public and insisted it had done nothing wrong.
In September a BBC reporter claimed the Lib Dems were th only anti-Brexit party in the UK. Political Correspondent Jonathan Blake made the claim when reporting from the party’s conference in Brighton.
Reporting on a conference speech by Tom Brake, viewers heard the reporter say: “… of course the Liberal Democrats are the only really anti-Brexit party in the UK.”
The reporter repeated the claim on the Radio 4 Six O’clock news, telling listeners that the Liberal Democrats were “… the only party in the UK which is anti-Brexit.”
Claiming only the Lib Dems are in favour of the EU had also been made by BBC Scotland presenter Bill Whiteford.
Claims that only the Lib Dems oppose Brexit are false, as both the Scottish Greens and the SNP also oppose leaving the EU.
In September trust in BBC Scotland News and Current Affairs department plummeted further after Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was provided with a platform to call for backing for Theresa May.
The Tory MSP appeared on prime time news bulletins urging critics of the Prime Minister to back off.
Davidson appeared in a set-piece interview with BBC Scotland reporter Andrew Kerr. The BBC Scotland film crew had been despatched from Glasgow to Davidson’s Holyrood office in order to film the item.
However aside from a token question on so-called ‘Dark Money’ the Tory MSP avoided difficult questions on a range of subjects.
The interview took place only days after Davidson had issued yet another snub to the BBC’s flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland [GMS]. Host Gary Robertson revealed the Scottish Conservative leader had again refused an invitation to appear on the programme to be interviewed.
The refusal to appear on GMS coincided with revelations that Davidson and her MSPs were preparing to vote against a policy they themselves demanded. The P1 assessment stunt was revealed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during this week’s First Minister’s Questions.
Despite Nicola Sturgeon highlighting Scottish Conservative hypocrisy, the issue was not raised during Andrew Kerr’s interview.
Throughout the year Davidson had repeatedly refused to face questions on a string of controversial issues which included bizarre U-turns on tax rises and broken pledges on frigates.
BBC Scotland had come under fire over its own refusal to door-step the hard-line Unionist politician and to treat her repeated refusals for live interviews as news. Davidson had refused requests for interviews on multiple occasions since 2017.
The Kerr interview came less than a week after a puff-piece appeared on BBC Scotland online. The article, Ruth Davidson: Pregancy is ‘joyous and hopeful’ was prompted by an article written by the MSP for the Sunday Times in order to plug her new book.
Davidson, often touted as a PM in waiting, had benefited from a string of soft interviews and promotional set-pieces on both the UK BBC and its Scottish branch.
Her pregnancy announcement earlier in the year resulted in another promotional set-piece for the Scottish Conservative leader.
BBC Scotland reporters portrayed the Scottish Conservative leader as the winner in th 2017 snap general election – despite Davidson returning 13 MPs to Nicola Sturgeon’s 35.
P1 Assessment Scam
On September 19th a vote took place in the Scottish parliament. The vote was on a motion lodged by Tory MSP Liz Smith. The motion can be seen below.
The motion very clearly calls on the Scottish government to “halt the tests in P1 and to reconsider the evidence and the whole approach to evaluating the progress of P1 pupils”.
The motion is clear and unambiguous. The reporting from BBC Scotland of this issue was anything but. Below are a collection of lies, half-truths and omissions that stained the broadcaster’s already tarnished reputation.
Sept 19th – Radio Scotland bulletin
Sept 19th – Reporting Scotland intro
Reporting Scotland, evening, October 25th
Newsdrive October 25th
Reporting Scotland, morning, October 25th
MSPs have never voted to scrap, abandon or drop P1 assessments. They voted to halt P1 assessments pending a reconsideration of the evidence.
On Sept 13th, the First Minister highlighted the Tory 2016 manifesto during FMQ’s.
The revelation never featured on that evening’s Reporting Scotland.
On Sept 18th and 19th Reporting Scotland covered the P1 assessment issue.
Missing from both reports was any mention of the 2016 Scottish Tory manifesto. The manifesto contained demands relating to P1 assessments. The manifesto can be seen below.
Ruth Davidson, May and September 2015
BBC Scotland has never shown these clips or made any reference to them.
Newsdrive, October 25th
MSPs have never voted to scrap P1 assessments. The EIS has not always called for P1 assessments to be scrapped. Below is an excerpt from a BBC article from 2017 which contains comments from the head of the EIS Larry Flanagan on the subject of P1, P3, P4 and S3 assessments.
Glasgow Council Equal Pay Dispute
The story ignited in October after trade unions threatened to strike over a decade long dispute with Glasgow Council. The story was covered by BBC Scotland.
One item on Reporting Scotland featured an official from the GMB. Below is a clip of Rhea Wolfson.
Wolfson says: “They [women] have suffered a decade of institutionalised discrimination …”
And it was true. The women who were threatening to go on strike had indeed suffered a decade of institutionalised discrimination. Missing from the item were the names of those organisations responsible for the discrimination. Scottish Labour and trade unions.
Also missing from the item were details about Ms Wolfson, who, as well as being an official with one of those trade unions, was also an election candidate for … the Scottish Labour Party. Wolfson stood for Labour in the 2017 general election campaign and had been selected as Labour’s Livingston candidate for the next general election.
Davidson speech leads news
In October Reporting Scotland failed to give Nicola Sturgeon’s conference speech the same high-profile as that of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson one week earlier.
Instead of leading BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme, the SNP leader’s keynote speech was relegated to second spot, behind a story about attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
The decision by the editorial team to relegate the SNP leader’s speech contrasted with the programme’s treatment of Ruth Davidson’s speech one week earlier. The Scottish Conserative leader’s conference speech was considered important enough to lead the programme.
The episode followed similar favourable treatment of Davidson who was given what many people considered to be a very easy interview by BBC Scotland presenter Gordon Brewer on the eve of her party conference.
The BBC man altered his approach markedly when faced with the SNP’s Ian Blackford one week later, repeatedly hectoring and interrupting the SNP MP.
Hard Brexit and No Deal
Towards the end of 2018 a disturbing trend began to appear amongst BBC Scotland presenters and reporters. They began claiming that a No Deal Brexit and a Hard Brexit were one and the same.
They aren’t the same. Hard Brexit means a deal with the EU but no membership of the Single Market or Customs Union. No Deal means exactly that … leaving the EU without any deal whatsoever.