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Analysing BBC coverage of the Jenny Marra ‘£300,000 payoff’ claim – Towards Indyref2…

Analysing BBC coverage of the Jenny Marra ‘£300,000 payoff’ claim

We commissioned analysis of BBC Scotland’s coverage of the claim made by Scottish Labour MSP Jenny Marra who alleged a former chief executive at NHS Tayside had received a payoff of over £300,000.  The figure was subsequently proven to be false – the true figure being £90,000.  Below is the result of that analysis.


The story breaks

The story appeared on BBC Scotland on Monday, August 6th.  BBC Scotland reported that the former chief executive at NHS Tayside had left her job.

The story appeared online at 09:45 that day with a rather bland headline – ‘Former NHS Tayside chief leaves health board’.

The news bulletin below was broadcast at just after 12:00 on Radio Scotland that day.


The story was already a day old having been broken the previous day by the Sunday Post.  What BBC Scotland appeared to find interesting, and presumably why the station ran the story albeit a day late, was the payoff angle.  At this stage though there is no attempt to place an estimate on any ‘payoff’ figure.

Doorstepping the First Minister

The NHS Tayside payoff story was not repeated on Radio Scotland’s 13:00 news bulletin.  Instead another NHS story was covered.  This centred on a story that also broke the previous day and related to claims that nurse shortages were hitting local services in the Grampian area.  The claims prompted BBC Scotland to despatch a film crew to doorstep Nicola Sturgeon.  The clip below contains the response given by the First Minister.


An extended video clip of the First Minister was posted on the BBC Scotland News twitter account at around 15:00.

The video clip can be seen below.


It is likely that the BBC North East Scotland film crew were already scheduled to doorstep the First Minister on the ‘NHS staff shortage’ issue.  They would also doorstep the First Minister on the ‘payoff’ story.  The ‘payoff doorstepping’ would be broadcast later on Newsdrive and also shown later on that evening’s Reporting Scotland.

Jenny Marra and the £300,000 claim

The first mention of Jenny Marra’s claim that NHS Tayside had paid Lesley McLay over £300,000 appeared in the lunchtime edition of Reporting Scotland.

The programme was broadcast at 13:30.  At 13:45 the 09:45 article headline – ‘Former NHS Tayside chief executive leaves health board‘ – is altered to ‘Former NHS Tayside chief executive ‘received £300,000 pay-off‘.

The article is now the lead item on the BBC Scotland online news section. It contains the following quote from Scottish Labour MSP Jenny Marra.

I understand today that the golden handshake that Lesley McLay has received is over £300,000.

The article makes no mention, nor gives any clue, as to the source of Jenny Marra’s information.  Shortly afterwards a supplementary online article with the headline ‘Former NHS Tayside chief executive ‘received £300,000 pay-off‘ appeared which included footage of Jenny Marra making the claim.


The story has moved on quite dramatically, from its initial bland confirmation of the departure of NHS Tayside’s chief executive to one of the same chief executive receiving almost a third of a million pounds in a ‘golden-handshake’ package.  However there is one thing missing.  There is no clue given as to the source of this information.

Jenny Marra tells the BBC it is her “understanding” that Lesley McLay received over £300,000.  However, why the Scottish Labour MSP understands this is not explored.  Is it a whistleblower or a leaked document?  Jenny Marra presumably didn’t pluck the figure out of thin air.  Regardless, BBC Scotland appears to have taken Ms Marra’s comments at face value.

Categorically untrue

On or around 15:45 NHS Tayside issued the following statement:

“The claims made about any sum of money received by Ms McLay are categorically untrue.  As with any NHS Tayside employee, Ms McLay received what she was contractually entitled to and nothing more upon leaving the organisation.”

The wording of this statement is significant.  Although it gives no figure, the fact that the Health Board would issue such an unambiguous, and strongly worded statement, should have given cause for concern to both Jenny Marra and BBC Scotland.


The corporation didn’t alter the thrust of the story.  It instead inserted the statement into the coverage.  The following audio clip contains every single news bulletin broadcast by Radio Scotland on its evening news programme Newsdrive, from 16:00 that evening.


Reporting Scotland 18:30

That evening’s Reporting Scotland led with the claim that NHS Tayside had paid Lesley McLay more than £300,000.  Viewers are told that NHS Tayside “denied that the payoff was on that scale”.  Again the report is heavily weighted in favour of the Jenny Marra claim.  The First Minister is confronted on camera.  She had been doorstepped around lunchtime by a BBC North East Scotland filmcrew.

By the time Reporting Scotland aired, NHS Tayside’s statement, calling Jenny Marra’s claim “categorically untrue”, had been known about for at least three hours.  Rather than turning the story around and pressing Ms Marra to give an indication as to the source of her £300,000 figure [whistleblower or leaked document], Reporting Scotland has continued to lead with the claim.  It is Scotland’s First Minister who is confronted and not the Scottish Labour MSP.  It’s noteworthy that Jenny Marra is not identified as a Scottish Labour MSP in the Reporting Scotland item, but only as “Convenor of the Public Audit Committee” in a caption.


It’s difficult to come to any conclusion other than BBC Scotland wanted Jenny Marra’s claim to be true.  There was no reason to run with a bland day-old story of a former chief executive leaving her post unless you had a development or another angle that moved the story on.  That ‘development’ was provided by comments from a Scottish Labour MSP.

It could be argued that the story merited the high-profile coverage, given Jenny Marra’s role as convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee.  The corporation may have considered Marra’s ‘understanding’ corroboration enough for the £300,000 claim.

However that changed the moment the Health Board issued its statement calling Ms Marra’s claim “categorically untrue”.  It is at that point the BBC should have sought an explanation from Ms Marra as to the source of her understanding.

If failed to do so and people were misled as a result.  Opposition politicians attacked Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman, and the First Minister herself was confronted by a BBC Scotland film-crew.

This then is the nub of the issue and the problem for BBC Scotland.  No source was ever identified nor sought.  Ms Marra herself is not the source and cannot be considered the source.  Her only input was to tell the BBC that she understood over £300,000 had been paid to Lesley McLay.  Yet no attempt is ever made to seek the source of this understanding.  The possibility cannot be discounted that there never was any credible source for Ms Marra’s ‘understanding’ and that BBC Scotland knew there was no source.

This places BBC Scotland in breach of the BBC’s guidelines on accuracy.  It simply didn’t apply any scrutiny to Jenny Marra’s ‘understanding’.  Even when unambiguously told the £300,000 figure was false, the corporation continued its same narrative.  By the time the 18:30 edition of Reporting Scotland aired, Jenny Marra’s unsourced and uncorroborated ‘understanding’ was being given more weight than an official statement from the Health Board itself.

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15 thoughts on “Analysing BBC coverage of the Jenny Marra ‘£300,000 payoff’ claim

  1. Me Bungo Pony

    The BBC aren’t even trying to hide the bias anymore. They are secure in the knowledge their colleagues in the main stream media (msm) will be regurgitating the same baseless lies therefore saving them from public scrutiny and strengthening their ability to mislead the people.

    Ironically, they have begun a crusade against “fake news” which seeks to shut down non-msm sites that highlight the BBC’s own “fake news”. Government funded censorship masquerading as a public service to hide the real facts from the general population.

    It must be increasingly clear to even those most sceptical of the benefits of Scottish independence that there is something rotten at the core of the UK establishment.

    1. stewartb

      You wrote: “The BBC aren’t even trying to hide the bias anymore.”

      Or its negativity – its negative framing – of even non political stories about Scotland and its achievements.

      Today’s BBC Scotland website has the headline ” Roads closed for cycle race on last day of Glasgow 2018″ – even tho’ the article is about a major international sporting event.

      That choice of headline, that (implied) negative – cannot be by accident – but by DESIGN!!

  2. Clapper57

    My UNDERSTANDING of this is that once again ‘media’ is the weapon being used by Unionist parties to attack the SNP via unsubstantiated smears …..formula : Source equals Unionist party minus investigation equals Report.

    The fact that the figure was incorrect should have led to Jenny Marra being doorstepped as to her source as that to me seems like a story in itself. If that is NOT evident to the BBC then that does tend to smell somewhat whiffy …..nothing reported on a public broadcasting channel should be transmitted without a guarantee of it’s validity….one expects misinformation from printed media but if the BBC expects the public to pay , via a licence , to be misinformed then it is indeed right that one should see them for the charlatans that they are.Also when true figure reported there should have been a breakdown of what figure represented , instead the public are lead to believe through omitted information that this was indeed a pay off as stated by inaccurate original source Jenny Marra.

    The BBC always states they seek balance and yet where was the balance in this story. If proper balance and investigation had been sought by the BBC then perhaps this story would NOT have been aired. So one has to conclude that it was indeed just accepted as accurate purely because of their source i.e. Jenny Marra a politician from Unionist party. Yeh right….. throw professionalism to the wind and I’m zipped up the back ! Pure agenda driven news being reported here….the agenda being another coordinated attack on the SNP from usual sources aided by usual propaganda machine !

    Perhaps a change of title would be appropriate as ‘Reporting Scotland’ tends to suggest they are actually ‘reporting’ news and not just relaying dodgy tip offs or orchestrated political attacks against the SNP…..one expects tittle tattle from those ordinary Joe’s who are generally uninformed via their chinese whispers but NOT from a programme supposedly providing ‘news’ to it’s viewers. There should be accountability taken by the BBC for their misinformation ,where a story has been reported by them and NOT fact checked, because the damage has been done, which was the sole purpose of this factually inaccurate attack via Labour with the BBC once again complicit in this devious political Unionist ploy.

    It seems that journalism BBC style does not adopt the who, what, where. why and how as the formula to convey all of the information required to report all of the facts in a story….that’s why we are not being provided with an honest and accurate service from a broadcaster not fit for the service it is supposed to provide ……to viewers in Scotland…..or rather ‘the news where you are’.

  3. Douglas McGregor

    There is a case for this kind of slander/libel from a public broadcaster to be corrected with EQUAL prominence in the broadcast medium. I think the SNP should demand redress on this issue from the BBC instead of just turning the other cheek , as usual.

  4. Brian McGowan

    Once again, thankyou to the Indyref2 site for continuing this fight in such an impeccable, professional manner.
    BBC’s aim clearly is to normalise this kind of deceitful, misleading reporting.

  5. Jas

    The continuing story of how the BBC collaborate with Unionist parties to create a false narrative that portrays the SNP Government as incompetent and thereby persuade the casual voter to lose faith in themselves and the idea of a Scottish-based party governing Scotland.

    Meanwhile, down in London, everything is run spiffingly well by those intellectual giants of Westminster who know how to do just about everything to perfection and all before the taking of tea and crumpet. Top-ho and jolly well done old boy!

    Think I’ll go and watch the film ‘If …. ‘, and get some perspective.

  6. Scott Cameron

    Meet Jenny. Jenny is a unionist. Meet John. John is an an executive and family member of DC Thomson. DC Thomson are a pro-unionist media organisation. Jenny and John are married #PillowTalk

  7. Robert Graham

    Anyone unfamiliar with the way the BBC operate in Scotland would probably think the ones who comment and criticise the BBC are nut jobs and rabid separatists , the use of descriptive language is important and the BBC are well versed in its use and effect .

    The clearest example was highlighted on this site a short time ago , out of 10 possible stories that could lead and were relevant to Scots 8 positive & 2 negative , the negative ones were most of the time featured , occasionally a positive story would make an appearance , always including the word ” BUT ” the most widely used word the BBC use describing anything linked to the Scottish Government .

    Far from being loonies and nut jobs the people who spend time highlighting this behavour should be activly assisted and helped by pointing this out . the default position the BBC adopt with only one aim ” protect the union ” , someone or some unit is directing this ongoing 24 / 7 relentless rubbishing of anything that happens here , half of Scots by now get what the BBC are up to on a daily basis , how do we waken up the rest ? who knows , either people are deaf -blind- or stupid , who knows .

  8. Robert graham

    Can I suggest a small thing any of the keyboard warriors who follow this site can do if they can’t manage to contribute financially how about assisting with their spare time, this could be highlighting stuff that the BBC are up to that might have been missed, and a clear guide to navigating the BBC complex complaints process, what to do and what order, after a few complaints you get used to the system , but it is time consuming,

    This BBC in Scotland are a real impediment to independence the more we bugger up the works and make them respond the better keep them busy .

  9. Ann Rayner

    Sorry, nothing to do with this story but BBC website this morning did not include The National in their list of newspapers featured. Thus has been corrected by about 2.30 pm. Did anyone else notice the omission and, perhaps, complain?

  10. Bibbit

    It’s funny. Just checked Marra’s twitter account & there is no mention of this top news story there. How very odd. One would think it’s almost as if Marra & the BBC cobbled this tissue of lies together in order to denigrate the SNP and the Scottish First Minister. The story has now disappeared from view but another one will be along anytime soon. There is no shortage of Britnats happy to play this wee game with the truth. After all, none are held accountable.

  11. Davy

    And today’s negative news story is Ta Da – ” baby boxes”.

    After a year in operation with a popular 85% take up by family’s and the medical profession south of the border recommending the baby box program being rolled out over the rest of the UK.

    The BBC has managed to produce a negative story about the baby box and indicate it’s the SNP governments fault.

    Same old, same old – f-ing media.

  12. Pingback: Wings Over Scotland | The Old Billy Boys Club

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