The BBC’s internal watchdog has dismissed a complaint against BBC Scotland after the Glasgow based broadcaster allowed false claims from a Labour MSP to dominate its news coverage.
The Editorial Complaints Unit [ECU] said Pacific Quay behaved appropriately when it allowed an accusation from MSP Jenny Marra to lead its news output, because bulletins also included a denial from the Health Board Marra had falsely targeted.
In it’s ruling, the ECU wrote: “Ms Marra holds a senior position as the convenor of the Audit Committee and the BBC was entitled to report her claim about the award. NHS Tayside did not provide a figure for the payment but its denial was carried prominently.
“I consider that the fact that Reporting Scotland attributed the figure to Ms Marra would have made it clear to a viewer that it was not one which the BBC was able to report as undisputed fact. The prominence of the denial by NHS Tayside would also have underlined the fact that the figure was contested.
“Accordingly I do not believe viewers would have been materially misled and I am not upholding your complaint.”
The complaint was submitted after a story appeared across BBC Scotland platforms on Monday August 6th. 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.
Shortly afterwards, a BBC Scotland film crew confronted Nicola Sturgeon with the claim. The FM’s response was heard on news bulletins.
An article appeared online with the following headline ‘Former NHS Tayside chief executive ‘received £300,000 pay-off‘. However despite a strongly worded statement from NHS Tayside calling the claim “categorically untrue”, the story led Reporting Scotland that evening.
“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.”
Following the BBC Scotland news reports, Tory MSP Miles Briggs issued a statement attacking “SNP Ministers”. The MSP included a link to the BBC Scotland article.
Other opposition politicians attacked Scottish government Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman.
Viewers to that evening’s edition of Reporting Scotland witnessed the First Minister being confronted by a BBC Scotland film-crew.
However the accusation on which the news reports had been based was subsequently shown to be fake when the Health Board revealed the figure paid to its former Chief Executive was less than one third that claimed by Jenny Marra.
Commenting on the ruling from the BBC watchdog, the complainant said: “This was a glaring example of fake news.
“BBC Scotland didn’t apply any scrutiny to Jenny Marra’s claim that £300,000 had been paid out. For all we know she made it up.
“Even when unambiguosly told by the Health Board that the £300,000 figure was codswallop, the corporation continued headlining Marra’s accusation as though credible.
“Unionist politicians will be rubbing their hands in glee now they know they can level any wild allegation with not a shred of evidence and it will still be headlined by this compliant sham of a public broadcaster.”
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