BBC Scotland has denied an item on Reporting Scotland, that claimed Scottish GDP growth was roughly equal to that of the UK … despite it being double, misled viewers.
In a response to a complaint, the editor of Reporting Scotland claimed the item was accurate but “was not clear as it should have been”.
The complaint followed an item broadcast on Reporting Scotland on August 15th. Viewers heard presenter Jackie Bird state 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.”
The presenter 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 did not “roughly match” the UK figure.
A complaint was submitted to the BBC the day after the item was broadcast which argued the claim was inaccurate and a breach of the BBC’s own accuracy guidelines.
However in a bizarre and extraordinary response, the editor of Reporting Scotland claimed the comparison given by Ms Bird wasn’t as it appeared and that the actual comparison had been too complex to explain in detail.
The full statement read:
“Thank you for being in touch about the teatime edition of the programme on 15th August and our story about GDP growth figures.
“The first sentence was “Growth in the Scottish economy was stronger at the start of this year than previously thought.”
“That is correct: it was first estimated in June to be 0.2% which was revised in August to 0.4%, equivalent to double the UK growth rate of 0.2%.
“The second sentence read “Figures published today show that it roughly matched the growth rate of the UK as a whole.”
“The implication is that this was a reference to the growth rate in the first quarter, when it was actually a reference to two ways of comparing with the previous year, both set out in the Scottish government’s figure – Quarterly National Accounts Scotland, published on 15th August.
“One is to compare Gross Value Added in the first quarter of 2018 with Q1 in the previous year. The other is to compare the four quarters leading to the most recent one (Q2 of 2017, plus Q3 plus Q4 plus Q1 of 2018), with the preceding four quarters (Q2 of 2016 plus Q3 plus Q4 plus Q1 of 2017).
“As explained in the Scottish government publication, one of these measures put Scotland slightly ahead of the UK figure, and the other measurement put Scotland slightly behind.
“Rather than put our early evening audience through this explanation, the wording of the report said it was “roughly” the same growth rate as the preceding year.
“In seeking to simplify a complex set of statistics, we did not say that the comparison was with previous years, and it was open to interpretation that the comparison was with UK growth during the first quarter of this year alone. That was not clear as it should have been, and I am sorry about that.
“The rest of the report is accurate – “Scottish Government experts have re-thought the way they measure activity in the construction sector, meaning that the whole economy is estimated to have grown by 0 point 4 percent in the first quarter of the year.”
“I do not believe that what we did materially misled our audience and what we did was certainly not intended to mislead audience members.”
Responding to the BBC’s reply, the complainant told Indyref2: “This is a ridiculous defence. I’ve read the reply and it is clearly designed to sap the will of anyone who reads it.
“It smacks of an organisation that knows it got it wrong but just can’t bring itself to admit it.”
The denial follows a similar error that appeared in a BBC Scotland article the same day as the Reporting Scotland programme.
Douglas Fraser had claimed Scotland’s first quarter economic growth of 0.4% was equal to that of the UK for the same period, writing: “The 0.4% figure is below long-term trend, but it’s equal to the UK level for that quarter.”
Fraser admitted the error when alerted by this site and corrected the article the following day.
Indyref2 understands that the complaint against Reporting Scotland will now be re-submitted.
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