BBC Scotland has come under fire over its refusal to cover a funding scandal that links a shady organisation, the DUP and the Scottish Conservative party.
The so-called ‘Dark Money’ scandal was exposed in May last year after it emerged hundreds of thousands of pounds had been funnelled through Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party during the EU referendum campaign. The money was then used to fund pro-Brexit campaign adverts in the UK.
The cash, £425,000, had been donated by a company called the Constitutional Research Council whose chairman, Richard Cook, was a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party. Cook stood as a candidate for the Scottish Tories in East Renfrewshire during the 2010 general election and has links to many senior Tory figures in Scotland.
On Tuesday another story emerged involving cash donations worth over £300,000 to Conservative Party branches throughout Scotland. According to investigative news-site ‘The Ferret‘ the source of the cash is a “secretive trust without a fixed address or known current trustees”.
The revelations have prompted an investigation of the Scottish Unionist Association Trust [SUAT] by the Electoral Commission. An unincorporated organisation, there have been suggestions that organisations like SUAT are being used to “exploit loopholes in electoral law”.
The issue was raised in the House of Commons by SNP MP Pete Wishart who described the funding as “Dark Money” and the donations as “dodgy”.
However, save for a single broadcast on Radio Scotland on Wednesday afternoon, there has been no coverage of the scandal on BBC Scotland TV and radio news. The failure of BBC Scotland to cover the story has led to an online spat between Wishart and BBC Scotland reporter Nick Eardley.
On Thursday, after raising the issue in the House of Commons, the SNP MP questioned BBC Scotland’s lack of interest in the story, tweeting: “BBC NI have done incredible investigative journalism around this and it is screaming ‘Scotland’. Thought @BBCScotlandNews would be at least curious….”
The claim was denied by Eardley who insisted the story had been covered by Pacific Quay. Further exchanges between the two resulted in the BBC man accusing the SNP politician of not knowing that the story had been covered.
The coverage referenced by the BBC Scotland reporter included the single interview with the BBC Northern Ireland correspondent on Newsdrive and an online article, also published by BBC Northern Ireland. BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme Reporting Scotland had ignored the story as had the morning news programme Good Morning Scotland.
Prompted by the attack on Wishart by Eardley, scores of other users of social media rushed to defend the SNP MP.
One poster challenged Eardley’s claim that the story had been covered: “There is a distinction between “mentioning” and “covering”. “Cover” implies adequate attention to make the audience aware of the story and its implications. A story of this political importance requires a lot more “coverage” than others. You didn’t cover it.”
A second poster wrote: “”Please point us to BBC Scotland story covering Scottish Tory Party aspects of this Where are interviews with @RuthDavidsonMSP and Treasurer Bryan Johnston demanding full transparency on secret Finances over this and other irregularities?”
Another tweeted: “BBC Radio Scotland news 8AM stories…. NOT mentioned. Where is the communication to Public on these concerns? What Politicians are being held to account?”
In response, Eardley tweeted: “Coz the story was two days ago….”
The tweet prompted furious responses with many people highlighting stories involving SNP politicians that were covered in depth for days at a stretch.
One poster highlighted the recent case of Gillian Martin: “So the story isnt headline enough but a blog from 11 years ago is more newsworthy. Labour & Tories with racist councillors getting a easy ride by the BBC. Dark money insignificant story. If you were a journalist of merit instead of a cut and paste merchant imagine the career high.”
Another compared the lack of coverage of ‘Dark Money’ to the wall-to-wall coverage of Michelle Thomson, “Yeah Nick, the story is from 2 days ago. Funny how that didn’t stop Reporting Scotland go on about the Michelle Thomson non story day after day. Anyone would think BBC Scotland are guilty of double standards. Laughable organisation.”
One poster claimed investigative journalism at BBC Scotland was dead: “Where’s the follow-up? This story points to the potential of major fraudulent funding of the Tory Party. How far up does it go? Is investigative journalism dead at the BBC?”
The episode is the latest example of a growing mistrust of the BBC within Scotland’s pro-independence community. Other recent examples of what many consider to be the refusal to scrutinise the Scottish Conservatives include Ruth Davidson’s tax-hike stance, which is at odds with her UK party leader.
Despite headlining attacks on the SNP’s tax policy by Ruth Davidson, BBC Scotland has refused to question the Scottish Conservative leader on her own party’s admission that taxes will have to rise to pay for the NHS.
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