News bulletins claiming MSPs had voted to “scrap” P1 assessments, despite the motion merely asking they be halted, were not misleading as some MSPs who voted had wanted them scrapped, BBC Scotland has claimed.
The broadcaster was responding to a complaint after radio and TV news bulletins reported that “MSPs have voted in favour of scrapping standard assessments for primary one children in Scotland.”
The bulletins followed a vote in the Scottish parliament earlier that day. However the motion being voted on hadn’t called for Primary One assessments to be scrapped outright, but had merely called for them to be halted pending a review of new evidence.
The motion, lodged by Tory MSP Liz Smith, called 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.”
In a complaint submitted to the BBC, the complainant wrote: “MSPs did not vote to scrap P1 assessments. A motion specifically calling for them to be scrapped was indeed lodged on the 10th Sept, but never voted on.”
A motion calling for P1 assessments to be scrapped was lodged one week prior to the vote on Liz Smith’s motion. However the ‘scrap’ motion, lodged by Labour MSP Iain Gray, was never put to a vote.
The complaint added: “BBC Scotland needs to acknowledge it inadvertently misled viewers on not one, but two occasions, and issue a correction on the programmes on which the errors were made.”
Responding, the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs insisted the wording of the motion was not important and that it was clear MSPs were in fact voting to scrap the policy.
The official said: “The word ‘halted’ was indeed used in the parliamentary motion; but all four opposition parties made clear that, in voting for the Conservative motion, they wanted the standardised assessments in primary 1 to end completely.”
The official listed several opposition MSPs who had made statements during the debate and argued the statements were sufficient to warrant BBC claims parties were indeed voting to scrap the P1 assessments.
The official added: “Our reporting teams recognised that, while the word in the motion was “halted” – which could mean stopped permanently or temporarily – the intention of the opposition parties was clearly, from their own words, to bring the whole exercise in Primary 1 to a permanent halt or, in other words, to scrap them.
“Their use of both words was not, as you suggest, a question of correctness or incorrectness; but rather a nuanced reflection of the mood of the Chamber during the debate which they were reporting.”
However footage from STV News showed motion author Liz Smith stating clearly she was merely very sceptical about P1 assessments.
The Tory MSP told reporter Colin Mackay: “On primary one I’m now very sceptical about whether we need tests in the way that we supported in 2016.”
Responding to the BBC response, the person who lodged the complaint said: “This is an incredible reply from BBC Scotland.
“If the wording of a motion is to be disregarded in favour of second guessing the thoughts of MSPs who took part in the vote and the ‘mood’ in the chamber, then what is the point of a motion at all?
“There was already a motion calling for P1 tests to be scrapped, but it was never put to the vote.
“If BBC Scotland believes this kind of reporting acceptable then what else are they second-guessing and redefining based on ‘mood’, when actual words don’t suit their news agenda?”
The complaint will now be re-submitted to BBC Scotland as per the requirements set out in the complaints process.
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