BBC Scotland: Making up headlines

BBC ScotlandSo yet another example of the way BBC Scotland manipulates political news for maximum anti-independence effect has come and gone.  On Sunday the corporation told us that RBS was planning to move its Head Quarters out of Scotland if a second indyref resulted in a Yes vote.

Sometime around Monday afternoon the term ‘HQ’ was quietly dropped from an online article and replaced with the more benign word ‘office’.  The reason of course is that the pro-Union broadcaster had been called out.


Alex Salmond reacted furiously to the re-running of one of the most outrageous pieces of misreporting during the first indyref.  The former First Minister didn’t miss when he took aim at the appalling news reporting.

Salmond told The National newspaper:

“This morning the BBC broadcast a perfectly reasonable interview with RBS chief executive Ross McEwan, who could not have been clearer that he was talking about the bank’s domicile and its plaque, not its headquarters. Indeed, his comments that this would have no impact on jobs were reported.

“However, by the 10am news bulletins and on their website the BBC then headlined that the Royal Bank would move their ‘headquarters’ or ‘HQ’, which is an entirely different thing.

“In fact, Mr McEwan did not mention the word headquarters in his interview.”

Salmond added:

“It is high time that the BBC were called out about their misreporting.

“To make this mistake once was outrageous. To repeat now is simply inexcusable.

“Independence campaigners should be clear that one thing is unlikely to change between indyref one and two and that is the blatant anti-independence bias of BBC news bulletins.”

The BBC’s excuse for using the inaccurate shorthand ‘HQ’ was lame.  It claimed only to have used the term because there wasn’t enough space to use the correct one, which was ‘registered address’ … or brass plate.

An unnamed BBC spokesperson said:

“Our story on the website reports Mr McEwan’s interview very clearly and accurately, including quotes from him explaining that he’s talking about a possible move for the RBS ‘brass plaque’ and not jobs.

“Some headlines have for the sake of brevity used ‘HQ’ as shorthand for where a company is officially based. The full context is then fully explained in the story.”

So, according to the BBC, it’s OK to use pejorative, inaccurate and melodramatic shorthand if it’s corrected later in the piece.  It failed of course to explain why ‘HQ’ peppered broadcast bulletins on Sunday as you can hear below.


BBC Scotland has a history of gently contorting interviews in order to create an anti-SNP headline.  One such interview took place on the morning of Saturday, March 10th, 2012.  Again it involved a Scottish bank.

BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor interviewed the then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.  The BBC man read out questions that had been posed by members of the public.

One question related to the bailout of RBS and the Bank of Scotland by Westminster and how an independent Scotland might have coped.

Nicola Sturgeon explained that an independent Scotland may well have had in place an oil fund similar to Norway which would have allowed the banking fallout to be managed.  The SNP politician also pointed out that it was the jurisdictions within which banks operated that determined responsibility for losses incurred, and not the organisation’s HQ.  She cited the example of Fortis bank which operated across Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg and which was bailed out through the three countries cooperating.

Ms Sturgeon added that Scotland and England would have dealt with the collapse of RBS and the bank of Scotland in a similar co-operative manner.

She said:

“In the real world people come together to stabilise banks, so the BeNeLux countries for example came together to bailout Fortis bank.

The fact of the matter is RBS is a Scottish headquartered bank, about ninety per cent of its activity is in England.

Nat West is one of the biggest English banks.  RBS have money from the US Federal Reserve, from the European Central Bank from the Australian Central Bank.

In reality, Scotland and England would have worked together with Scotland paying its full way to stabilise RBS and the Bank of Scotland.”

“… We would have come together to work together on that.”

A rather informative answer to a reasonable enough question, Scotland and England would have worked together.  However the subsequent news report on BBC Scotland presented a rather different interpretation of the SNP MSP’s answer.

bbc bank

The BBC Scotland headline was flat out false – Sturgeon says an independent Scotland would have relied on UK for RBS bailout – it read.  But Sturgeon had said no such thing.

The BBC article began with the following sentence:

An independent Scotland would have relied on UK government cash to save Royal Bank of Scotland from collapse, the deputy first minister has said.

How BBC Scotland had interpreted Nicola Sturgeon’s words in the way it had, simply beggared belief.  Within hours of the story taking top spot on the corporation’s Scottish news website, BBC staff were fielding complaints.  For two full days nothing was done.  Then on Monday 12th March, by which time the story had disappeared from the main news page, BBC Scotland quietly removed the offending headline and edited the article to more accurately reflect the words of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

bbc bank1

There was no immediate acknowledgement of any error or subsequent correction.  But in response to furious complaints by members of the public, the BBC eventually admitted its initial claims were “inaccurate”.

A BBC official said:

“Thank you for your email regarding the Online report on Nicola Sturgeon’s webcast interview with Brian Taylor.

We agree that the original headline was not an accurate reflection of what the Deputy First Minister said in the interview.

The headline and relevant text of the story have been rewritten to take out references to ‘relied on’ and replaced with ‘worked with’ which is what Ms Sturgeon said in her interview.”

But how had such a blatant misrepresentation been allowed to be published, and remain unaltered, for fully two days?  Who had written the initial article and headline?  There was never any explanation given by BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland is a master at creating headlines and news stories from answers it obtains from interviews.  These are more often than not ‘challenging’ to the SNP.

Only last week an innocuous and very brief reply from Keith Brown to a question from Gary Robertson resulted in a very high-profile article on SNP plans for business rates post-Brexit.


keith brown ratesThe subsequent BBC Scotland headline diverted attention from SNP attacks over the UK Government’s lack of pro-Brexit economic planning.

Whenever you hear bulletins or see BBC Scotland headlines that are based on interviews, it’s always worth locating the actual interview to check whether the reporting is accurate.  It’s also worth looking around to see if the high-profile news piece is acting as a diversion for something that may prove uncomfortable for one or more of the Unionist parties..


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5 thoughts on “BBC Scotland: Making up headlines

  1. Graham

    Brilliant. It’s a disgrace that the BBC isn’t held to account for these egregious errors. We need a mechanism for publicly interrogating issues like this. They always fall back on the claim of “impartiality” but do the produce any evidence in support of that assertion?

  2. Mary McNeilly

    We will always get this type of BBC Corruption. As there Masters are Westminster. And Media Moguls. With the Lords in plain sight. When and if this Corruption is ever fully dealt with is of no relevance to them they are Serial Abusers of the Truth. SNP is only getting stronger more members. There Corruption will never be forgotten. TV Licence Holders in Scotland are on the Decline. As is Labour and Tory’s. Scotland holds all the Revenues. We will prevail.



    *except those that are not (how the BBC write headlines nowadays)

  4. millie

    A great article, and the continued scrutiny of the BBC by GA Ponsonby and the indyref2 site is much appreciated.

    I’d imagine that there will be a few headlines on Tuesday following tomorrow night’s ‘BBC Scotland investigates’- an hour long special on PFI buildings.

    I’d also imagine BBC Scotland will be on full ‘protection mode’ regarding the role of ‘Scottish’ Labour in imposing the scheme on councils – will Mr McConnell be mentioned?- And they will somehow try to associate the current Scottish government with the outrageous scheme.

    It is worth noting that while Scotland is watching ‘The Investigation’ at 7pm-

    The rest of the UK will be watching this-

    BBC Scotland often employs this tactic.

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