I’m going to start this article off with a short example of what I consider to be misreporting. On Tuesday morning I tuned into Good Morning Scotland and heard the following news bulletin.
If you listen to the clip above you’ll hear the presenter say that a Labour led splinter group has been “frozen out” of funding talks. The truth is that the four local authorities haven’t been ‘frozen out’ of anything. They voluntarily left the official negotiation group Cosla themselves. It’s a minor turn of phrase, but an important one when seeking to inform [or influence] the uninformed.
You can of course misreport by misquoting. Nine days before the independence referendum just such an example appeared on Reporting Scotland. In an item about currency presenter Jackie Bird told viewers that Bank of England chief Mark Carney has said a currency union would be “incompatible with an independent Scotland”.
The claim was false. Mark Carney had said something similar, but which had markedly different meaning. Below is a clip of Carney actually making the statement Jackie Bird misquoted.
What Mark Carney had said was that a currency union was incompatible with sovereignty. He made no mention of Scottish independence. Aren’t the two the same thing you might ask? Well no. Sovereignty is not the same as independence. The UK already cedes some sovereignty as a condition of being in the European Union [for now] – but it is still independent. Other EU members such as France and Germany cede a bit more as a condition of joining the single currency, but both are still independent.
Carney made a statement that was technically correct but was open to interpretation by a corrupt media. Perhaps fearful that viewers of Reporting Scotland would miss the interpretation they wanted to have placed on Carney’s words, someone at BBC Scotland completely misrepresented what Carney had actually said, replacing ‘sovereignty’ with ‘Scottish independence’.
In an extraordinary coincidence the issue of currency arose again this week … as did a misquoting issue. On Tuesday Professor Joe Stiglitz appeared on Good Morning Scotland. Nobel prize winning Stiglitz sits on the Scottish government’s board of economic advisors, as he did during the last independence referendum.
Professor Stiglitz has just published a new book on the euro and took the opportunity to plug it on GMS [why not]. In a lengthy, and it has to be said, interesting interview the respected academic was asked about the Scottish government’s policy of a currency union which was a key issue during the indyref campaign. Below is a very short clip of the moment in question.
Stiglitz, for reasons that are never fully explored, tells presenter Gary Robertson of the currency union policy “I think in hindsight that may have been a mistake”. He tells Robertson why the Scottish government pursued the policy and even appears to suggest it would have worked due to Scotland and England having similar economies.
BBC Scotland seized on the ‘mistake’ aspect of the comment and ran with it. However, rather than report accurately that Stiglitz had merely said it ‘may’ have been a mistake, the corporation dropped the word ‘may’ from its headlines and bulletins. According to BBC Scotland, Professor Stiglitz had said it was a mistake.
Below is a clip from that day’s lunchtime edition of Reporting Scotland.
By the time the tea time edition of Reporting Scotland aired, social media pressure had forced BBC Scotland to correct the misquoting of Professor Stiglitz both on air and online. Below is the Reporting Scotland intro that evening.
Why the original misquote was allowed to happen will never be known. What is known is that it appeared online and peppered the airwaves for hours until corrected. Well mostly corrected. The original misleading headline can still be seen on the BBC Scotland politics page even now.
BBC Scotland was prepared for Joe Stiglitz making a newsworthy comment on the currency. The academic had a book to promote and is no fool. He threw the pro-Union broadcaster a morsel by saying the currency union may have been a mistake.
BBC Scotland embellished the quote to suit a news narrative it had already planned. Resource had already been committed. This is clear from the over two and a half minute item that appeared on Reporting Scotland that evening.
BBC reporter Nick Eardley’s set-piece in front of the automatic bank teller machine and then standing in Buchanan Street. Old indyref footage woven into the piece and the expensive graphics are tell-tale signs of something that was pre-planned.
The day after the Stiglitz story, another interview was broadcast on Radio Scotland. Labour politicians aren’t usually pressed on issues when appearing on Good Morning Scotland. That changed however when Labour leadership contender Owen Smith made himself available for interview on Wednesday. Below are two short, but very newsworthy, clips from the interview.
Owen Smith reveals he would not try to oppose a second independence referendum. He also quite incredibly claims that key promises made by the pro-Union Better Together campaign during the independence referendum were contingent on Labour winning the 2015 UK election.
If Joe Stiglitz’ rather modest suggestion that, in hindsight a currency union may have been a mistake, was worthy of significant coverage on BBC Scotland then Owen Smith’s comments on indyref2 and the indyref1 broken pledges definitely were. Arguably even more so.
Initially BBC Scotland partially agreed. News bulletins carried Smith’s confirmation he would not oppose a second independence referendum. However there was no mention of the rather bizarre claim that pledges made by the official No campaign throughout indyref1 were only conditional on Labour winning the 2015 UK election.
Given the retrospective reporting that had accompanied the Joe Stiglitz comments, then Owen Smith’s ridiculous comments ought to have featured prominently as well. But they didn’t.
However as the day progressed it became evident that Owen Smith’s comments weren’t going to feature on Reporting Scotland at all. There was nothing on the Reporting Scotland lunchtime programme.
On BBC Scotland’s main online news page the story was slipping down the priority list. It disappeared altogether at around 5pm. Incredibly, a rather mundane story relating to a ministerial rule change by the First Minister [which BBC Scotland was describing as a U-turn] was considered more important.
By the time the tea time Reporting Scotland aired, there was no mention of Owen Smith’s comments whatsoever. The story was completely missing from Scotland’s most watched TV news programme. There was though an item on the aforementioned ‘U-turn’.
Reporting Scotland’s editor is Andrew Browne. He clearly listens to Good Morning Scotland and is aware when newsworthy interviews air. Below is a tweet from Mr Browne on the day Joe Stiglitz appeared on the show.
Mr Browne showed no similar interest in Owen Smith’s interview. All GMS interviews are newsworthy, but some are more newsworthy than others.
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