Several years ago when I was still part of the Newsnet Scotland team I exposed an appalling example of video manipulation by the editors of Reporting Scotland.
On November 24th 2010, a debate took place in the Holyrood chamber after tax powers had been allowed to lapse. Finance Secretary John Swinney had been forced to issue an apology over his failure to properly inform the Parliament of the situation.
That evening Reporting Scotland ran a news item in which they showed a clip from the debate. The video showed First Minister Alex Salmond apparently shaking his head in a mocking fashion following a parliamentary statement by Swinney. Salmond appeared to be gently mocking his own Finance Secretary.
In the clip shown on Reporting Scotland, the camera initially focused on the Finance Secretary who said:
“I express my regret to parliament that in retrospect I clearly did not get all those judgements correct.”
The video then cut away to Mr Salmond who was shown shaking his head in an almost flippant manner whilst feigning a nonchalant ‘ooohhh’ in mock fear. The camera then cut back to an apparently forlorn looking Finance Secretary. To most casual viewers it appeared as though the First Minister hadn’t treated the apology seriously.
It was a very odd thing for Alex Salmond to have done. So much so that a Newsnet Scotland researcher reviewed the session on the Scottish Parliament’s own official video. In the official unedited video it showed Mr Salmond sitting in respectful silence as John Swinney read out his statement – there was no shaking of the head, no casual mockery.
Where did the BBC obtain the clip of the First Minister shaking his head and who had he been mocking?
The researcher discovered the head shaking moment had taken place, not when Swinney had been speaking, but during another part of the session.
The First Minister had in fact been responding to a verbal tirade launched against him by Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott. It was Scott’s rant and not Swinney’s statement Alex Salmond had been mocking.
BBC Scotland had cut the clip of Salmond and inserted it into their recording of John Swinney and broadcast the edited footage as a single continuous sequence, giving a totally misleading version of events. Only by viewing the actual footage supplied by Holyrood cameras was the chicanery of the BBC exposed and a quite blatant example of video manipulation laid bare.
I was reminded of the episode this week when Reporting Scotland covered confirmation that the new Forth Crossing won’t open as planned in December this year. Adverse weather has hit construction of the replacement bridge and led to the opening date being pushed back until May 2017.
Below is how Reporting Scotland covered the story.
It was a story. Indeed it was a national story. It was also a bit of a blow to the SNP given the party had touted December 2016 as the opening date. But as is always the case with the political news reporting from BBC Scotland, all was not quite as it was being presented.
The first thing to note from the Reporting Scotland item is the clip of Keith Brown giving his statement. The segment is shown in isolation below.
Keith Brown is shown informing the Holyrood chamber that due to adverse weather conditions, the target opening date of December 2016 cannot now be made. So that’s clear then? Well not quite. Have a look at Brown’s statement as it was broadcast by the official Holyrood TV channel.
The statement takes on a completely different nuance. Brown did indeed inform the chamber that adverse weather meant the December 2016 target was not now achievable. However MSPs were also informed that up until May this year the December date was still thought possible. Moreover, the minister also confirmed that, whilst the target date of December was not now achievable, that the contractual date of June 2017 would still be met.
BBC Scotland had very deliberately omitted key sections of Brown’s statement from its TV news broadcast. In fact the corporation failed to include these important passages from the statement in any of its broadcasts, TV or radio.
But why leave them out?
Let’s return to the full Reporting Scotland item. Below is how Jackie Bird introduced the story:
“Delayed due to bad weather, the new Forth bridge falls six months behind schedule and won’t open til next May”
This statement is technically incorrect. Whilst the December target date will be missed, the official scheduled date will be met. This is because the official contract date has always been June 2017.
A December opening date would in fact have seen the bridge open ahead of schedule. In March this year the Sunday Post revealed that the consortium had received an incentive to complete the bridge ahead of schedule.
In an article headlined ‘Big bucks are on offer to finish Forth bridge early’ the newspaper reported:
“Sources close to the project claim a deal has been struck to incentivise the construction consortium carrying out the work to complete it by the end of this year.
“Project chiefs last week admitted to MSPs there was still a ‘large amount of work to be done’ but said they were confident of hitting their target.”
So the target date and the official scheduled date were not the same. The bridge opening was being delayed, but with respect to the early target date, not the contractual scheduled date. If we are being absolutely accurate then the bridge is still on schedule.
It’s this distinction that BBC Scotland not only failed to make, but actively sought to conceal. Had the broadcaster not truncated Keith Brown’s statement, then viewers would have been made aware of the contractual opening date. Some may even have questioned the narrative being pushed by the broadcaster that the new crossing was behind schedule.
But there was an even more insidious attempt by BBC Scotland to deceive viewers. Let’s look again at the Reporting Scotland item. The reporter, in her commentary, includes what appears to be a throwaway line when she says “The SNP manifesto for the Scottish election said the Queensferry Crossing was on time and under budget, with an opening date of December 2016.”
This statement is true. The SNP manifesto did indeed contain these words. They formed a caption under a photograph of the new crossing. They were included in the manifesto because, at the time of publication, they were true. So why include mention of the manifesto in a TV news report unless to suggest impropriety on the part of the SNP?
Mention of manifestos after elections is usually in relation to pledges that haven’t been honoured. The implication is that the party of government has gone back on a promise.
By including mention of the SNP manifesto in the bridge delay story, BBC Scotland invited the viewer to conclude that the SNP had engaged in a pre-election deceit of the electorate. That Nicola Sturgeon’s government had already known that the bridge would not be ready by December.
It’s in this context that the other missing section from Keith Brown’s statement should be viewed. Look at it again. In the section BBC Scotland failed to broadcast, Brown states “Until May, FCBC believed that they could mitigate these effects – however …”
It’s clear that the consortium believed that the December target date could still be met. This was conveyed to the Scottish government. BBC Scotland knew this full well but constructed its news coverage in a manner that led to the removal of this relevant information.
The delay to the Queensferry crossing wasn’t a huge story in the way that the recent crack to the old bridge was. Despite featuring on Good Morning Scotland news bulletins the following day, the story eventually petered out.
It has though highlighted once again the tendency for news gatherers at Pacific Quay to construct political news coverage in a manner that maximises damage to the SNP. Negatives will be squeezed out of stories for all they are worth. Positives, or mitigating factors, will be suppressed.
Do not take BBC Scotland political coverage at face value. This beast hasn’t changed since the referendum. It still reeks of Unionism.
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