Below is the Ofcom response to a complaint submitted following the notorious ‘Broken Ankle Man’ news reports on BBC Scotland on January 9th this year. The complaint was pursued, not in expectation of success, but in expectation of failure.
By pursuing such complaints we can show the extent to which Ofcom will obfuscate, ignore and subjectively define in an attempt at finding a reason not to find the BBC guilty. In terms of investigating political output from BBC Scotland, Ofcom is actually worse than the Trust it replaced. It is a sham.
Minor notes have been made by Indyref2 and are shown in red.
Ofcom response – 18 June 2018
We are writing in response to your complaint about the reports on Accident and Emergency (“A&E”) waiting times in Scotland in the above news programmes. The reports featured Allan Browne who spoke about his personal experience of visiting A&E with an injured ankle over Christmas. In your view, the reports included quotes from Mr Browne which were inaccurate, misleading and politically motivated.
Your complaint to Ofcom referred to various news reports including the television news reports broadcast early morning (from 06:30 to 08:30) and to an unidentified radio broadcast on the same morning. Ofcom can only assess specific broadcast material which has been previously investigated by the BBC and therefore this response only concerns the news reports detailed above.
[The radio broadcast was central to the complaint, yet it has been disregarded. It’s easier to rule in favour of the BBC when you get to choose to ignore evidence of guilt.]
At the outset, we would like to make clear that, after carefully considering your complaint, Ofcom has found no grounds to pursue it further. We appreciate that this issue is important to you and that you have invested time and effort into this process, so we would like to explain our reasoning.
You complained that the reports included two allegations about Mr Browne’s experience in A&E which, in your view, were unsubstantiated and inaccurate:
1. Mr Browne was presented in the reports as an example of someone who had been affected by long waiting times in A&E over Christmas. This was inaccurate because he may have been a priority case, given the seriousness of his injury, and treated within four hours but he chose not to wait;
2. The early report at 06:30 said that Mr Allan was “told the wait would be more than eight hours and it [his ankle] probably wasn’t broken”. You were concerned that viewers were not told in the report that Mr Browne had received the estimated waiting time and diagnosis from “someone at reception” and not “a qualified health professional” and that “by omitting this crucial piece of information, viewers may well have been misled.”
3. You also complained that Mr Browne’s contribution should have been checked and he should not have been chosen to contribute on this issue by BBC Scotland because “he has an intolerant view of the SNP”. Therefore, in your view, the comments Mr Browne made about his A&E experience in this report were politically motivated and not impartial.
[There was a fourth item to the complaint. It has simply been ignored by Ofcom. The exact wording is reproduced below.]
We also learn that Browne waited two whole days after his slip before even going to A&E. In both TV clips viewers are told Browne first attended A&E on Boxing Day. However in the uncut audio clip Browne can be heard very clearly saying he slipped two days earlier on Christmas Eve.
On your first point regarding accuracy – your argument that Mr Browne chose to go home when he may well have been treated within four hours, given the seriousness of his injury – we considered the reports at 06:30, 13:30 and 18:30.
In Ofcom’s view, Mr Browne’s story was included in these reports as an example of a person “affected” by the long waiting times in A&E over Christmas even though he chose to go home rather than wait for treatment.
However, all of the reports made clear to viewers that it was Mr Browne’s decision to leave before his injury was assessed and this decision was based on the amount of time he was told he was likely to wait. For example, at 06:30 the presenter said “he decided to go home” and in the later reports at 13:30 and 18:30 the reporter said Mr Browne was “faced” with the eight hour wait so “hobbled home”.
In our view, viewers were likely to have understood that Mr Browne was “affected” only in so far as the expected long waiting time in A&E had deterred him from remaining at the hospital and pursuing treatment. In Ofcom’s view, Mr Browne’s inclusion in the report as an example of someone “affected” by long waiting times was therefore duly accurate.
[Ofcom is arguing that it was OK to present Browne as having been affected by long waits, not because he was, because he thought he’d be affected.]
Your second concern was that viewers were misled by the report’s omission of the fact that Mr Browne left hospital based on information given to him by a receptionist. In your view this omission would have led viewers “to draw a rather unfortunate conclusion” that Mr Browne had spoken to a qualified health professional rather than basing his decision on “a receptionist’s erroneous belief that Browne’s ankle wasn’t fractured”.
The fact that it was a receptionist who advised Mr Browne that his ankle “probably” wasn’t fractured was omitted from the 06:30 and 18:30 news reports but was included in the 13:30 report when Mr Browne referred to “the advice he had been originally given at reception” being wrong.
In Ofcom’s view the omission of the misdiagnosis coming from the hospital reception in the 06:30 and 18:30 reports would have been unlikely to have misled viewers. The 06:30 report said that Mr Browne was told of the wait and that “it [his ankle] probably wasn’t broken”.
We acknowledge that the report did not state where Mr Browne had received this information from. However, we considered that viewers were likely to have understood from the report that Mr Browne had “decided to go home” without seeking medical treatment on the basis of the waiting time.
The viewers’ understanding was therefore likely to have been that any information about the condition of his ankle, ahead of medical treatment, could not have come from a medical professional. For this reason, we considered the omission of the precise source of the misdiagnosis of his ankle in the 06:30 and 18:30 reports was unlikely to have misled viewers.
[Most people only watch the 1830 edition. Why, if they aren’t told, would they be likely to believe a receptionist provided Browne with his misdiagnosis? There is simply no logic to this reasoning.]
On the issue of whether the reports lacked due impartiality because of Mr Browne’s political motivations, Ofcom can find no evidence to support this assertion. Mr Browne’s contribution concerned his experience and the consequences of him choosing not to wait for treatment based on the guidance he had been given about waiting times. Mr Browne gave a factual account of his experience which included no direct criticism of the NHS or the SNP which could be identified as being of a politically motivated nature.
[Below is the radio broadcast Ofcom refused to consider. You can hear Browne very clearly attacking the government.]
His selection as a contributor was an editorial decision made by the Reporting Scotland production team. Ofcom is clear that the editorial agenda of a programme, and its selection of contributors, is a matter for the broadcaster. Therefore Ofcom does not consider the inclusion of his contribution in itself put at risk the due impartiality of the programme.
Ofcom also considered that, taking the reports as a whole, viewers were likely to have understood, by the other interviews with medical staff and Shona Robinson MSP, the very specific reasons for the unprecedented delays over the holiday period. These included issues relating to blockages in other parts of the hospital causing delays in A&E. Indeed, the fact that Mr Browne explained that he went back to the hospital a week later and was seen within three and a half hours reinforced Shona Robinson’s comments that the problems in A&E achieving its targets were unparalleled and specific to the holiday period.
[Browne was treated within the four hour target time when he decided to wait. He may well have been treated within the four hour target time had he waited on his first visit, especially given a scan would have highlighted a fracture and he would have been prioritised. Instead he walked out after talking to a receptionist and subsequently appeared on national news complaining he’d suffered a delay in treatment.]
Ofcom is therefore satisfied that due impartiality and due accuracy were preserved during these news reports.