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Examining a BBC Scotland complaint – Towards Indyref2…

Examining a BBC Scotland complaint

Below is a complaint lodged with the BBC relating to news coverage on Reporting Scotland.  Included is the response from the editor of Reporting Scotland.  The complainant has added his own comments [shown in red] to that response.

Full Complaint to the BBC:
On Wednesday October 18th it emerged the Type 31e frigates pledged to the Clydeside yards would almost certainly not in fact be coming after all. [Details here: http://indyref2.scot/better-together-trade-union-chief-not-happy-after-indy-frigates-pledge-broken]

The pledge was given by then Prime Minister David Cameron on November 23rd 2015.

The pledge was repeated by Scottish Conservative Ruth Davidson during the 2016 Holyrood election campaign.

The story, which had broken two days earlier, was eventually covered by Reporting Scotland in all three of its editions on Friday October 20th.

All three news reports failed to mention either David Cameron’s pledge from 2015 or Ruth Davidson’s repeat of the pledge in 2016. Given video clips were clearly available and BBC Scotland had ample time to locate them, I have to question why neither was used?

Indeed why was there no mention whatsoever of these promises by the former Prime Minister and the current Scottish Conservative leader when they were obviously key to the thrust of the whole story?

Response from Reporting Scotland editor:
You raise a number of points with which I deal in turn. You first draw attention to the timing of our coverage. You may have missed our treatment of the original story on 6th September, when the then Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, announced that, as part of that day’s National Shipbuilding Strategy launch, five Type 31e frigates could be built and assembled across several UK shipyards. The shipbuilding unions accused the MOD of reneging on a promise to build five new frigates on the Clyde. Coverage lasted from 0600 till midnight and included interviews and packages across all platforms. It was the sort of comprehensive reporting you would expect for a news story such as this.

[The item from September 6th may well have been comprehensive.  Alas my complaint is not about a news report from September 6th.]

The news on 18th October was of an arrangement in line with the National Shipbuilding Strategy which produced an agreement between two companies to bid for the contract and that was merely a natural development of the big story of 6th September.

[The news from 18th October was absolutely not a natural development of the September 6th story.  The news from 18th October was that Cammell Laird and not BAE systems would take the lead in a joint bid.  This meant that Merseyside and not the Clyde would almost certainly ‘Prime, build and assemble’ the Type 31e vessels.  This was an unexpected development, not a natural development.]

The spotlight fell on the issue again on 20th October, with the visit by Sir Michael to BAE Systems’ Scotstoun yard on the occasion of the naming of an offshore patrol vessel by Lady Fallon.

[The spotlight did not fall on the issue on 20th October.  The spotlight fell on the issue two days earlier on October 18th.  The Reporting Scotland spotlight fell on the issue two days later because Michael Fallon visited Scotstoun.  Why it took two days for Reporting Scotland to cover the story is unclear.]

This yet again raised the profile of the story and received wide coverage across all platforms, with most radio bulletins reporting the story from 0600 hours till midnight, an interview with our business correspondent David Henderson on Newsdrive on Radio Scotland, plus his reports on the lunchtime, teatime and late evening editions of Reporting Scotland, including interviews with Sir Michael and with Duncan McPhee of the Unite union. All six morning bulletins between 0630 and 0900 hours carried this story, and there was comprehensive online coverage as well.

[The complaint does not refer to the amount of coverage across BBC Scotland platforms.  The complaint refers very specifically to the refusal of Reporting Scotland to highlight very relevant comments made by David Cameron and Ruth Davidson.]

You kindly include links to three YouTube sites and one website/blog called Indyref2. You mention a “pledge” by the then Prime Minister in November 2015. I am not sure what you mean by that.

[What it means is that the UK Prime Minister gave a commitment in response to a question from Angus Robertson. The commitment was that Scotland not only could build another five Type 31e frigates but probably more. That the only way these ships wouldn’t be built in Scotland was if Scotland was independent. Given Scotland very clearly is not independent then the ships will be built there.  That said, it is surely for the viewing public to decide whether David Cameron’s words amounted to a pledge or not.]

David Cameron told MPs in your linked sequence “Scotland now has the opportunity to build more than thirteen frigates because of the changes that we are making – so there’ll be eight of the Type 26s and at least another five of the new type of frigate, probably more, and they can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right.”

[You have truncated Cameron’s statement to remove his reference to independence being the only way the ships won’t be built in Scotland.]

It would be difficult to say that that was a “pledge”. Any journalist considering the repeating of such information, as you suggest we should have done, would take that into account.

[You don’t have to call it a pledge. You do though have to acknowledge it is very clearly relevant to the news that broke on October 18th and should have been included in the Reporting Scotland item.  I repeat, it is surely for the viewing public to decide whether David Cameron’s words amounted to a pledge or not.]

Your reference to Ruth Davidson and what she said does not unfortunately contain enough information about date and context to allow me to comment.

[Davidson very clearly states there has been no change to the orders that were set out in the “Strategic Defence Review and Security review in November last year”.  Davidson spells out numbers very clearly, saying “that means all eight type 26 anti-submarine frigates that are coming, plus the light frigate order [type 31e] on top of that and the two offshore patrol vehicles, they’re coming to the Clyde as discussed last year to the same timetable and to the same number.”  Davidson made this comment in the middle of the Holyrood election campaign.  BBC Scotland broadcast her statement and covered the issue in an online article.  To say there isn’t enough information about date and context is risible.]

The recent stories about warship building in the UK have to be seen against the backdrop of, amongst others, the Strategic Defence and Security Review (November 2015), the Independent Report by Sir John Parker to inform the National Shipbuilding Strategy (November 2016) and the National Shipbuilding Strategy itself (September 2017). Each of these developments has produced strong political, industrial and military arguments for and against and the BBC has been at the forefront of reporting and explaining these.

[This is an assertion.  It is also completely irrelevant to the complaint.]


Response from the BBC Executive Complaints Unit on December 21 2017

I am writing to let you know the outcome of the Executive Complaints Unit’s investigation into the concerns you raised about the three editions of Reporting Scotland which were broadcast on 20 October 2017. I have watched all three bulletins and considered your complaint in light of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy and Impartiality1.

I have understood you to say each edition of the programme was materially inaccurate and misleading because “All three news reports failed to mention either David Cameron’s pledge from 2015 or Ruth Davidson’s repeat of the pledge in 2016… when they were obviously key to the thrust of the whole story”. I therefore considered the subject and nature of the three reports and the requirements for due accuracy and due impartiality as set out in the Editorial Guidelines.

As you will recall, the news event to which all three reports were pegged was the official naming of HMS Medway, a vessel built by BAE Systems at its shipyard in Scotstoun. The reporter, David Henderson, made specific reference to union concerns about the absence of future guaranteed contracts of work for the yard (beyond those already signed), following the announcement two days previously by Cammell Laird and BAE Systems that they intended to make a joint bid in the tender process to build the Royal Navy’s Type 31 general purpose frigate2. The impact of this decision is that much of the work is unlikely to be carried out in Scotland, if the two companies were to be awarded the contract.

I appreciate you think the reports should have included previous comments from David Cameron and Ruth Davidson about Royal Navy contracts but I don’t agree this was necessary or that their comments were “key to the thrust of the whole story” as you have asserted.

The reports reflected union concerns the UK shipbuilding industry was threatened by the Government’s plans to run a competitive tendering process for the new Type 31 frigates and included a contribution from the then Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, explaining why he considered the industry had a positive future. Viewers would have heard both sides of the debate and understood the arguments put forward by both sides. There was no requirement in a news report of this kind to provide the kind of historic context you have suggested and I do not believe viewers would have been misled by its omission.

I accept the Government’s decision to put warship building out to competitive tendering, as announced in September 2017, could have an impact on BAE Systems’ ability to secure future contracts and this could affect the future of shipbuilding in Scotland. However, I don’t believe there is a requirement to cover every aspect of a developing news story or to mention all previous related elements in a daily news bulletin; the omission of previous developments did not result in a lack of due accuracy or due impartiality.

This will be the BBC’s final finding on your complaint unless there are reasons to modify or amend it in light of any comments you may wish to make. If you do wish to respond to this finding, I would be grateful if you could send your comments to me by 10 January. Alternatively, if you wish to pursue the matter further, it is open to you to ask the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, to consider your complaint.

[A further response from the complainant will be drafted and forwarded to Ofcom.  Both the draft and any response from Ofcom will be published here.]

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20 thoughts on “Examining a BBC Scotland complaint

  1. Eoin Hunter

    The news editor must think that Scots are easily dissuaded. He comes across in an arrogant and dismissive manner which mirrors his controllers at Westminster. I believe RT is less influenced by Putin than BBC is by May.

  2. Arthur Martin

    Based on this article it is a fruitless pursuit making complaints to the BBC. When the campaign for a second Independence Referendum is launched we must find a way to get this information out to as many people as possible and hope that they listen.
    The majority of people shy away from politics and any opinions they hold are based on what the BBC is telling them and what is written in the papers they buy. I personally know people like this and despair at their refusal to look beyond the MSM for their news.
    My faith is in the drive and energy provided by the grass roots Yes movements to push us over the line. We came so close in 2014 and so much has changed since. I’m hoping that when the details of Brexit become known, and at the moment the stalled talks are a symptom of an inevitable forthcoming hard Brexit, Nicola and the SNP will act on their mandate and immediately call for a second Independence Referendum.
    The BBC will be ready to bury us again like they did before. I hope the soft NO voters will have the courage to listen to the argument for an Indy Scotland and act accordingly. Brexit has given us a golden opportunity, we won’t get too many others as good as this.

    1. SandyW

      Not just based on this article, Arthur. There’s plenty of evidence that making complaints to the BBC is a fruitless pursuit. Hopefully, once the next Independence referendum campaigning gets underway, there will be a widespread campaign of licence non-payment and we’ll have plenty more people highlighting to those soft No voters just how biased the BBC is.

    2. Mike

      Complaining to the BBC will never bear fruit however, for public record and nuisance value they should still be made. The above reply must’ve forced him to take time out of his busy schedule of trashing Scotland.

  3. alasdairB

    Dictat by Autocue…..
    Pacific Quay is running low on integrity & has been for years. The ultimate irony being management act as both Judge & Jury and we continue to foot the bill . An impaired style of reporting which relies on omission, innuendo and an increasing amount of FOI requests. A state broadcaster more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy .

  4. Stoker

    The BBC exposed yet again for the discredited frauds that they are.
    Excellent forensic coverage by you as per usual.
    Thank you!

  5. john mccrae

    bbc scotlands news and politics programmes are not fit for purpose
    the one redeeming fact is that more and more scots are now seeing
    through their anti scottish government propaganda .
    there is an increasing number of scots who would not have previously
    complained about their bias are now.
    pacific quay needs cleaned out

  6. Graham Fordyce

    I used to strongly believe that the only successful nationalised industries in the UK were the Royal Family and the BBC. I’ve changed my opinion since 2014: substitute ‘manipulative’ for ‘successful’.

  7. Robert Graham

    We know they are taking the piss

    They know they are taking the piss

    We know ,they know ,we know ,they are taking the piss.

    And they dont give a monkeys , they dont care as long as this union is protected .

    I hope that was not too Donald Rumsfeld speak , it probably makes as much sense as the bbc complaints hurdles you have to navigate in order to receive one of their stock replies that usually never address the actual complaint made .

    A bit like having a conversation with an answering machine a pointless exercise .

      1. Robert Graham

        Agreed it’s amazing how many believe the VOW was delivered , i cant believe how little a lot of folk know of whats really going on , its baffling .

        1. Clydebuilt

          After WW1 folk knew they had been shafted, some went to night school to learn about politics.
          Our rulers response, soap operas football and alcohol.
          They are rubbing their hands at the prospect of Virtuality Reality headsets etc.

  8. Clive Scott

    I long for the day when SNP MP’s and MSP’s play the man/woman when facing BBC interviewers and get on the front foot. Reacting to whatever idiotic line of questioning with a reasoned answer and being immediately interrupted is hopeless. Surely much better to start out with something along the lines of “Well, as a shameless Britnat propagandist asking such a baseless and idiotic question is only to be expected but the facts of the matter, which of course you have not the slightest interest in hearing, are as follows….

    and be prepared to keep going whatever interruptions. It won’t win over any hard unionists but they are a lost cause. It will enthuse the 45% to keep on going to win over the 10% that’s needed.

  9. Hugh Farrell


    Best way to handle the BBC is to do as I did before the referendum, cancel your licence and tell them that they are free to continue broadcasting anti Sottish bias and bile but you won’t be funding it.

  10. Carol Smith

    I don’t have a tv licence. I don’t need one. I can still get all the news without paying the tax. Entertainment comes in the form of Netflix etc. Dead easy.

  11. Kate

    Three years BBC free and feeling great! 😉 Seriously, I threw my license in the bin because I was not prepared to keep paying for all the nonsensical political game playing they supported and the biased propaganda they pushed.

    I am not prepared to pay a License Fee to pay the likes of Marr & Neil huge salaries to push their notion of what constitutes ‘holding to account’ – when that accounting is ONLY for the parties they don’t recognise as being legitimately voted in. The BBC news is another sham. They don’t report news, but simply push their own opinions to make it seem fact. When the need arises, they openly lie to support their opinions and when caught out, they don’t even have the moral compass to own up and apologise. Rather they prefer to brazen it out with more lies.

    Why would I pay for lies, deceit and pure propaganda. Answer: I won’t – I don’t. And it couldn’t have been easier to shut off this family’s money stream and cancel that BBC direct debit. Best thing I ever did…

  12. Steve Callaghan

    Would it make any difference if the complaint was delivered backed by signatories in agreement? Gather signatures before sending?
    Could that make ‘news’ in itself if a couple of thousand sign a complaint?

  13. liz

    BBC Scotland never admit to any wrong doing.

    As has been mentioned above they reply to ‘complaints’ not raised.

    They avoid the actual complaint.

    I once had a complaint I made dismissed because the ‘reporter’ was just explaining what the Labour politician meant to say????????

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