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.]