Last week witnessed the latest in what Pacific Quay euphemistically calls ‘A BBC Scotland Investigation’ when a Freedom of Information request revealed figures relating to call handling by Police Scotland.
The figures appeared impressive, showing only 82 so-called ‘near misses’ in just under two million calls. It was an average of only one ‘near miss’ in 22,500.
But that wasn’t how BBC Scotland chose to present the figures.
Below is the first sentence of the BBC Scotland online article published on Friday morning.
A BBC investigation has revealed a catalogue of errors in emergency call handling by Police Scotland.
Leaving aside the description of Freedom of Information requests as ‘an investigation’, the phrase that jumps out is ‘catalogue of errors’.
The other thing that jumps out is the word ‘emergency’.
Indeed the article headline made clear that the story was all about emergency calls.
The BBC was inviting the public to infer that emergency call handling at Police Scotland is chaotic, out of control, perhaps ominously unreliable. It was as subtle as a sledgehammer.
But there was another angle BBC Scotland was trying to work in. Below is another sentence from the online article.
The logging of “near misses” follows Police Scotland’s failure to act on a 999 call about a crash on the M9 last year which resulted in the deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill.
Not content with painting emergency call handling as out of control with calls being ‘mishandled’, someone at Pacific Quay was desperate to embellish the story by conflating it with another – the M9 tragedy.
Indeed the M9 tragedy soon became the focal point of the BBC’s reporting. Below is the first mention of the ‘emergency call investigation’ on Radio Scotland’s flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland.
Good Morning Scotland presenter Hayley Millar tells listeners that the M9 tragedy followed an emergency 999 call to Police Scotland. Her claim is followed by a lengthy piece by colleague Peter Strachan delivered in typical melodramatic fashion.
The 999 claim was repeated by reporter Lucy Adams who was responsible for sending the Freedom of Information requests on which the carefully manipulated ‘news’ story was built.
It’s clear that a great deal of planning and resource had gone into the presentation of the emergency call ‘investigation’. Someone had very clearly saw an opportunity to link it to the M9 tragedy, thus spicing up a mundane ‘numbers’ story with a human tragedy angle. It was simple embellishment.
There was one flaw in the carefully planned ruse. There was never any 999 call made in the M9 tragedy.
A call had indeed been made to the police three days before officers discovered the car on the M9. But it wasn’t an emergency 999 call. A 101 call by a passer-by had reported that a car had left the road. The non-emergency call was fielded by an officer who had omitted to record it in the police system.
Last Friday morning myself and others on social media began tweeting corrections to BBC Scotland’s claims.
What was BBC Scotland to do? It was already off and running and was linking the M9 tragedy to its ’emergency call investigation’ in news bulletins. Its online article, which was the number one story, contained the same erroneous claim. According to others on twitter, the false 999 claim was being repeated on the breakfast editions of Reporting Scotland. It was everywhere.
As anger built on social media, BBC Scotland simply altered the thrust of its coverage of the ‘investigation’. The word ‘Emergency’ was dropped from the online article headline and replaced with the word ‘Police’.
The article itself was edited to remove the word ’emergency’ from the opening sentence and to correct the claim that the M9 tragedy had followed a 999 call. Now included in the ‘investigation’ was 101 calls. You can see the alterations in the image below.
Good Morning Scotland began changing its bulletins. Gone was any mention of 999 calls when referring to the M9 tragedy. The story now included non-emergency included 101 calls.
The broadcaster was now reporting correctly that it was in fact a 101 call that had been received in the M9 tragedy. By the time Reporting Scotland aired that evening the story had been repackaged to include 101 calls. It was no longer exclusively about emergency calls. It had to include non-emergency calls, else the M9 tragedy, which was already a major part of the BBC’s presentation, could not be included.
BBC Scotland’s top news story that day was being systematically manipulated before our eyes in order to suit a pre-conceived agenda. It was quite incredible to witness.
So what happened here? My guess is that Lucy Adams was simply doing as instructed by a superior. Adams is genuine journalist. She has never given the appearance of someone who would push an agenda.
She was probably ordered to fire off Freedom of Information requests in the hope that something would turn up. When the results were received it was decided to use them in order to resurrect a tragedy that had witnessed considerable pressure being exerted onto Police Scotland. That pressure had ended with the resignation of Stephen House, which in turn was used to undermine the competence of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership which was in its infancy back in August 2015.
Indeed I wrote this at the time:
I suspect what we are witnessing is the creation of what will be presented to the public as Nicola Sturgeon’s first crisis. The First Minister has had a phenomenal first few months as leader of her party and head of the Scottish Government. She survived the memogate smear which was intended to derail the SNP’s general election campaign. A bid by Buckingham Palace to undermine her also failed. Unionists have struggled to find a weakness in Alex Salmond’s successor.
The Holyrood recess ends on August 30th. The next First Minister’s Questions is scheduled for September 3rd. Do not be surprised to see Police Scotland wielded by Scottish Labour and its Unionist allies as they try to dent Sturgeon’s popularity.
The idiot[s] who dreamt up the idea of conflating the M9 tragedy with a story about emergency call handling hadn’t realised that there was no emergency call involved in the M9 tragedy. But it isn’t surprising if they actually believed there had been. The BBC has repeatedly sought to imply that the M9 crash was reported to police via an emergency 999 call.
Back in August 2015, Reporting Scotland ran the following new item.
The reason for the item back in August was apparently comments from M9 victim Lamara Bell’s brother who was responding to the allegations from a “whistleblower” that 999 calls weren’t being addressed.
We can’t know whether the gentleman whose sister went through an appalling experience before losing her fight for life gave his comment after being prompted to do so by the BBC, or whether he volunteered his response independent of the BBC. What we do know is that BBC Scotland managed to headline unconfirmed allegations from an unnamed individual over an emergency call system that had nothing to do with the M9 tragedy.
So successful was the BBC’s misleading coverage of the M9 tragedy, that professional journalists were to repeat the 999 lie when appearing on the BBC. Below is a short clip of regular BBC pundit Kevin McKenna speaking on Radio Scotland last year.
Now over a year later the misinformation appears to have duped BBC Scotland itself. It has unwittingly become a victim of its own political propaganda. The sad thing is that very many more members of the public will also have been duped.
Last week began with BBC Scotland failing to provide any coverage of Nicola Sturgeon’s historic trip to Ireland on the first day of the visit. The excuse given by the bad joke of a station was technical problems.
The week ended with the broadcaster making yet more false claims in news bulletins. Claims that can only have been intended to paint a Scottish institution in a bad light.
BBC Scotland’s news and current affairs department is dysfunctional. Pacific Quay answers to nobody in Scotland. Justifiable criticisms are either ignored or arrogantly dismissed. It acts with complete impunity.
Only this weekend I learned that the broadcaster has refused to issue a correction or apology after erroneous claims were made in several news bulletins relating to pre-indyref shipbuilding pledges made by the UK government.
Management at Pacific Quay know full well they can do as they please. Nobody in Scotland can call them to account.
This is a licence to create fake news. To manipulate the answers to Freedom of Information [FoI] requests. To present those FoI requests as ‘investigations’ when they are little more than fishing expeditions.
How much it costs the public purse to address these demands for information is anyone’s guess.
The irony is that asking the BBC how many such requests it submits will be met with a refusal. The one institution in Scotland that requires investigation is the one that we aren’t allowed to investigate.
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