Reporters at BBC Scotland do not habitually call the Scottish government the ‘SNP government’ whenever reporting on controversial policies, an official has claimed.
In a response to a recent complaint, the Editor of Radio News also insisted there is nothing wrong with using the term because ‘SNP ministers’ [sic] also use it.
The response follows a complaint submitted to the BBC after a BBC Scotland presenter used ‘SNP government’ instead of ‘Scottish government’ when discussing the recent P1 assessments controversy.
Near the end of the exchange, Gordon Brewer said: “His [John Swinney] education bill was withdrawn right at the very end of the last parliamentary term, and this is supposed to be the SNP government’s flagship policy.”
In a statement, the BBC official said: “You think that a reference to ‘the SNP government’s flagship policy’ is indicative of a habit of using the SNP reference where matters are controversial, in a way which offers ‘an opportunity of attack by opponents of the SNP’. You regard this ‘habit’ as being ‘pervasive on BBC Scotland’.
“I cannot share that opinion because there is nothing to suggest that it is in any way true.”
The broadcaster also claimed that because Scottish government ministers themselves ocassionally use the term ‘SNP government’ then the practice wasn’t controversial.
The BBC official added: “Even SNP ministers refer to “the SNP Government” (for example, Fergus Ewing MSP, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, told Radio Scotland on 20th March, “The SNP Government believes that our place is best served in Europe”). People, whether journalists or not, may describe the government of the United Kingdom as “The UK Government” or “The Tory Government”.
“There is no material difference between different uses of such nomenclature, and no demonstrable case for arguing that there is.”
However Indyref2 has uncovered clear evidence suggesting BBC Scotland reporters reserve use of the term for controversial issues and do not use the term when covering stories that reflect well on the Scottish government. It is also almost unheard of for BBC Scotland to use the term ‘Tory government’ when referring to the current UK government.
There are examples of BBC Scotland reporters referring to the ‘SNP government’ in sentences that included references to the UK government and the Labour controlled Welsh government.
On the March 4th edition of Reporting Scotland an item covering the so-called ‘Continuity Bill’ heard the reporter refer to “SNP Ministers” instead of the technically accurate “Scottish Government Ministers”. There then followed an attack on the Scottish government by Ruth Davidson on the issue.
This habit amongst reporters and presenters of using the term ‘SNP Ministers’ or ‘SNP Government’ on issues deemed controversial and that offer an opportunity of attack by opponents of the SNP, is one that is pervasive on BBC Scotland. It has been adopted in stories related to Police Scotland, Income tax changes and the OBFA.
Responding to the BBC’s rejection of the complaint, the complainant said: “BBC Scotland reporters regularly describe the Scottish government as the SNP government, but only when covering stories the party is under attack on.
“If the issue is controversial then there’s a good chance the politically loaded term will be used.
“There is no such pattern of behaviour when it comes to the Tory led UK government. Listen to BBC Scotland news and you’ll never hear Theresa May’s administration being referred to as the Tory government.
“There is no need to use the term SNP government in place of Scottish government unless you wish to highlight the party political nature of the story.”
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