A pilot project is currently underway with the aim of monitoring BBC Scotland political output. A key part of this project will be analysing political items broadcast by the flagship news programme Reporting Scotland.
Below is an example of how this analysis might look. The analysis has been provided by a freelance journalist who has been commissioned by the project team. The journalist has analysed one full week’s political output between Monday July 31st and Friday August 4th.
The analysis is accompanied by the political items broadcast that evening on Reporting Scotland. This analysis is just one strand of the monitoring project. It is a ‘work in progress’ and thus your comments would be greatly appreciated by the monitoring team.
Monday, 31 July 2017 | NHS Staffing | Benefits Cap
In a report by Shelley Jofre, headlined negatively by Sally McNair as a report on staff shortages in the NHS “compromising patient care,” the Royal College of Nursing’s consultation – Safe and Effective Staffing in Health and Social Care – was described as the “latest in a series of warnings over staffing issues in Scotland’s health service.” Relying entirely on this one report, without any attempt at further analysis of the findings, given the expected issues and pressures arising from the nature of health care, Jofre went on to present these findings in a singularly distorted fashion.
Despite two thirds of respondents not raising any concerns over the number of registered nurses the BBC report focused exclusively on the response of the one third that did. The same was true in the case of the quarter who spoke of the lack of support workers, the “nearly” half concerned over the mix of skills, and the third who indicated the presence of agency staff – as though this was a failing – on their last shift, when the majority had no such concerns.
Under the present Scottish government the staffing numbers in the NHS had risen by the end of 2015 to a record high. Shona Robinson, the Secretary for Health, who confirmed recently that agency staff accounted for a mere 2 per cent of Scotland’s NHS cost, has stated: “the overall rate of nursing vacancies and spending on agency nurses are lower today than when we came to office.” This Reporting Scotland item ignores these facts completely.
What we are presented with, which again reflects the BBC’s over-reliance on reports and surveys, is a profoundly negative reading of statistics masquerading as news. In marked contrast to the reference to the London government in the following segment, where it is called the “UK government,” Ms Jofre unnecessarily and gratuitously quotes the Scottish Labour Party’s reaction that the “SNP government is presiding over an NHS workforce crisis.” By linking the term “SNP government” as opposed to simply the Scottish government with the negative politicking language of “warning” and “crisis” this BBC report takes a clear anti-SNP stance.
Regardless of the silence of Scottish Labour on the benefits cap in its 2017 manifesto, Labour and not the SNP – which centrepieced its fight against the cap and austerity in general in its manifesto – was showcased by Reporting Scotland in Andrew Black’s report on “Scottish ministers” and Labour taking the UK government to task on the issue. In this segment, on a subject with massive popular support in Scotland, the mere mention of the SNP – the party of the “Scottish ministers” – was wholly expunged so as to keep Labour in the limelight.
The benefits cap introduced in November 2016; reducing couples and single parent families to £348.62 and single adults to £257.69 per week, was imposed on Scotland by the Conservative Westminster government. Yet the BBC did not feel it necessary to interview a single Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP. The reason for this omission, it must be assumed, was to present the unionist parties in the best possible light in what is a pro-active and positive story – while all but obliterating the Scottish National Party from the frame.
Furthermore, nothing was made of the fact the Scotland Office declined to make comment on what was a joint SNP and Labour challenge to the British government. Nothing was made of the Scotland Office’s refusal to answer questions, as can be surmised from the report’s agenda of censoring the SNP, because this would of course put negative attention on the Conservative side of the Scottish unionist equation; thus undermining the explicit effort to bolster the image of the other.
Tuesday, 1 August 2017 | Michelle Thomson | NHS Concerns | A&E Targets
There is frankly no other way to describe Jackie Bird’s interview with political correspondent Nick Eardley on the subject of former SNP MP Michelle Thomson than as a hatchet job. Ms Thomson, a property developer, voluntarily spoke with police concerning the possibility a solicitor she had hired, Christopher Hales, had committed fraud. Thomson committed no crime, she was never arrested or interviewed under caution, yet the BBC coverage of her “case” has been instrumental in fabricating her guilt.
At the opening of the bulletin, footage of Thomson was shockingly spliced with the following headline report on prison sentencing reform, giving viewers the impression the former SNP MP was being chastised by a judge saying, in her dramatic ruling, “What you did was truly reprehensible.”
In spite of there being “no credibly or reliable evidence against her,” according to the Crown Office, Jackie Bird repeated the BBC’s fiction that Ms Thomson had been “the subject of a police investigation.”
During the interview with Eardley, this distortion of the facts was continued. He outlined how files had been sent to prosecutors “which named Ms Thomson in relation to this case.” What he failed to mention was that she had been named only as a witness.
While from a legal point of view Ms Thomson requires no exoneration; she was never a suspect, Eardley concluded his discussion in stating that Thomson “thinks” she has been vindicated. Ultimately her character assassination at the hands of the BBC has cost the SNP a gifted MP and may still prove to have railroaded Thomson’s political career. Her only ‘crime’ was employing a lawyer.
Focus was yet again put on the NHS in the form of yet another survey; this time from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd). The consultation document in question – Improving the working environment for safe surgical care – surveyed a total of 932 consultants and trainees, of which 505 responded from across the UK. This BBC report did not discuss the provenance of the survey’s responses; subtly implying perhaps this was representative of Scotland’s NHS. Yet according to the RCSEd report most responses were from those working in hospitals in England, with only 31.5 per cent coming from Scotland.
Neither did Reporting Scotland go into an analysis of the performances indicated in the devolved areas of the NHS. Had it done this it would have noticed that in Scotland 92.6 per cent of A&E patients in Scotland had a waiting time of less than four hours – the lowest in the UK – and 87.1 per cent of suspected and first treatment cancer patients were seen within the best practice 62-day maximum waiting period.
In England, according to the RCSEd report, the number of those waiting more than four hours for A&E treatment peaked to its highest level since 2003/2004, and the maximum 62-day wait for first treatment of all cancers “has not been met for 2.5 years.” Furthermore, “the number of delayed transfers of care from hospitals reached the highest level ever recorded in England.” If anything this was a missed opportunity for Reporting Scotland to deliver a Scottish NHS good news story.
Good news at last! Albeit low on the Reporting Scotland bill and only briefly covered at the end of the bulletin, Scotland’s A&E departments have met their waiting period target – having 95 per cent of patients seen within four hours – for the first time since last July. Even at its average of 92.6 per cent, as published in the above RCSEd report, this is the best functioning A&E care in the UK. Reaching the higher target is even better – exceptional even.
Only the previous evening (Monday, 31 July) Shelley Jofre, quoting a Labour Party reaction to another survey, described how the “SNP government” was presiding over a healthcare “crisis.” On this occasion the story was not politicised, thus neither the Scottish government nor any of the unionist parties were called for comment. Consequently the Labour Party was not required to explain what would appear, on the face of it, to be a significant contradiction of its previous assertion.
Wednesday, 2 August 2017 | Offensive Chants | GE Voting in Scotland | Donald Trump’s Opposition to Scottish Independence
Few will deny that singing offensive songs about a murdered British soldier is unacceptable behaviour for any group of football supporters. It is interesting, however, that a story about Celtic fans behaving atrociously in Sunderland – considering the scant coverage on the BBC of Leicester City fans rioting and chanting racist and xenophobic slogans in Madrid’s plaza mayor in April – made it to the top spot in tonight’s Reporting Scotland bulletin.
Why would this incident, when similar incidents are most often treated as a non-stories by the national broadcaster, make it to the top of the headlines on Reporting Scotland? The only conclusion to be drawn is that this story was highlighted because it allowed fans of Celtic Football Club to be presented in a particularly negative, anti-British light.
If repugnant chants by Scottish football fans are to merit headlines on Reporting Scotland then the programme will be featuring at least one each week.
GE Voting in Scotland
Next up Jackie Bird introduced a “new academic survey” which, after analysis of the independence and Brexit referenda, purports to “cast a long shadow over the general election in Scotland.” Without providing the name or origin of this survey she passed it over to the politics editor Brian Taylor to explain. He outlined how this research indicated that no less than 40 per cent of 2015 SNP voters in the “Yes-and-Leave” category switched to either Labour or the Conservatives “in equal numbers” in the 2017 general election. This apparently explains, according to the premise of the segment, why Scotland voted as it did in 2017 – though it is only a discussion on how 2015 SNP voters voted in 2017.
What we find, as we find time and again with this type of “academic” research, is that it is deeply – if not, catastrophically – flawed. The survey itself, A Tale of Two Referendums – the 2017 election in Scotland (Chris Prosser and Ed Fieldhouse), was conducted and analysed by The British Election Study – a project run by a consortium of three English universities (Oxford, Manchester, and Nottingham) – and funded by the British government via the Economic and Social Research Council. Considering, as highlighted recently by Kirsty Blackman MP, that UK government funding to Scottish universities was found to be used to gain undue influence “to save the union” prior to 2014, the funding connection between the UK government here and this research seriously calls into question the integrity of its findings.
Moreover, and more damning, the suspect methodology of the survey leads to, to say the least, misleading conclusions. At every stage of the research, the survey of the two general elections failed to take into account the fall in voter turnout. It also neglects to mention that the majority of those who did not vote in 2017 voted for the SNP in 2015. Without this essential ingredient the basic calculus of the research’s findings is forced to show a shift from the SNP to Labour and the Conservatives that did not in fact happen. Simply put, this is bad science – and it was used as authoritative, “academic” evidence showing a fall in support for the SNP by Reporting Scotland.
Donald Trump’s Opposition to Scottish Independence
Donald Trump’s comments to the Wall Street Journal on Scottish independence, where he described it as “terrible,” had to be included in the bulletin – completing the show’s opening section anti-independence troika – because, well, it’s Donald Trump. In fairness this was an utterance of the President of the United States mentioning Scotland, and so therefore had to be included, but it is interesting – in light of the discussion on it through the day – that the programme host did not take the opportunity to remind viewers that it was “the Open”, which was first held in Scotland and is still administered at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland, and not the “British Open” as Trump had said.
Thursday, 3 August 2017 | Mental Health Patients | Baby Boxes | Fishing Access (Missing)
Mental Health Patients
Health and social care correspondent Shelley Jofre delivered yet another study into the NHS, this time it is a UK-wide study conducted by the BBC itself into mental health care. When it comes to BBC Reporting Scotland’s use and over-reliance – read: weaponisation – of “research,” “studies,” and “surveys” we can’t get better than GA Ponsonby’s remarks: “Reporting Scotland thrives on these studies. A series of talking heads present their own opinion on the matter.”
Despite the NHS good news, both understated and ignored, on Tuesday – finding Scotland’s NHS to be outperforming the rest of the UK in relations to key indicators on A&E waiting times and cancer care – the BBC in Scotland keeps gnawing at the NHS like a dog on a bone.
This item opens by acknowledging the significant improvements in mental health care in Scotland, but there is no mention throughout that this has been achieved by the SNP in government. Any time the SNP is mentioned in relation to healthcare and the NHS it is with a profoundly negative spin. As things stand, however, the average hospital stay for mental health patients has fallen from 54 days to 27, and the number of those being readmitted has dropped sharply. These figures are an achievement for any government, but this goes unmentioned by Jofre in the report.
Rather, she turns the focus on the “one or two” who are stranded in hospital due to the lack of resources outside hospital – be that care in the community or a suitable home environment. Let’s take a moment to process this. One or two! Not thousands, hundreds, or even tens of people, but one or two. Yes, this is serious for the people concerned, and Colin McKay of the Mental Health Commission for Scotland is perfectly right to flag this as a “human rights issue,” but it is far from being the “crisis” we were told of on Monday.
Three NHS health boards in Scotland (Lothian, Tayside, and Greater Glasgow and Clyde), we are told, each have “a patient” who has been stuck in hospital for over 3 years. No one will argue that this is “unacceptable.” Of course it is. But – owing to the complexities and challenges of healthcare, and the difficulties many people face in their lives – there is any number of reasons why someone may end up unnecessarily stuck in hospital for such a long period of time.
Frustratingly, it is only as an afterthought at the very end of the report we are told the Scottish government – not, this time, the “SNP government” – is spending half a billion pounds on helping more people to live in the community. In sum, we can only conclude that this was the invention of a bad news story out of thin air.
Following is a report by Steven Godden on “so-called” baby boxes. This segment opens with a family in Orkney who were part of the original pilot scheme, and both mum and dad have nothing but good things to say about their baby box. The young mother, Cheryl, is clearly touched when she smiles and says that this has given her son “a real good start.” But, as the report moves on to the experts, this is the last good thing said of this Scottish government initiative.
While it is noted that this scheme in Finland – where it has run since the 1930s – has seen a dramatic decrease in the infant mortality rate, the question is asked: “to what extent is that to do with the baby box?” No answer is offered of course, this is the sowing of doubt before Francine Bates; CEO of The Lullaby Trust – a charity that does not even operate in Scotland – says that she would not endorse baby boxes. It might be worth pointing out that Ms Bates has an OBE and, as a friend of the Royal Family, did Christmas back in 2013 at St James’s Palace. The BBC did not feel the need to mention her connection to the establishment as she aired her “doubts” during her overtly negative assessment of the benefits of baby boxes.
“There is no safety standard anywhere in the world,” she says, “that covers a cardboard box to place your baby to sleep in.” The implication here is clear; that this mere “cardboard box” is substandard and dangerous. Sandwiching this, the BBC’s own commentary refuses to clarify that the Scottish government has ensured the baby boxes, as Mark McDonald – the Minister Childcare and Early Years – has made clear, “have British safety standards accreditation as a crib and is the first non-commercial baby box that does.” What the BBC says is that the Scottish government has “worked hard” to ensure their safety accreditation, implying that it does not yet have this.
What this results in is a sinister presentation of the baby boxes, where the Scottish government is shown to be on the defensive on the question of infant mortality and a “London-based” charity’s research into baby boxes and cot deaths is “inconclusive.” Over all, the report seems to suggest baby boxes risk babies’ lives.
The timing of this report too is interesting. It is curious that Reporting Scotland has returned to the theme of fictitious dangerous baby boxes 12 days ahead of the nation-wide unrolling of the Scottish government’s free baby box scheme. One would get the impression the state broadcaster is doing everything in its power to damage what is in essence a truly good government project.
Fishing Access (Missing)
Conspicuous for its absence is the story of fishing access that appeared earlier in the day on Reporting Scotland Lunchtime News.
BBC Scotland has made much of this in terms of Brexit, and with the help of the BBC the Scottish Conservatives have weaponised this story in order to attack the SNP. However Michael Gove has now conceded that foreign vessels will be allowed inside British territorial waters after Brexit. Why did Reporting Scotland drop such a highly significant story from its flagship evening news programme?
Friday, 4 August 2017 | RBS Back in the Black Hiding the Real RBS Story
RBS, the bank that nearly went under a decade ago, leads the charge on Reporting Scotland this evening. In spite of branch closures across the country continuing, the bank is back in the black …for now. After taking £2bn in loses for the same period last year, RBS was in the black to the tune of £940m for the six months to June this year. With other things still hanging in the wrong direction, however, the bank’s seniors do not believe it will make an overall annual profit in the six month to come. This wasn’t the real story however.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson outlined the migration – as a Brexit contingency plan – of the bank’s investment headquarters to Amsterdam, but the BBC neglected to mention anything of this. In an announcement earlier in the day it was made apparent that RBS is in “advanced discussions” with the Dutch National Bank to facilitate the move. Stevenson described this as a “logical decision” for RBS, following a trend of financial and banking migrations out of the UK and into Frankfurt, Germany, ahead of Brexit.
What really happened then on Reporting Scotland was a smoke and mirrors trick; reporting the news while not reporting the news. This is a Brexit consequential which cannot but be painful to the Scottish economy, putting the bank’s Scottish employees’ futures in jeopardy and taking much needed revenue from the Scottish exchequer – not to mention the knock on effects this will have right across the Scottish economy.Views: 17661