What’s been the biggest story in Scotland this week?
Few would argue that the unveiling of the Scottish Government’s Brexit proposals by Nicola Sturgeon was the number one item.
The story generated headlines across Europe and prompted encouraging statements from senior European figures, both past and present.
Former Swedish Prime Minister CarlBildt tweeted:
“Scotland today makes clear that it is determined to remain in the EU Single Market. Makes eminent economic sense.”
Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform tweeted:
“Agreed, the Scottish govt paper is serious and thoughtful, and more detailed on post-Brexit options than what has come out London so far.”
Even former Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm was moved to tweet:
“I can’t find anything in ScotGov Brexit Plan to disagree with and hope all parties will get behind it. Even Ruth Davidson in previous mode. Even Ruth Davidson in previous mode!”
You may be surprised then to find out that the First Minister’s Brexit speech was not the number one item on that evening’s Reporting Scotland.
The story chosen to lead the flagship national news programme was a re-heated story about a former monk, Chrysostom Alexander, facing deportation from Australia over historic sex allegation claims.
The story was initially covered by Mark Daly over three years ago [See image]. It’s been returned to by BBC Scotland periodically, the last time being just over a year ago.
The new angle was apparent a complaint by an alleged victim over delays in extraditing the man.
As far as I can tell, the story didn’t feature on BBC Scotland until 18:05 when it suddenly appeared in a Radio Scotland news bulletin. It found itself the number one story on the flagship evening news programme twenty five minutes later.
So a story that wasn’t making the headlines, was already well-trodden and was certainly not a scoop, was chosen to lead Reporting Scotland, relegating the First Minister’s Brexit speech to second place. The biggest story in Britain wasn’t big enough for the editor of Reporting Scotland.
Rennie Time is Any Time
And this brings me to Wednesday evening’s edition of Reporting Scotland and the story chosen to lead that particular programme. Below is the item in full, including the initial introduction.
At first this appears to be a bog standard BBC Scotland bad news story based on a tragedy. The broadcaster has enlisted the help of Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie to add a bit of political edge.
But all was not as it appeared, for it wasn’t that day’s news at all. It wasn’t even the previous day’s news. The story was actually a two day old exclusive published by the Scottish Daily Express. You can see from the screenshot below that the last update by the newspaper was 21:30 on Monday.
The newspaper article includes the following:
Mr Rennie told the Scottish Daily Express: “My thoughts are very much with the family and friends of the deceased.
“It sends shivers down the spine to have another fail-to-respond case so close to the scene of the M9 crash last year.
“The circumstances may be different but failing to respond to such an incident requires a thorough investigation. We need to know the role of Bilston Glen call centre, which was implicated in the M9 incident.”
He added: “We also need to know whether an overstretched and under-resourced police front line was a contributory factor.
“The PIRC needs to investigate to establish the facts.”
So the story was broken late on Monday. Was BBC Scotland aware of it?
Indeed it was, for it appeared on the BBC Scotland regional news page on Tuesday 20th December, replete with the Rennie quotes.
Other news outlets, including STV, also picked up the story.
So how does this two day old story, first broken on a Monday and covered extensively by media outlets [including the BBC] on Tuesday, find itself the top item on the flagship evening news programme on Wednesday? I can think of no good journalistic reason for punting a stale story.
Willie Rennie was invited onto Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive early Wednesday evening where he gave the following interview.
For someone who claims to have only the thoughts of the deceased family at heart Rennie seems happy to compound their grief by suggesting, on national news, the tragic death may have similarities with the A9 case. I can think of better ways to help a grieving family than implying their loved one may have lain alive but helpless for hours or even days. Innuendo and speculation are not what grief stricken families need.
Reporting Scotland ensured that the story received as wide an audience as possible and of course placed call handling by Police Scotland back at the top of the news agenda. Which was fortuitous, because the following day [Thursday] Police Scotland was back at the top of the agenda with the scheduled release of the Auditor General’s report into Police Scotland finances.
Police Scotland featured at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood which again ensured the organisation remained in the spotlight.
Two bizarre choices as the lead story on Reporting Scotland prove nothing of course. What they do is provide further circumstantial evidence suggesting institutionalised problems at Pacific Quay.
This week Ken MacQuarrie’s replacement, Donalda Mackinnon, admitted there is a “deficit” in news coverage at BBC Scotland. I’d suggest the problem is a tad bigger than that. How she deals with it will be interesting.
One final thing
Did you know in this month alone, BBC Scotland has broadcast critical stories about Police Scotland no fewer than four times. The first was back in December 2nd with a Freedom of Information request relating to emergency call handling. The second was on Tuesday with another Freedom of Information request about training foreign regimes. The third was the totally unexpected Sunday Express exclusive and the fourth was the widely expected Auditor General’s report.
Make of it what you will.
If you enjoyed reading this article please feel free to make a small donation.