You’ll often find them pushed down the priority list, manipulated to remove key elements, or worse still ignored altogether. They’re the stories that Reporting Scotland just doesn’t want to cover.
On Tuesday just such a story broke when the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland [RIAS] issued a press release warning that lives could be at risk due to badly constructed buildings.
The statement was prompted by the collapse of a school wall last year and the subsequent report published last week.
Below are excerpts from the RIAS press release.
The Report, written by independent expert, Professor Cole, highlights highly significant risks.
The Report strongly signals that it is incumbent on every public commissioning authority to read this important, carefully written and considered report, consider its conclusions and act upon them. This will require significant expertise at substantial cost – however not to act may cost lives.
The Cole Report emphasises the potential danger from major latent defects in recently constructed buildings. The fact that the collapse of the wall bringing down nine tonnes of masonry at an Edinburgh Primary School in January 2016 did not result in infant deaths was, according to the report down to mere “timing and luck”.
RIAS Secretary, Neil Baxter, commented, “This Report demands a response – and don’t underestimate it – that response may save lives!”
This was, and remains, a major news story. A respected body has issued a warning that unless hundreds of buildings, constructed from 2000 onwards, are inspected then people may die. The President of the RIAS, Willie Watt called for “An early process of inspection by appropriately qualified experts” to proceed as urgently as possible.
But by the time Reporting Scotland aired, the story did not lead the programme. Instead a set-piece item targeting mental health provision in Scottish schools won that accolade.
The item was introduced by Jackie Bird who helpfully informed viewers that “unlike the rest of the UK, Scotland has no national strategy” and that the system had “consistently failed to meet its waiting time targets”.
It was a bog-standard bad news item that Reporting Scotland has become famed [notorious] for. Considerable time and effort had been spent collating statistics that would bolster the ‘bad news’ message.
It was a pre-planned thinly disguised attack on the Scottish government with references to ‘local authority budget pressures’ … i.e. cuts.
What prompted the mental health story was unclear. The item wasn’t a breaking news story prompted by an unfortunate event. Had charities issued a report or survey? None was mentioned, nor was any press statement on their behalf highlighted. Indeed, so generic was the item that it could have been run on any day this week and in any place in the programme.
It was so banal that any half decent breaking story should have resulted in it being pushed down the running order. The RIAS story wasn’t just half-decent, it was a full blown story of national importance. Lives, according to this highly-respected body, are at risk.
But Reporting Scotland had a different view. The RIAS warning wasn’t considered important enough to lead the programme. It wasn’t even considered important enough to place second. In fact the ‘lives at risk’ warning was deemed worthy enough only for fourth spot in the Reporting Scotland running order.
If you watched the clip above you’ll have caught Jackie Bird and Andrew Kerr try to undermine the reputation of RIAS by suggesting the warning issued by the body is less about public safety and more about creating jobs for the profession. The exchange between the two however suggested that the so-called ‘controversy’ was manufactured by Kerr himself.
So why sideline such an important, and with council elections looming, relevant story?
At the heart of the story lies of course PFI. The now discredited scheme was introduced by the Conservative government in the nineties and embraced by the incoming Labour government headed by Tony Blair. Gordon Brown expanded the scheme and in Scotland the then First Minister Jack McConnell coerced local authorities into using it.
BBC Scotland has studiously avoided any mention of Brown and McConnell in any of its bulletins. The broadcaster has given the impression of hoping the PFI story would just go away.
The press-release by RIAS was given minimal resource by the Reporting Scotland team and minimal priority. Andrew Kerr was sent with a camera to stand in George Square. There was no interview of RIAS officials.
It wasn’t just the RIAS warning that found itself shunted down the pecking order on Tuesday. An announcement by the Scottish government of significant investment for new teachers was also marginalised.
The short item below was included in Reporting Scotland’s ‘bits and pieces’ section.
If you relied on Reporting Scotland you wouldn’t have learned that Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury David Gauke, the Welsh Government’s Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford and Stormont Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir had met in Edinburgh that very day. The representatives of the devolved administrations issued a statement attacking the UK government’s lack of information on Brexit. There was no mention of this on Reporting Scotland.
Speaking of Brexit, there was a highly significant statement issued by the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt. Speaking to The National, Verhofstadt said:
“Europe hasn’t forgotten that a large majority of the Scottish people voted to remain.
“We need the Scottish people and their firm European beliefs. Scotland has shaped European civilisation, through iconic figures such as David Hume, Alexander Fleming and Adam Smith and still does so today by being at the forefront of defining and strengthening European values.
“We cannot afford to lose that.”
This also didn’t make it onto BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme. Contrast the refusal to report Verhofstadt’s comments with the relish with which comments of a contrary nature are covered.
Reporting Scotland is highly selective when it comes to news. The selection process appears not to prioritise genuine news. There’s more than a hint of a political agenda.
Indeed I’d argue that you could construct a far better and far more informative news programme consisting of news stories Reporting Scotland rejects.
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