Amid all the gnashing of teeth and hullabaloo over a replacement for Reporting Scotland, we’ve forgotten that there’s an equally significant platform which is every bit in need of overhaul.
I’m talking about Radio Scotland, and in particular the flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland [GMS]. GMS is a simple mix of news bulletins, interviews, pre-recorded items, transport and weather.
GMS will be the first port of entry for most people as they begin their day. The programme will shape their initial thoughts on what is and isn’t significant news. GMS plays a key role in setting up the day’s news narrative.
This week an interview caught my attention and led to me posting a critical observation of the interviewer, GMS host Gary Robertson. Robertson was interviewing Scottish minister Keith Brown in what I thought was an overly aggressive manner. During the interview the GMS presenter briefly laughed as he challenged the SNP MSP. The laugh was momentary and relatively insignificant. Less than a minute later however, the GMS presenter did it again, this time far clearer and for longer.
I tweeted criticism of the condescending laughter. My tweet was challenged by Robertson who insisted I was wrong and what I had heard was actually a sneeze from his co-presenter. You can hear from the youtube clip below that I was in fact correct.
It isn’t a one-off. A similar example of condescending laughter can be heard in this excerpt from an interview with Angus Robertson in October 2014.
The behaviour of Gary Robertson when interviewing Keith Brown may seem insignificant. But it’s an example of an enduring trait that has long since been evident when SNP politicians are interviewed on GMS where they are relentlessly hectored, badgered and interrupted. They are always, and I mean absolutely always, forensically pressed to provide information that is at times so detailed that no person would be expected to provide it.
Unionist politicians endure nowhere near the same level of scrutiny. Have a listen to the interview below conducted by Hayley Millar who was interviewing the then Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray in November 2015.
Mine was not the only tweet Gary Robertson took issue with. The following day he reacted angrily after yet another ‘review’ of newspaper headlines, replete with politically partisan attacks on the SNP, was read out by the GMS team.
The issue is not of course the reading out of headlines per se, although the TV licence should not be used to promote private businesses anyway, but the reading out of headlines that are politically motivated attacks and are published by newspapers known to be politically partisan. Yes, even The National.
The practice is bias by proxy. Stories that are sometimes wholly without merit can find their way onto the airwaves of a publicly funded broadcaster. It went on throughout the independence referendum. The clip below was broadcast exactly seven days before the vote.
Saturday mornings regularly finds Radio Scotland regular Eamon O’Neill positively gush about articles he has read in newspapers – many overtly political. Articles are frequently described as ‘superb’ or ‘very good’.
Editorials are ‘excellent’ or ‘fantastic’ as O’Neill does his best to persuade listeners to purchase the titles he reviews. In January this year The Herald received a free advert.
Smear stories too are promoted by proxy through use of the ‘review’. Listen to the clip below which saw Forth Road Bridge smear stories, known now to have been embellished or simply manufactured, find their way onto Radio Scotland.
Good Morning Scotland has issues that nobody appears to want to acknowledge. Last week I highlighted a blatant example of misreporting when a survey of graduate debt was presented as though a UK wide issue despite Scottish graduates leaving university with less than one quarter the average debt of their English counterparts.
Senior Unionist politicians are also now frequently refusing to appear on the programme to face even mild questioning. Kezia Dugdale, her deputy Alex Rowley and Scottish secretary David Mundell have all refused to be interviewed on significant issues.
The GMS team of course cannot press-gang politicians to appear. However the normal course of action when politicians go into hiding in this manner is to invite hostile commentators on to ‘discuss’ the issue. It usually results in those guests ‘making hay’ at the expense of the politician or his/her party.
That though hasn’t happened on GMS and issues such as the Dugdale/Rowley split over Corbyn and Indyref2 have remained virtually unreported. Mundell endured no significant discomfort when refusing to discuss the UK’s lack of economic reaction to the Brexit vote.
I don’t even know if GMS invited Labour’s new Secretary of State for Scotland onto the programme to discuss his comments over a possible anti-Tory coalition with the SNP. Dave Anderson walked into a major rift with Kezia Dugdale over the issue.
Some Scottish Unionist politiians do accept invites, not to be pressed on issues, but to be presented with a platform in order to promote their political views. The series of ‘long interviews’ Gordon Brewer has conducted recently has witnessed independence being attacked by the guest, with little or no challenge from Brewer. The clip below is of unelected peer David Steel.
Good Morning Scotland needs a serious overhaul. It’s coverage of domestic news is poor and it frequently relies on surveys and reports to pad out its content. These surveys are all too often described as ‘UK’ when in fact they are de-facto English with little clear statistical relevance to Scotland.
The state of not just Good Morning Scotland, but the entire Radio Scotland output, was best summarised by Historian Tom Devine during a debate that took place in January 2013.
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