A BBC Scotland Complaint – Dr Richard Simpson’s FOI Requests

On December 18th a story appeared across BBC Scotland platforms.  The story was based on two Freedom of Information requests submitted by former Scottish Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson.

Below are two separate complaints regarding the presentation of the story on Reporting Scotland and Good Morning Scotland.  The complaints were lodged on December 23rd.  Any response to the complaints will be published when received by the complainant.

 

Reporting Scotland complaint

On 18th December the 08:00 am edition of Reporting Scotland led with an item based on Freedom of Information requests. According to Reporting Scotland, some Scottish NHS boards were spending less on child mental health services than last year. The FOI requests, viewers were *explicitly* told by the presenter, had been submitted by the Scottish Labour party.

By 18:30 the unambiguous statement crediting Scottish Labour with having submitted the FOI requests had been dropped from the intro. Indeed there was no audible reference whatsoever to Scottish Labour in the 18:30 item.

The person who apparently submitted the FOI requests is former Scottish Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson. Dr Simpson appeared in the Reporting Scotland item. However his links to the Scottish Labour Party were not mentioned. The only reference to ‘Labour’ came in the form of a brief caption which identified the former Scottish Labour MSP as “Former Labour Shadow Public Health Minister”.

Any viewer not alert enough to have read the caption would have had no idea of Dr Simpson’s political affiliations. Indeed, on the very day Reporting Scotland covered the story, the former Scottish Labour MSP tweeted the following:

“This report by @ShelleyJofre is based on my two FOIs I was truely shocked that @maureenSNP as Minister hadn’t made sure that these four boards increased funding for CAMHS. dereliction of duty?”

It was a clear political attack from the former Scottish Labour MSP on SNP MSP Maureen Watt. This isn’t surprising given Dr Simpson’s twitter account is peppered with tweets and retweets that attack the SNP and endorse messages from Scottish Labour politicians.

Reporting Scotland should have stated Dr Simpson’s past and present political affiliation clearly – not limited it to a brief caption. The reporter, Shelley Jofre, displayed poor judgement by not mentioning Dr Simpson’s term as a Scottish Labour MSP and that during his term as an MSP he was a constant critic of the SNP.

 

Good Morning Scotland

The complaint relates to a broadcast on Good Morning Scotland at 08:15 on Dec 18th. The item was based on two Freedom of Information requests submitted by the former Scottish Labour party MSP Dr Richard Simpson.

According to Dr Simpson’s FOI requests, some Scottish NHS boards were spending less on child mental health services than last year. There then appeared to be an attempt to pass off Dr Simpson’s FOI requests as academic research.

In a tweet by the GMS presenter Gary Robertson on the morning the story broke, the GMS presenter described the FOI requests as “research”. When the item aired, BBC reporter Shelley Jofre also described the FOI requests as “research”. The reporter, after mentioning Dr Simpson’s links to Labour, also informed listeners that Dr Simpson was “honorary professor of health sciences at Stirling University”.

 

The use of the word ‘research’ coupled with the unnecessary mention of the university, implied the FOI requests were academic research [Why else mention Stirling University?]. Listeners may also have wrongly believed the ‘research’ was somehow endorsed or sponsored by the university. No details of any research were provided.

FOI requests submitted by a former Scottish Labour MSP should not be described as anything other than what they are. Describing them as ‘research’ and highlighting a respected university is almost certain to have misled some listeners into believing the two FOI requests did indeed form part of politically neutral, academic research.

Shortly after the item aired, Dr Simpson posted the following message on twitter.

“This report by @ShelleyJofre is based on my two FOIs I was truely shocked that @maureenSNP as Minister hadn’t made sure that these four boards increased funding for CAMHS. dereliction of duty?”

It was a clear political attack by an ex-Scottish Labour MSP on SNP MSP Maureen Watt. Was this the reason for the ‘research’?

 

Response from BBC Scotland Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs received January 15 2018

Thank you for being in touch about two programmes, both on 18th December, Good Morning Scotland and Reporting Scotland. I propose to answer both in this one response, taking Reporting Scotland first.

This is what we said in the full story at 0800 hours on Reporting Scotland: “Four Scottish health boards are spending less this year on children’s mental health services than they did last year, even though they’re failing to meet waiting time targets. The information came to light in Freedom of Information requests by Labour. One board has an average wait of twenty weeks despite the Scottish Government target of 18 weeks. The Finance Secretary pledged an extra 17 million pounds for mental health in last week’s draft budget.”

This is what we said in the intro to the full story at teatime that day on Reporting Scotland: “The BBC has learned that three Scottish Health Boards are planning to spend less this year on children’s mental health services than they did in 2016 – even though they’re failing to meet waiting time targets. One has cut its spending plans by nearly 400,000 pounds. Here’s our Health and Social Care Correspondent Shelley Jofre.”

The information about Labour in this edition was in the package. The 0800 story was a straight read, so that information was within that. They are not able to be compared in the way you attempt to do.

The caption identifying Dr Simpson was given the standard exposure after it was revealed and therefore it was no briefer than any other. I do not think it is a sustainable argument to say that someone might have missed it any more than they might have missed an audio reference by speaking or coughing at that point.

You refer to a tweet by Dr Simpson which I do not regard as relevant to a complaint about BBC output. You may regard it as “poor judgement” on the part of our correspondent not to elaborate on the information she had already given on Dr Simpson, but I do not.

Turning to Good Morning Scotland, you complain that “Shelly Jofre (…) described the FOI requests as ‘research’.” She did not. She said that the new figures were “from research carried out using Freedom of Information requests by Dr Richard Simpson, Labour’s former shadow Public Health Minister.”

You mention a tweet which, unlike the other one, is relevant to this complaint, because it was made by a BBC presenter. Again, you wrongly say he “described the FOI requests as ‘research’.”

You believe that the reference to Dr Simpson as an honorary health professor at a university was “unnecessary”. I do not. It is entirely relevant to the story that someone who, we told you, had been an active politician was continuing his professional interests in a relevant position. You say that our listeners may have felt that the research “was somehow endorsed or sponsored by the university”: I do not think that is a viable conclusion.

Lastly, we reported that the Scottish Government was spending more money on health, including both adult and child and adolescent mental health services. It should be noted that the Scottish Government did not reject or refute the figures detailed in this item.

 

Complainant’s response to BBC submitted on January 21st.

The first part of my initial complaint was that an unambiguous statement on the 08:00 edition of Reporting Scotland crediting Scottish Labour with having submitted the FOI requests had been dropped from the intro to the 18:30 edition and that there was no audible reference whatsoever to Scottish Labour in the 18:30 item. The transcription from the Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs merely confirms this. There is no explanation as to why the more accurate intro was dropped.  My complaint stands.

The second part of my initial complaint was that the only reference to ‘Labour’ in the 18:30 broadcast came in the form of a brief caption which identified the former Scottish Labour MSP as “Former Labour Shadow Public Health Minister”.

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says in response:

The information about Labour in this edition was in the package.

Let me repeat what I said in my initial complaint; There was no mention by the reporter of ‘Freedom of Information requests’ or ‘the Labour party’ in the 18:30 edition.  Information about Labour was not in the package.

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says:

The caption identifying Dr Simpson was given the standard exposure after it was revealed and therefore it was no briefer than any other. I do not think it is a sustainable argument to say that someone might have missed it any more than they might have missed an audio reference by speaking or coughing at that point.

A brief caption can be missed for any number of reasons. As I said in my initial complaint; Any viewer not alert enough to have read the caption would have had no idea of Dr Simpson’s political affiliations. The reporter should have made Dr Simpson’s political affiliations clear by stating it audibly.

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says:

You refer to a tweet by Dr Simpson which I do not regard as relevant to a complaint about BBC output.

The tweet by Dr Simpson is highly relevant. It demonstrated that he was using the so called ‘research’ in order to mount a political attack on the SNP. Indeed it is entirely possible that this was the main reason for handing the responses to the FOI requests to the BBC in the first place.

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says:

Turning to Good Morning Scotland, you complain that “Shelly Jofre (…) described the FOI requests as ‘research’.” She did not. She said that the new figures were ‘from research carried out using Freedom of Information requests by Dr Richard Simpson, Labour’s former shadow Public Health Minister”

This is taking obfuscation and semantics to ridiculous levels. The obtaining of the information was done using Freedom of Information requests. Paraphrase it as you wish, but Shelley Jofre presented it as research.  The Freedom of Information requests should have been presented as Freedom of Information requests – nothing else.

Indeed the describing of Freedom of Information requests by Unionist parties as ‘research’ is a common practice at BBC Scotland as the clip below shows.

 

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says:

You mention a tweet which, unlike the other one, is relevant to this complaint, because it was made by a BBC presenter. Again, you wrongly say he “described the FOI requests as ‘research’.

The tweet in question is shown below. I think I described it accurately.

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says:

You believe that the reference to Dr Simpson as an honorary health professor at a university was “unnecessary”. I do not. It is entirely relevant to the story that someone who, we told you, had been an active politician was continuing his professional interests in a relevant position.

Unless the Freedom of Information requests were carried out on behalf of the university or as part of work endorsed by the university then there is no reason to use the name of the university.

The Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs says:

You say that our listeners may have felt that the research “was somehow endorsed or sponsored by the university”: I do not think that is a viable conclusion.

If you tell people that an honorary professor of health sciences at Stirling University has carried out research then that is exactly what they’ll think.

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9 thoughts on “A BBC Scotland Complaint – Dr Richard Simpson’s FOI Requests

  1. Robert Dick

    Its about time BBC Scotland Started doing proper research on political stories, and not only useing one source. Time and again in the past few years the research carried out has been seen and proved to be incorrect,and has very seldom been rectified to the same degree as the main story.Please start reporting a balanced view or many more viewers will like myself no longer belive what the BBC stands for (factual truthful reporting)

  2. twathater

    Unfortunately they the Brutish Bullshitting Corporation will just pass this jackie baillie example of churnalism on to the neverendum response dept where you will end up entangled in your own colonic matrix ( whatever that is ) I cannot wait for independence to rid ourselves of this SEPTIC tank of uselessness and the barstewards who ENABLE these falsehoods . And no ” they made me say these things ” excuses will be acceptable

  3. Philip Maughan

    Quote from ‘Democracy and its Crisis’ by A.C.Grayling:
    ‘A senior news editor told this writer that during the EU referendum campaign of 2016 in the UK, the BBC were aware that they were reporting statements and press release which, when they had tracked down and challenged those who issued them, would be modified or withdrawn and that they were simply serving the interests of a campaign propaganda machine – but helplessly so, given that they had a responsibility to report all the days news’

    So the BBC are admitting here that they knowingly broadcast fake news. This sounds like a uesful get-out clause for mis-reporting SNP ‘failures’, the 2014 and future Independence Referendums.

  4. Clydebuilt

    O/T. BBC Radio Shortbread John Beattie’s show interviewed Alyson Pollock (Health Economist) . . . Stated several times that England’s NHS is in a terrible state compared to Scotland’s . . . . . England abolished their NHS in a 2012 Westminister Bill . . . pushing the myth that pensioners are a ticking time bomb is a con, it’s a decision for politicians to make whether they are prepared to fund the system . . . . The NHS was established when the country was on its knees after WW2 so if that was possible looking after OAP’s today is also possible.

    After this John Beattie read out a text . . . It went something like this . . . . . It’s wrong to compare Scotland with England, we should compare Scotland with the best in the World. It’s Seperatist trick/con to compare Scotland with England . . . . The new fake news.

  5. Bibbit

    To any BBC apparatchiks lurkers; whenever I see Bird’s skeletal visog, I switch off. I simply can’t stand her whole on air persona.

    I imagine your New Year Eve Scottish viewing figs are absolutely dire. That’s down to Bird.

    She seems detested by everyone else I speak to too.

    Give Bird the bird BBC Scotland, please!

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