Below is a complaint submitted to the BBC on Monday April 23rd. The complaint relates to an item broadcast on Reporting Scotland that centred on comments made by UK minister Esther McVey whilst appearing in front of a Scottish Parliament Committee.
Complaint in full
Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee on Monday April 16th, UK minister Esther McVey was asked whether she was comfortable with a rape victim having to prove she was raped in order to receive benefits.
The Tory MP defended the so-called ‘Rape Clause’ insisting it was providing “extra help”, before adding: “… people will be supported and shown to the various other organisations. And again this could give them an opportunity to talk about maybe something that’s happened that they never had before. So it is potentially double support there, them getting the money they need and maybe an outlet which they might possibly need.”
However when the item aired on that evening’s Reporting Scotland, the controversial comments from the Tory MP were missing from the programme. Viewers heard McVey’s initial response to Green MSP Alison Johnstone before the video was abruptly cut.
The ‘Rape Clause’ comments from Esther McVey were clearly the most newsworthy aspect of her entire appearance, yet they were edited out of the programme.
So controversial were the comments that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called them “outrageous”. Several journalists made clear their own shock at the nature of the comments which made front page news on several newspapers.
The comments from Esther McVey should not have been edited out of the programme given other far less newsworthy comments were broadcast.
Response from the Editor of Reporting Scotland received May 4th
The report by our political correspondent, including the studio intro, lasted two minutes twenty-seven seconds and was of proceedings that day in the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee, featuring witnesses from the UK Department for Work and Pensions, including the Secretary of State. The session lasted for an hour and twelve minutes. Put another way, the report was 17/500ths of the length of that session.
At the end of that period, the Secretary of State was asked a question about a woman having to prove non-consensual conception to access an entitlement and we included that part of the answer which said that the Department was providing extra help for people having more children whom they could not have planned. These were the essential points in her answer and the words you quote do not add to the substance of the story. The report was therefore fair and accurate.
This was a report on the proceedings of a parliamentary committee taking evidence and the views of the First Minister and individual journalists are therefore not necessarily relevant to this particular report.
You regard the comments which were not included as “clearly the most newsworthy aspect of her entire appearance”. I do not agree. Similarly I differ from your view that “other far less newsworthy comments were broadcast”.
Follow up complaint submitted on May 10th
The Editor of Reporting Scotland states: “This was a report on the proceedings of a parliamentary committee taking evidence and the views of the First Minister and individual journalists are therefore not necessarily relevant to this particular report.”
That the First Minister herself felt strongly enough to issue a short statement of condemnation is absolutely relevant. If national leaders and highly respected journalists issue statements and/or write articles of condemnation, independent of one another, then it suggests we have a very significant story indeed.
The Editor of Reporting Scotland adds: “You regard the comments which were not included as “clearly the most newsworthy aspect of her entire appearance”. I do not agree. Similarly I differ from your view that “other far less newsworthy comments were broadcast”.”
It was obviously the most newsworthy aspect of her appearance given other media outlets focused on it. Indeed Reporting Scotland wouldn’t have covered the heckling from the public gallery in its intro, some of which was prompted by the comments, had it not been newsworthy. The complaint is that Reporting Scotland cut video footage of Esther McVey *making* the ‘Rape Clause’ comments that led to the session being suspended for a second time. It also failed to provide viewers with even a quote of what the UK Govt Minister had said to cause such a scene.
McVey’s ‘Rape Clause opportunity’ comments were so newsworthy that BBC Scotland online included the word in an article headline that same day – McVey calls ‘rape clause’ an ‘opportunity’ for victims.
Reporting Scotland should not have cut the video of McVey making the comments. They were obviously highly newsworthy and relevant to the overall report, which correctly focused on public gallery discontent. Viewers were thus denied the opportunity to witness exactly why the session was suspended for the second time.
Response from Editorial Complaints Unit – received 19 June
In considering your complaint I have read the correspondence you attached and watched a recording of the programme.
I should make clear at the outset that I agree that Esther McVey’s appearance and testimony before the committee was both controversial and newsworthy. That much was clear from Gordon Campbell’s [sic] piece on Reporting Scotland, in which he explained that Ms McVey faced hostile questioning from MSPs on the impact of Universal Benefit, and that the session had to be suspended twice because of heckling from the gallery.
You are also right to point out that other remarks she made, not directly included in the BBC report, were subject to criticism elsewhere, (including on the BBC) in particular her reference to ‘opportunities’ for rape victims. But that is a different matter from suggesting the omission of the phrase amounted to a breach of Editorial Guidelines, particularly as discussion of the so called ‘rape clause’ did feature in the Reporting Scotland coverage.
I do not believe the lack of references to that phrase would have caused viewers to have been misled as to the essential nature of the arguments.
There will always be legitimate debate over what a piece of this kind should include. Inevitably it will be a highly compressed version of events. But BBC journalists are employed to make those judgements and a decision to leave out a section of testimony, even if it subsequently turns out to be of interest to other journalists and politicians, is not of itself evidence of a breach of the guidelines. The report merely needs to be a fair and accurate account of events and give room for the essential arguments to be aired. Gordon Campbell’s [sic] piece properly met those criteria.
For this reason I do not believe you have identified a significant breach in BBC Editorial Standards and cannot uphold your complaint.
Complaint passed to Ofcom for consideration on June 21st
I would like Ofcom to consider this complaint.
The explanation that Esther McVey’s controversial ‘Rape Clause’ comments were not newsworthy enough to feature in BBC Scotland’s flagship news is unconvincing for the reasons I have already given.
As I state in my second response to the editor of Reporting Scotland: “They were obviously highly newsworthy and relevant to the overall report, which correctly focused on public gallery discontent. Viewers were thus denied the opportunity to witness exactly why the session was suspended for the second time.”
I would politely ask Ofcom to explain how viewers are to know exactly why the session was suspended for a second time if the comments that caused the discontent in the public gallery were cut from the item?
The response from the Editorial Complaints Unit says that I noted that the Rape Clause comments were “subject to criticism elsewhere, (including on the BBC)”. This is a misrepresentation of my point, which was not that the comments were criticised, but that the BBC used the Rape Clause comment in its own online headline – thus demonstrating that it was indeed the most newsworthy aspect of Esther McVey’s comments.
I would like this misrepresentation of my complaint to be acknowledged by Ofcom.
Had Esther McVey’s Rape Clause comments been broadcast on Reporting Scotland, a great many people unaware of what the Conservative minister had actually said, would have been made aware. Their reaction may have been similar to that of Scotland’s First Minister. BBC Scotland failed in its obligations to these licence payers.