Below is the full exchange between former blogger GA Ponsonby and the BBC following a complaint lodged by Mr Ponsonby. The complaint centred on an item broadcast on Reporting Scotland on August 24th 2017 and a longer version shown online that same day. Both can be seen below.
Original complaint from GA Ponsonby – 29 August 2017
Ruth Davidson has, for several months, refused to be interviewed by BBC Scotland on a string of controversial issues. Brexit and the controversial DUP deal being the most obvious.
On August 20th it emerged two councillors who had been suspended by the Scottish Conservatives after posting racist and anti-Catholic messages on social media had been re-instated into the party. Following this news, Ruth Davidson was again invited to be interviewed by BBC Scotland. Again the Scottish Conservative leader refused.
The BBC has thus far been unable or unwilling to interview Ruth Davidson on the issue of the two councillors. For fully four days BBC Scotland made no attempt to doorstep the Scottish Tory leader.
On August 24th Ruth Davidson appeared on Reporting Scotland where she was allowed to make a statement unchallenged. The statement contained several claims relating to ‘diversity training’ the councillors in question had apparently undertaken and were continuing with.
Despite continually refusing to be interviewed on a string of contentious issues, the Scottish Tory leader faced not one question from whoever filmed her. Moreover within 24 hours of her interview, a charity cited by Davidson released statements that called into questions the claims made by Davidson.
It is now nine days since the councillors were reinstated and five since Reporting Scotland broadcast Ruth Davidson’s statement, and yet she has still to face one question from the BBC. This bizarre failure to pursue a leading Scottish politician is in contrast to the scrutiny applied to her SNP counterpart who is regularly questioned/doorstepped on controversial issues.
When asking reasonable questions on social media as to why Ruth Davidson faced no questions in her Reporting Scotland appearance, I was accused of engaging in conspiracy theories by BBC reporter Nick Eardley, who also accused me of trying to bully his colleagues. This is not acceptable. I would like an apology from Mr Eardley.
First response from BBC Complaints Team – 01 Sept 2017
Reporting Scotland covered the story of the councillors on the 6.30pm edition of Reporting Scotland on Thursday 24th August. Ruth Davidson was appearing at an event at the Edinburgh Festival. BBC Scotland were not allowed access for a camera to the event, so a reporter approached her outside the venue. Ms Davidson answered the question BBC Scotland put to her and we broadcast 16 seconds of that answer in a two way interview with our political correspondent Nick Eardley.
It is not accurate for you to say we broadcast her “statement” and that she did not face one question from the person who filmed her. Our political reporter questioned her on this.
We would like to reiterate we are determined to be impartial and fair in our coverage. We place the highest value on accuracy and impartiality within our own journalism and rigorous editorial standards are applied across all of our output.
Accordingly, we don’t share your specific views about our coverage of this story as they are patently inaccurate.
Follow up by GA Ponsonby – 24 Sept 2017
The part of my complaint relating to the posts on social media by BBC Scotland presenter Nick Eardley have been ignored. I wish to have these complaints addressed. Being accused of attempting to bully unnamed colleagues of Mr Eardley is something I want retracted by the reporter. A well known pro-independence blogger was recently arrested after being accused of online harrassment. Indeed his arrest was covered by BBC Scotland. This is a very serious accusation. Being accused of indulging in conspiracy theories is also an accusation I would like retracted by Mr Eardley.
My complaint relating to the Reporting Scotland item has not been addressed satisfactorily. I wish to know *why* Ruth Davidson was not subjected to the same scrutiny to that endured by Nicola Sturgeon. Both represent parties that are in government. Ms Davidson was allowed to make a statement completely unchallenged [BBC Scotland called it an answer]. Why were the organisations, Davidson claimed were working with the two councillors, not approached to give their version of events? In subsequent statements they appeared to call into question claims made by Ruth Davidson?
We have only BBC Scotland’s word that a single question was asked. Viewers heard no question. Why was this ‘question’ not broadcast? What was it? Viewers heard only what appeared to be a statement from Ruth Davidson. How are we to determine whether Davidson answered the question? The interview appeared to have been pre-arranged. If so then what, if any, preconditions were agreed? Did the BBC pre-arrange [as appeared] this interview?
Second response from BBC Complaints team – 09 October 2017
We raised your further concerns with BBC Scotland News and Current Affairs. In terms of Reporting Scotland’s coverage of Ruth Davidson, they have nothing to add to the response you’ve already received.
They would like to clarify that Nick Eardley said the following on social media:
“I didn’t interview any politicians last week, was working on #BBCGenY. But don’t let that get in the way of your conspiracy theories”
“I’m not going to let you try and bully my other colleagues. I presented it because I know the story.”
They support his statements and find no issue with what he said in response to your questions about our coverage.
Second Stage: Complaint by GA Ponsonby to BBC Editorial Complaints Unit – 22 October 2017
I am not at all happy with this response.
To be publicly [and falsely] accused of bullying by a BBC reporter is not acceptable for the reasons I have given in my earlier correspondence. To be described as a conspiracy theorist is also unacceptable.
I politely request Mr Eardley provides evidence of bullying, otherwise I demand he withdraw the accusation and confirm he has done so.
I also would like an explanation as to why Ruth Davidson was allowed to make an unchallenged statement to camera and why the ‘question’ she is said to have faced was not broadcast and remains unknown. There is very clear evidence that Ruth Davidson appeared on camera by prior agreement and was not ‘doorstepped’ as has happened numerous occasions with her SNP counterpart.
Response from the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit – 12 December 2017
You have complained about the coverage by BBC Scotland of the story of two Scottish Conservatives councillors who were suspended from the party then reinstated. The coverage included a report on Reporting Scotland and a post on the BBC website which included a longer version of an interview with Ruth Davidson which featured in the Reporting Scotland item. You have also complained about remarks made by Nick Eardley on Twitter. I’ve considered your complaint against the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines concerning Impartiality.
You have made two complaints: that the BBC allowed Ruth Davidson to avoid appropriate scrutiny of the Scottish Conservatives’ response to inappropriate tweeting by the two councillors; and that it failed to pursue a misleading statement made by Ruth Davidson about the diversity training that the two councillors had committed to undergo. I will take them in turn.
You have complained that, in the absence of any willingness from Ruth Davidson to be interviewed about this and other matters, the BBC should have door stepped her. However, the manner in which a story is covered, as long as it meets the requirements of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, is a matter for judgement of those editorially responsible for the output.
Having watched the report by Nick Eardley on Reporting Scotland I have to say I feel that the story was covered thoroughly and impartially and certainly not in a manner which suggested any pro-Conservative bias. The criticisms which were being made of the Scottish Conservatives (by the SNP amongst others) were clearly put and Ruth Davidson, apparently in answer to a question from a BBC reporter, set out why the party had responded in the way that it did.
In your complaint you asked:
Why were the organisations, Davidson claimed were working with the two councillors, not approached to give their version of events? In subsequent statements they appeared to call into question claims made by Ruth Davidson?
You elaborated upon this in your blog article “Ruth, Racism and Bigotry – Now BBC Scotland has questions to answer” where, referring to a subsequent statement by the anti-sectarian group Nil By Mouth, you said:
The comments by ‘Nil by Mouth’ call into question the veracity of the statement made by Ruth Davidson on Reporting Scotland. Unless there is a second organisation involved in providing the so-called ‘diversity training’ then Davidson’s claim that her councillors are already receiving such training is untrue.
You believe that this suggests that the diversity training which the councillors were said to be undergoing was being provided by Nil By Mouth but that the organisation had denied that it had taken place. You believe that, in the face of this apparent contradiction, the BBC had a responsibility to pursue what Ruth Davidson had said in this regard. However, a careful reading of what Ruth Davidson actually said shows that there is no contradiction at all:
Both have undertaken not only to do diversity training, which they have done part of and continue to do, but they are also, on top of that, supplementary to that, sitting down with Nil By Mouth, the anti-sectarian organisation in Scotland…
In other words, “sitting down with” Nil By Mouth would be undertaken in addition to the anti-diversity training. There is no suggestion that the diversity training was being provided by Nil By Mouth and her words were sufficiently ambiguous to mean either that they had already sat down with Nil By Mouth or that they intended to.
You have also complained about remarks made by Nick Eardley on Twitter in response to posts that you had written. The first said: “I didn’t interview any politicians last week, was working on #BBCGenY. But don’t let that get in the way of your conspiracy theories”. This was certainly robust but I think it’s fair to say that it is no more robust than your blog to which he was responding and which contained a very serious and public accusation against him:
Ruth Davidson was effectively provided a platform by Reporting Scotland in order to mount a damage limitation excercise (sic). The short item wasn’t designed to elicit answers, it was designed to kill the racism and sectarianism scandal engulfing the honorary colonel.
Similarly, in relation to the second tweet of which you complain, I think it was quite understandable that he would want to protect a colleague, whose only offence was to question Ruth Davidson about the matter, from similar allegations even if, again, his choice of words was robust.
In the circumstances, therefore, I do not feel able to uphold your complaints and this will be the BBC’s final finding on the matter unless there are reasons to modify or amend it in light of any comments you may wish to make.
If you do wish to respond to this finding, I would be grateful if you could send your comments to me by 29 December. Alternatively, if you wish to pursue the matter further, you can, of course, now ask the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, to consider your complaint, at least in respect of Reporting Scotland. However, the online recording of the Ruth Davidson interview and Nick Eardley’s Twitter comments are online material so it is not open to you to ask Ofcom to consider whether they may breach the Ofcom Broadcasting Code though you can ask Ofcom for its view on whether the BBC’s own editorial standards have been correctly applied.
Complaint to Ofcom by GA Ponsonby on January 1st 2018
My view is that the original complaint has not been addressed adequately. Moreover, there are still unanswered questions around the appearance of Ruth Davidson and the mysterious question she was apparently asked but that *hasn’t* been disclosed. If a question was asked then why is it still a secret?
There is no doubt that Ruth Davidson was not pursued to the same extent her SNP rival has been. Official responses from the BBC appear to suggest these differences in approach are a matter of editorial judgement. The complaint thus is that this judgement was flawed and that she *should* have been pursued in the same manner her SNP counterpart clearly has on several occasions.
In one response a BBC official writes: “Having watched the report by Nick Eardley on Reporting Scotland I have to say I feel that the story was covered thoroughly and impartially and certainly not in a manner which suggested any pro-Conservative bias.”
This is a straw man argument as no pro-Conservative bias was alleged.
They [the BBC] have ignored the thrust of the complaint which was “This bizarre failure to pursue a leading Scottish politician is in contrast to the scrutiny applied to her SNP counterpart who is regularly questioned/doorstepped on controversial issues.”
They [the BBC] have also failed to explain the reason Ruth Davidson faced no questions on camera.
They [the BBC] have also failed to reveal the question they claimed *was* asked.
The following short video may help you appreciate the background to this complaint.
Decision of Ofcom received on January 22nd
At the outset, we would like to make clear that, after carefully considering your complaint, Ofcom has found no grounds to pursue it further. We appreciate that this issue is important to you and that you have invested time and effort into this process, so we would like to explain our reasoning.
Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a duty to set standards for programmes on television and radio in a range of areas. These standards are set out in the Broadcasting Code (“the Code”) in the form of rules that broadcasters must abide by. The Code applies to all broadcasters licensed by Ofcom and to content on the BBC’s licence fee funded television, radio and on demand programme services.
The process for the handling of BBC complaints is reflected in our published procedures, available here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/information-forindustry/guidance/procedures.
You complained that the BBC did not ‘doorstep’ Ms Davidson after she had re-instated two Conservative Party councillors following their suspension for posting offensive online posts. You complained that the BBC had failed to scrutinise Ruth Davidson with the same vigour as the BBC has previously scrutinised Nicola Sturgeon.
You also complained about aspects of the BBC’s response to you when handling your complaint. For example, you objected to the BBC not disclosing to you the details of the question to which Ms Davidson was responding during this programme.
We assessed the content in this case under the following Code rule:
Rule 5.1: “News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”.
Ofcom Standards Team Email: OfcomStandardsTeam@ofcom.org.uk
There are a range of editorial techniques by which broadcasters can maintain due impartiality. The Code does not prescribe the use of one technique over another or require that broadcasters should use a particular editorial technique, such as ‘doorstepping’, in particular circumstances. Consistent with the right to freedom of expression, it is an editorial matter for broadcasters as to how they comply with the due impartiality rules, as long as the Code is complied with.
The programme included a short news item focusing on Ruth Davidson giving her reasons for the reinstatement of two controversial Scottish Conservative councillors who had been suspended for racist and abusive online comments. Further, the news item featured a statement by Ruth Davidson in which she defended the decision she had taken.
Clearly you objected to the manner in which Ms Davidson’s decision was treated in this news item. In our view, however, the news item included various statements which made clear the levels of criticism that Ruth Davidson was receiving both from outside and within the Scottish Conservative Party. For example, a political correspondent and a newsreader stated that the decision had caused Ruth Davidson to “come under fire” and that she faced criticism “not least because she’s been a vocal opponent of online abuse in the past”.
They added that some in the Scottish Conservative Party had questioned the decision “given the damage it’s caused them” and that the SNP had said that Ruth Davidson’s statement was “pitiful”. They also summarised the controversial nature of the two councillors’ actions. In the context of this short news item, we considered that viewpoints criticising the actions of Ruth Davidson, and the Scottish Conservative Party more widely, were prominently and adequately reflected, with due objectivity. Therefore, in our view the news item was duly impartial and did not raise issues warranting investigation under the Code.
You also raised concerns with aspects to how the BBC has handled your complaint. Ofcom does not intervene in the BBC’s handling of individual complaints. However, in line with the BBC Charter and Agreement1, which set out the respective roles and responsibilities of the BBC and Ofcom in relation to the governance and regulation of the BBC, Ofcom retains certain responsibilities in relation to the BBC complaints framework in general. We do not consider you have raised any issues in relation to how your complaint was handled which warrant Ofcom taking any further regulatory action. However, we have noted your concerns.
We realise this decision is likely to come as a disappointment to you, but hope this letter makes clear that we have considered your concerns carefully. Our decision not to pursue this complaint further will be published on our website in the fortnightly Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin2.Views: 17407