Late Thursday evening an article appeared on the BBC Scotland main news page. The article informed readers that the new Prime Minister Theresa May planned to visit Edinburgh the next day for a meeting with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The article headline included the names of both leaders. At first glance the headline was unremarkable. But then I glanced again.
Whoever drafted the headline gave Theresa May her formal title ‘PM May’ but omitted any formal title for Nicola Sturgeon, who was identified simply as ‘Sturgeon’. It was blatantly disrespectful towards Ms Sturgeon.
Anyone clicking the headline would have been taken to the BBC Scotland politics page. This suggests that the main headline was drafted by someone at Pacific Quay. In other words, someone based at the BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow drafted a headline that ignored the status of Scotland’s First Minister.
Why would they do this? If the headline was drafted at speed in order to react to breaking news, then why was only one leader afforded the respect of a title?
In the headline above, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been stripped of her status. She is portrayed as being of lesser importance, of being less significant than the UK Prime Minister.
The manipulation of words is a common propaganda tool. The late Tony Benn once explained how trade unions would be portrayed as aggressive participants in industrial disputes by clever use of word manipulation. Media outlets would report them as having ‘threatened’, ‘demanded’ or ‘refused’, with companies instead having ‘offered’, ‘requested’ or ‘declined’.
BBC Scotland frequently adopts curious phrases when reporting matters political. The Scottish Government is more often than not described as the ‘SNP Government’. News items also find Nicola Sturgeon described not as First Minister but as the ‘SNP Leader’. The SNP can find itself described as ‘the nationalists’.
None of this is technically inaccurate, but it demonstrates how subtle manipulation of language can slant a news report and influence the news consumer. Language, tone and even facial expression are subtle forms of propaganda that are almost impossible to prove.
Take a look at the clip below and see if you can identify how Glenn Campbell cleverly influences the viewer.
Campbell tells viewers: “Scotland voted differently, with sixty two per cent saying the UK should remain in the European Union.”
The claim that the Scottish electorate voted, not for Scotland to remain in the EU, but for the UK to remain a member, is the current argument being deployed by Conservatives north and south of the border. It is the dominant pro-Union argument against indyref2. That BBC Scotland’s political correspondent adopts Unionist language in a TV news report is not accidental.
Some might argue that Campbell is technically correct. The EU referendum ballot explicitly made clear the vote was about UK membership. However this ignores the constitutional situation that currently endures in Scotland that meant many people separated Scotland from the rest of the UK when voting [I was one]. Indeed the spectre of indyref2 hung over the EU debate north of the border for the duration of the campaign.
When you watch the BBC, you need to watch the BBC. The most effective propaganda is the propaganda you don’t notice.
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