Those of you who read my articles will know that I have long argued that the practice of ‘reviewing’ the front pages of newspapers on the BBC is one I oppose.
My argument is simple. Newspapers are not politically neutral and more often than not will place politically motivated stories on their front page.
By reading out and summarising such headlines, the BBC is pushing a politically partisan line by proxy. This was brought into sharp focus during the 2014 independence referendum when newspaper headlines frequently attacked the idea of Scottish independence.
The clips below give a flavour of how the flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland covered the issue of independence via the front pages of some newspapers in the run-up to September 2014.
This week I had cause to take issue once again with this BBC Scotland habit of promoting politically partisan newspaper stories. On Friday April 21st the Good Morning Scotland team went through their ritual of reading out the stories from a selection of newspapers.
Newspapers selected for review included The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Herald, The ‘i’, The Guardian, The Scotsman and regional newspaper The P & J. Missing from the list was Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper The National.
So what you ask? Well listen to the clip below and pay attention to the review of the Scotsman front page.
The Scotsman is a pro-Union publication. Its front page was taken up with a story that attacked independence. Good Morning Scotland presenter Hayley Millar gives quite a lengthy summary of the story.
The story – covered by the BBC the day before – was based on a report from the Fraser of Allander Institute.
What listeners aren’t told is that the research was commissioned by the UK Government.
The story was a piece of quite blatant electoral propaganda.
So a story based on research commissioned by the Tory Government was included in the newspaper review by the Good Morning Scotland team. The other front pages read out by the GMS team were nowhere near as politically loaded. The Scotsman story stood out.
That same morning another story had been headlined by another newspaper. This story was based on an issue that has been running for weeks in Scotland but had been rather played down by the BBC. The issue was that of the so-called rape clause.
The issue had featured in the previous day’s First Minister’s Question’s at Holyrood. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson had come under fire from every other political leader in the Scottish Parliament after she refused to condemn the controversial policy.
The ‘rape clause’ story was front paged by The National. The National is a pro-independence newspaper. As I mentioned earlier, the newspaper was missing from the Good Morning Scotland review.
A pro-Union newspaper with a story based on research sponsored by the Tory Govt that attacked independence was included for review. A story from a pro-independence newspaper that attacked the Tories in Scotland was ignored.
I questioned this imbalance on social media.
Others picked up my concerns and posed the question directly to GMS presenter Gary Robertson who insisted the decision not to include The National was down to nothing more sinister than time constraints.
The excuse might have carried weight had it been a one off. But it wasn’t. Exactly nine days ago the same thing had happened.
Below are the front pages as published by The Scotsman and The National on April 12th.
The pro-Union newspaper is carrying a story that is very clearly aimed at undermining the SNP, and by extension, independence. The National front page is very clearly highlighting Ruth Davidson’s backing for the rape clause.
Only one newspaper front page was covered by GMS in its ‘review’ as you can hear below.
If this is mere coincidence it’s quite an extraordinary one. The same newspapers are involved as are almost identical stories. On both occasions The Scotsman’s pro-Union story is promoted but The National’s ‘rape clause’ story is ignored.
Newspapers aren’t just promoted on BBC Radio Scotland. The broadcaster also punts these politically partisan outlets using its online news page.
Adverts, for that is what they are, appear every day in a very prominent position disguised as news items.
The nature of the press in Scotland, with its overwhelming pro-Union leaning, means that pro-Union narratives will dominate.
This in turn means that BBC Scotland, in terms of newspaper coverage, will indirectly promote a pro-Union line. It is bias by proxy.
BBC Scotland has an obligation to maintain neutrality. It can move some way to achieving this by ditching these newspaper reviews.
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