I lost faith in the BBC several years ago. I suddenly realised it didn’t report news, but rather framed events and provided a subjective commentary to those events.
In my book ‘London calling – How the BBC stole the Referendum’ I pinpoint the date of my epiphany as the day Megrahi was released.
The BBC had behaved appallingly throughout its coverage of the Megrahi release. It had allowed and promoted claims that were demonstrably false. The coverage marked the moment the corporation moved from a respected news organisation into an institutionally corrupt anti-SNP entity.
In Scotland this institutionalised corruption would lead to an appallingly one sided coverage of Scottish politics that tainted the independence referendum.
Trust in the BBC is at an all-time low north of the border. It’s a corrupt mess in Scotland. Complaints are routinely dismissed despite overwhelming evidence of inaccurate and misleading political news reports. I’m currently reading through a response from the BBC Trust which has refused to even consider investigating a blatant breach of the BBC’s own charter by Reporting Scotland.
Reporting Scotland is BBC Scotland’s ‘flagship’ news programme. It’s widely acknowledged that the programme is a parochial embarrassment. Despite its clear shortcomings, few high-profile critics of Reporting Scotland ever acknowledge that it isn’t just the parochial output that causes concern amongst many viewers – it’s also the very questionable political output. The programme is a politically biased throwback to the days when Scottish Labour reigned.
During the last referendum BBC Scotland lost one of its senior political reporters after misleading claims were broadcast on Reporting Scotland. Raymond Buchanan resigned from the BBC after the BBC Trust agreed to investigate a complaint into claims he made relating to the EU membership of a newly independent Scotland. BBC Scotland was eventually found to have broken editorial guidelines over accuracy.
The man who was Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Scotland during this period, John Boothman, left his post in disgrace last year after an unsavoury bullying row involving a young female camerawoman. Zoe Macdonald just happened to be the daughter of the late Margo Macdonald.
Last week it emerged another high-profile reporter is to leave BBC Scotland. Health Correspondent Eleanor Bradford will join Aberdeen University as head of communications.
My abiding memory of Bradford is of her appearing on Reporting Scotland two days before the independence referendum brandishing a document she claimed had been “leaked to the BBC” by a “whistleblower”. Bradford described the document as “confidential” and claimed it revealed a £400 million funding gap in the Scottish NHS. Viewers were told some Accident and Emergency units might have to close.
Less than 24 hours after Bradford appeared on Reporting Scotland, the pro-Union campaign Better Together issued leaflets based on her claims.
It later emerged that the document had been handed to the BBC Reporter by a Better Together sympathiser said to be angry at the claims being made about the NHS by Yes Scotland. The information the document contained, far from being secret, had in fact already been published on a public website by the Scottish government.
Despite high-profile resignations of key-personnel, Reporting Scotland continues to give cause for concern with respect to its presentation of political news. Since the Brexit vote I’ve witnessed all kinds of manipulation from reporters and presenters, some quite blatant and some very subtle. I’ve summarised a few below.
No Greens [28 June]
The recent BBC Scotland debate which saw four panellists take questions from a studio audience caused anger on social media. The debate, which included questions on independence and a possible indyref2, pitched three pro-Union guests against one pro-independence guest. There was a former Labour MP, a current Labour MSP, a Tory MSP and an SNP MSP. Missing from the panel was a representative from the Scottish Green party.
The Greens have been conspicuously absent from other debates as well. In a recent Scotland 2016 discussion on Brexit and a possible indyref2, there was no Scottish Green representation. Instead we had Labour and Conservative representation against one from the SNP.
On June 28th a news report on Reporting Scotland which covered the Holyrood debate following the Brexit vote showed contributions from the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems. Of the five clips shown, two centred on the possibility of a second independence referendum, both came from the Conservative party and both were of course anti-independence.
There was no clip of Patrick Harvie speaking in the debate. Reporting Scotland restricted its coverage of Patrick Harvie to an address outside the Scottish parliament. In doing so it stripped the Scottish Green co-convenor of his status as leader of the fourth biggest party in the Scottish parliament. Viewers were presented with someone bellowing into a bull-horn. Harvie’s contribution was shown later that evening on the current affairs show Scotland 2016 as can be seen below.
Had Patrick Harvie’s debate contribution been shown on Reporting Scotland then viewers would have been presented with at least one counter argument to the two Conservative speakers who had both attacked the idea of a second independence referendum. But it wasn’t. So they weren’t.
Inaccurate Intro [30 June]
This clip may on the face of it seem relatively minor. But what it demonstrates is the ease in which Reporting Scotland can mislead the public. The clip is from the introduction to a summary of First Minister’s Questions from 30th June.
Sally McNair is blameless in this. She is simply reading out what has been written on the autocue. Below is what she says:
“…Nicola Sturgeon said the Tories were now throwing in the towel by refusing to back direct talks between Scotland and the EU.”
The statement is one hundred per cent false as can be seen from the clip below, which shows the First Minister actually making the comment.
It’s clear to anyone who listens that Nicola Sturgeon is accusing Ruth Davidson of ‘throwing in the towel’ not because the Scottish Tory leader is ‘refusing to back direct talks’ but because she is arguing that Scotland should accept it will be out of the European Union. Nicola Sturgeon’s point is so clear that any misinterpretation of her comments can only be deliberate.
The Standing Ovation [28 June]
This is a very subtle piece of manipulation. In this case the context of the news report has to be taken into account in order to appreciate what is going on.
Most Scots will by now have seen the clip of Alyn Smith giving his ‘Don’t let Scotland down’ speech in Brussels. Mr Smith has given countless speeches before. What made this one newsworthy was that it earned the SNP MEP a standing ovation from his parliamentary colleagues. A clip of the speech made it onto Reporting Scotland.
There are two things to note from the news item. The first is that reporter Glenn Campbell provides commentary at the wrong places. Viewers are denied hearing the key point of the MEP’s speech which highlighted the fact that Scotland [and other areas of the UK] had voted to remain in the EU, because Campbell speaks over Smith at the crucial point. Viewers are then denied an explanation of the scenes they are being presented with immediately after Smith finishes. At no point are viewers told this is a standing ovation, something which is very rare in the European parliament.
The refusal to provide commentary on the standing ovation is remarkable given that the speech was newsworthy for this precise reason. I challenged Glenn Campbell online on the missing commentary. Below is his response.
The refusal to provide any audio explanation for the ovation scenes meant many viewers will never know just how momentous the moment was. Alyn Smith said afterwards that the ovation had moved him to tears.
Scotland’s Big Banks [05 July]
This is, I’ll admit, very minor. But it should serve as a reminder of just how terms and phrases can sometimes be used to apply a gentle spin on a news report. Ask yourself when was the last time RBS and Bank of Scotland were described as ‘Scotland’s Banks’?
No Bargaining Chips [05 July]
The favourite to take over from David Cameron and become the leader of the Tory party – and new Prime Minister – is Theresa May. May caused fury after suggesting that the status of EU nationals living in the UK could feature in any Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
The comments led to newspaper headlines across the UK, including Scotland. On July 5th, after meeting with delegates from EU member countries, Nicola Sturgeon spoke to BBC Scotland and condemned May’s comments. Below is a clip that appeared on BBC online.
By the time Reporting Scotland aired that night, Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘bargaining chips’ attack had been removed. Below is what viewers to BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme heard the First Minister say.
Why would a news programme refuse to show the most newsworthy comments from the First Minister, and instead show a clip of a far more distilled comment?
Missing question [05 July]
Finally, you’ll recall Glenn Campbell defending his failure to provide adequate commentary on Alyn Smith’s standing ovation. Well below is a clip of the BBC Scotland political reporter doing a bit too much talking.
Viewers of Reporting Scotland will be forgiven for wondering what question the Czech diplomat was responding to when he replied “I do”. The reason they won’t know is because Campbell decides to speak over the person asking the question. The person was STV political reporter Colin MacKay. MacKay had asked Dr Paul Millar whether he supported Scottish independence.
Now why would Glenn Campbell want to hide that from the viewer?
Remember the days when a foreign official expressing his or her views on Scottish independence would be the top story on Reporting Scotland? Not any more.
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