BBC Blasted in UWS Response

If the BBC thought they would scare off the University of the West of Scotland with a threatening letter, they were wrong. In response to a letter questioning his researches which found bias in early evening news in BBC and STV coverage, Dr John Robertson has provided a detailed and at times explosive reply to BBC bosses. I include the whole of his response here. I suggest you pick your way through it and wonder how the BBC get out of this one.

Reply, by Dr John Robertson, to the BBC ( Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs ) response to his interim research report:  Fairness in the First Year? BBC and ITV coverage of the Scottish Referendum campaign from September 2012 to September 2013.

 

My research is the result of a powerful philosophical commitment over decades to ‘grounded theory’; a form of research almost monastic in its restraint and in its potential to allow the data to tell the story that is there in the data and less so the story that lies in the researcher’s baggage. None of the team is a nationalist. I am a socialist, pacifist and feminist. I had no agenda to pursue other than genuine curiosity to explore the patterns of journalistic behaviour in a process of wide contemporary interest. It is my usual preference to study thought control in the context of military interventions, mega sporting events, surveillance and the environment – see my CV.

 

Mr Small uses the term ‘we’ throughout so I must assume his comments have been approved at the highest level in the BBC. I should stress that my report does not represent the corporate views of UWS.

 

I’ll move on quite quickly to a more detailed and specific rejoinder but first and briefly, a little background is necessary

 

Background

 

The BBC responses came with a covering email including the three comments below.

As noted in our earlier correspondence, we would be very interested in seeing the raw data which underpinned your report and we wonder if you might be willing to share that with us.

No. Would you have asked to see the raw data if the report had been favourable to the BBC? Have you ever asked another researcher for such? Indeed, aren’t the broadcasts you own, the raw data?

 

Further, given the responsibilities you remind us of in Appendix 1, what have you actually done to monitor the coverage. Do you have an internal report along lines similar to my research? How do your findings compare? Can I see the raw data?

We would, of course, be very happy to talk to you about your report and our interpretation of it.

Report on it (Reporting Scotland). Let your experts comment then let me reply to them. Post all the documents on your website so that licence payers may read them carefully. It is not appropriate for media managers to suppress research they disagree with and then mount a campaign to discredit it while at the same time ignoring its presence online.

The reason we have copied this email to the Principal, Professor Craig Mahoney (as we have all of the correspondence we have sent to you), is because we believe the report, with which we have serious concerns, has  the potential to impact on the corporate reputation of both institutions.

This sails very close to bullying of the kind we might expect in a less democratic country. I’m unsure about your limiting of reputation to the corporate. Universities are so much more than that. I’d be more worried if I thought it might damage our wider reputation in the public sphere or with potential applicants to study with us. I suspect, based on the massive online debate which you ignore, it will have the opposite effect.

 

I have not copied this to your head of institution.

 

 

BBC Scotland response to the University of West of Scotland report:  Fairness in the First Year? BBC and ITV coverage of the Scottish Referendum campaign from September 2012 to September 2013, by Dr John Robertson.

Overview

The BBC has a number of significant concerns about the contents of the UWS Report Fairness in the First Year? BBC and ITV coverage of the Scottish Referendum campaign from September 2012 to September 2013.

These focus, primarily, around elements of the research methodology, factual accuracy, interpretation and conclusions and the language used within the report itself.

As a consequence, we question the fundamental validity of this report and, in particular, the conclusions which it reaches.  A detailed critique follows.

Social and political research, however well-grounded in good methodology, retains a level of subjectivity, especially in the coding categories and in their application. I make no claim for absolute truth; only a level of objectivity somewhat above that attainable by journalists and corporate affairs officers.

 

There are factual errors in some of the examples given. Large scale research transcribed and analysed over some time by a team of researchers will find such errors introduced. I do regret these as their import can be inflated. In this case, all those reported are not substantive and are inconsequential in the evaluation of the research outcomes.

 

In Summary, our concerns are around:

 

See detailed responses for these below. They are in every case misplaced or exaggerated concerns.

 

  • Fairness – the report concludes that BBC Scotland TV coverage of the Referendum has not been fair or balanced.  However the report consistently fails to support its contentions with factually accurate evidence.
  • Accuracy – we would contest the interpretation of such evidence as is presented within the report, relating to Reporting Scotland (evidence largely presented by reference to examples of output). There are several substantive factual inaccuracies within the references it makes to Reporting Scotland news output.
  • Interpretation – we are concerned about the ‘coding’ of stories – a number of the examples cited within the report, which claim to refer to referendum stories, are not referendum stories.
  • Methodology – the report appears to be based on a numerical assessment of data, analysed in crude quantitative terms, following readings of transcripts of broadcasts. We would question the validity of conclusions based on such an approach, particularly given the lack of detail and the factual errors within the report.
  • Definitions – the report presents its findings relative to a number of terms which, apart from on one occasion (relative to what it deems to be a ‘statement’) it singularly fails to define – ‘fairness’, ‘insulting language’ etc. There is no indication anywhere in the report as to what is meant by/should be understood by such terminology, by whose definition broadcast contents were to be considered as ‘fair’ or ‘insulting’ or whether any account was taken of what the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines or the Ofcom Broadcasting Code have to say in this respect.
  • Conclusions - the report concludes that the report authors have “evidence of coverage which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign.” There is no evidence whatsoever, as contained within the report, that supports this contention. It is no more than an assumption, based on the report’s findings which, themselves, we contest.

Section 1

 

Methodology

 

a)             ‘Fairness’

 

The report clearly takes ‘fairness’ to be its focus. However at no point does the author make clear what he means by this term, how he interprets what he perceives to be ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ or the criteria by which readers should understand his interpretation. He does not indicate if or how his interpretation, whatever that might be, aligns or differs from the BBC’s (in respect of which, the BBC Editorial Guidelines lay down detailed criteria to ensure due accuracy and impartiality (or ‘fairness’) across its output).

We would note that the BBC Editorial Guidelines state: ‘Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘’balance’ between opposing viewpoints.’  Further details of the relevant section of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines[1] are incorporated within Appendix 1 (page 17).

Ofcom defines fairness[2] as below:

Principle: To ensure that broadcasters avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes.

 

Rule

7.1 Broadcasters must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes.
It appears that the report’s understanding of ‘fairness’ differs from the definition of ‘fairness’ used by the broadcasting industry regulator (and thus by UK broadcasters and by the BBC). However, like much of the terminology applied in this report, the term ‘fairness’ remains undefined throughout.

The term ‘Fairness’ does appear in the title of the report. It is, however, not featured in any of the nine research questions which do focus the research. A series of more objective terms such as ‘how prevalent’ or ‘what was the relative balance’ are used to enable the subsequent data collection and coding to proceed as objectively as is possible in textual analysis. No claim is made for an absolute objectivity in this process. To do such would be ridiculous. As for ‘fairness’ there is no universally accepted definition. I agree, however, as you argue above, that it is more than just about balance. That’s why there are as many as nine research questions and not just one on balance. I propose that my cluster of criteria, manifest in the research questions, offers a workable expression of fairness in the context of news reporting. Not perfect I’m sure but worthy of ongoing debate in the public sphere.

 

Further, as pointed out in many emails to me, it could be argued that I have been more than fair to BBC/ITV in my methodology of only researching that which was broadcast. I did not survey relevant stories emerging elsewhere which were not selected for reporting. There could easily be bias there. I’m told there is. To research this area was, however, too unavoidably subjective a field for me.

The report notes that the survey period ran “from 17th September 2012 to 18th September 2013 including every evening (6-7PM) broadcast by BBC1, Reporting Scotland, ITV and STV, in that period.”   We take this to mean, though it does not clearly say it, that it was exclusively the news reports within that news hour that were examined. Our critique will therefore focus on contentions made about those news broadcasts.

The preface states the researchers “sought to disengage themselves from the surrounding debate, in extended newspaper articles or TV debates”. How was this achieved over the course of an entire year? What steps were taken to ensure such disengagement and how was the effectiveness of such an approach measured to ensure, as the report indicates, “as objective an assessment as..possible”? Did this mean the research team did not read newspapers, talk to friends, go online or watch other TV output?   In terms of external engagement, it is clear that the press is used as a reference point within the report, which, on page 7, quotes from the Daily Mail of 9/11/12 and refers to a wider comparative study of press stories: “No balancing cases were reported of a flow in the other direction, though such did appear in the popular press.”

Further, we would be interested to understand what control mechanisms were used to ensure the validity of the research and to assess the accuracy of its findings, particularly given the multiple variables therein – 9 questions and 16 coded descriptions applied to 730 hours of content analysed across 2 channels and 4 programmes.  We would also be interested to know what processes were put in place to guarantee the standardisation of approach and impartiality across the number of staff, students and others involved in the transcription and process of analysis over one year.  Given that the amount and complexity of coverage will increase in the coming year, we query whether the approach is scalable and what % of accuracy will result.  We assume that any further publication will be supported by a detailed methodology.

Your first point above is confusing. What do you mean by exclusively the news reports? Yes, I think.

 

The second point is expressed in quite patronising terms. However, it if helps, here is our plea. I (lead researcher) did not watch or read, and still do not, texts relating to the Scottish independence debate. My teaching and other research interests are concerned with the globalisation of news media and events in places such as Russia or Venezuela. My other coders, likewise, are not much interested in the independence referendum and are pursuing research in other areas. The Daily Mail reference was provided by a proof reader who, it seems, reads it!

 

Again, I dare you to ask one of your regularly appearing professors a question like that in para three above. Again, here you are. The research is not based on a small sample, as is common in surveys often reported on TV without critique but is based on one whole year and every evening from 6-7 pm (at other times on weekends) on two channels. The coding which led to the evidence of bias emerged from a grounded theory/ phenomenological approach which allows the data to speak. The final coding is the product of two phases, through all the data, of coding by the lead researcher and subsequent moderation by three others (recently retired staff and PhD students). The first phase resulted in evidence of bias more damaging to the BBC and STV. In the second phase, the lead researcher allocated statements with more subtle or nuanced undermining of the Yes campaign to the general or descriptive category. Coding of human language cannot be utterly objective but the team has done more than most in an effort to be as objective as can be. The lead researcher has carried out similar studies, in terms of methodology, over many years, and takes pride their publication in the best international journals.

 

c)              Hours

The report notes that it covers the 6.00PM – 7.00PM news hour over the course of a year – “A total, therefore, of approximately 730 hours, minus advertising breaks in ITV and STV broadcasts, was watched, transcribed and coded.”

We would like better to understand how this hours figure was constructed.  Was it 365 (days) x 2 (hours) = 730 hours?   

 

The 6.00PM – 7.00PM news hour only operates during weekdays, of which there are 260 over the course of 52 weeks. That, therefore, only amounts to around 520 hours of weekday news across the two channels between 6.00PM and 7.00PM, not 730 hours (260 x 2 – and this does not take account of shorter news broadcasts on public holidays).

Even if the report were to include weekend bulletins between 6.00PM – 7.00PM, which are of significantly shorter duration (though the report does not seem to include these), that would offer only another 80 – 90 hours per annum.

Still, one whole year of peak news broadcasts and all references to issues affecting the independence debate. ‘Approximately 730 hours’ is inaccurate. It was 365 days but less than 2 hours at the weekend. So approximately there were 620 hours plus those allocated to extended broadcasts after key events.Do you wish to argue that this affects anything at all?

 

 

d)             Questions

 

The report then outlines a number of questions which it says emerged from readings of transcripts of news items.  This in itself is worthy of question – are the research findings as they appear in this report based on consideration of written transcriptions rather than on first-hand assessment of the actual broadcasts and of their audio and video content, which then fed into this report?

The lead researcher watched, recorded, transcribed and coded using only the transcripts.

What, if any, account was taken of tone, of the visual use of graphics within broadcasts to identify contributors and the source of statistics, etc?   These, we believe, are important questions because the report, as later illustrated (herein), contains a significant number of factual inaccuracies and seems to have drawn a series of conclusions based on a misreading of the contents of a number of news items.


To look at the questions themselves:

(i) How prevalent were referendum topics in the first year of the campaigns?
To assess ‘prevalence’, which is a relative term, the total number of items covered in the news broadcast would have to be known (as would the position of referendum items within each day’s running order, the length of items, etc).


Likewise, there would have to be a clear understanding of what was a ‘referendum topic’ and what constituted the reporting of everyday political issues, including those relating to devolved powers. The report does not indicate the total number of such items, how each was interpreted and coded or any other information relating to them; consequently the reader cannot assess the validity of the analysis from the evidence provided.

A ‘referendum topic’ would be anything we thought might affect viewers thinking about Scottish independence. Subjective I agree but done so as to ensure relevant elements of the debate were not ignored.

 
As such, a number of the Reporting Scotland examples cited herein as referendum stories (or ‘referendum topics’) had nothing to do with the referendum.

Nothing? Nothing? Let’s see.

 

I agree that this is a subjective process where some will agree with our choices and others will disagree. I suggest the desire to narrow referendum topics to only those explicitly mentioning it can be an ideologically driven perspective with the aim of limiting criticism of coverage.
(ii) What was the relative balance of statements given to the views of Yes and No, representatives, arguments and evidence?

We take this to mean ‘Yes and No representatives’ arguments and evidence’.

Including the repetition and paraphrasing of these by reporters and the statements by ‘experts’ whose views were clearly supportive on one side or the other/

What is meant here by ‘relative balance’ – how has it been defined, ‘relative’ to what?

Simple ratio of Yes:No

(iii) What was the relative balance of offensive statements made to Yes and No campaigners and broadcast?

What is meant by ‘offensive’? No definition or criteria are offered to allow readers to understand what is meant by this. Does this include, for example, remarks made in debate in Holyrood?  In such circumstances, it is the duty of the Presiding Officer to determine what is or is not ‘offensive’.  Does the research reflect such determinations or have alternative criteria subjectively been applied by the research team? If so, what are they?   What account was taken, if any, of the definitions of ‘offence’ as recognised within the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and within the Broadcasting Code published by Ofcom, the broadcasting industry regulator?


Our coverage of verbal exchanges within the Chamber is determined entirely on editorial grounds.

Meaning? I’m sure your guidelines would allow editing out such comments.

 

(iv) What forms of evidence dominated the discourse – economic, political, social?

Analysis of such issues may be interesting but there is no clarity offered within the report as to the relevance of each (or all) to an assessment of ‘fairness’ in news coverage of the referendum.

Yes, I should have made more of the agenda setting of editors in characterising the Scottish public as concerned only about economic matters. I’d like to see the evidence of this other than in the discourse among journalists and a small number of small sample surveys. I see signs elsewhere of a wider discourse, around democracy, compassion and rights, absent in the news broadcasts researched here. The narrowing of debate to shallow materialist concerns can be seen as ideologically driven efforts to strip the Yes campaign of opportunities to debate. I’m reminded of my days as a young football fan when my small home team would narrow the pitch for visits by the big clubs thus compressing the play and stifling creativity. I have, of course no objective evidence for this.

 

 Coding

The report then outlines a number of ‘coding categories’ used to analyse the data (though the report offers no appendices, footnotes, bibliography or references to allow further interrogation of whatever data was analysed or of the criteria applied in the process of that analysis).

The coding categories, which emerged from pilot exercises, were the criteria used in the process. Really not sure what the above point is getting at.

 

Statements which made use of academic, scientific or ‘independent’ evidence to support the pro-independence or Yes campaign

Anti-/Ind/Sci/Acad Evidence Statements which made use of academic, scientific or ‘independent’ evidence to support the anti-independence or No campaign

No indication is given here of who has ‘made use of’ any such statements.  Is the suggestion that BBC Scotland has ‘made use of’ such statements in its reporting?  If so, is the suggestion then, as it would seem to be, that such use was made by BBC “in support” of either campaign?

This verges on a paranoid reading. Clearly the statements are made by proponents and sometimes repeated by reporters. Where do you find evidence for the last statement above?

If this is the case, this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how News, and in particular BBC News, operates.  As an impartial news broadcaster, it is not the role or function of BBC news to ‘support’ any argument but rather to provide a platform for a range of views to be heard.

This is a hugely important point, much researched in academia across Europe and the US and central to any explanation which goes beyond my account to identify causes. Journalists are known to be subject to peer pressure. Junior reporters work toward, perhaps sub-consciously, the approval of their seniors. Members of media elites (owners, editors, heads and directors) interlock socially with other elite members (politicians, officers, judges, directors, CEs) via selective education, early careers  and social/cultural membership. No conspiracy is required. Elite members act in their own interests and those interests are the same as the interests of their groups. Thus thought control in liberal democracies is made possible and far more subtle than in totalitarian states where the people know, always, not to trust their media.

 

You misunderstand yourself and the BBC. Impartiality is not attainable. Like many academics, I practice self-awareness but even then I make no claims.
The report does offer a definition of ‘statements’.  It also notes that, in news stories, they “were rarely more than one sentence in length with the presenter, interviewer and multiple public figures generally constrained to enable inclusion of all parties (our emphasis).  For the BBC, the composition of broadcast reports is based on editorial rather than numerical criteria, with access afforded to a range of voices and opinions.

OK, good

Abusive of Pro/Abusive of Anti Broadcasting the use of insulting language aimed at pro-independence/anti-independence campaigners

No definition of ‘insulting’ is offered, nor does the report indicate if the terms ‘abusive’ and ‘insulting’ are interchangeable, nor if either or both are to be regarded as one and the same as ‘offensive’, to which the report refers in Question 7.

Again, absence of clear definition does not allow the reader to understand what is meant by such in this report.

They seem the same to me.

 

Section 2

 

Findings

(a)  Use of statistics

The findings of the report are initially presented in the form of statistical data within a table. With no other information provided to allow informed decoding of these statistics, it is impossible to understand what the figures actually represent.

No other information? What about the definitions of the coding categories on the previous pages?

That said, the report claims the table presents data that “can be used to reveal the distribution, over 12 months, of different types of message within broadcasts..”  It contains no information about distribution – what it provides is a numerical count, relative to an overall timeframe: there is no indication of the spread of stories, per day, week or month, to which these coded categories apply. The only indication it offers of the distribution of these ‘messages’ is to note that news reports relating to the referendum were either “fairly regular occurrences” (BBC Scotland/STV) or “rarely reported” (BBC/ITV).

The lack of precision in definition and use of language again does not assist in interpreting the data.

This refers to the distribution of the statements across the coding categories in a study over 12 months. With some effort I can misread the above your way.
Following the contention that referendum stories were “rarely reported” on network news, the report concludes that this reveals “apparent disinterest in a major constitutional challenge to the very existence of the UK, by its two dominant news programmes…”

The report arrives at this conclusion on the basis of a simple mathematical calculation and, in so doing, ignores any other possible factors at work.

The appearance of such stories on network news may, for example be influenced by the time period over which the research was carried out (the research covers September 2012 – September 2013 – the date of the referendum was not announced until 21 March 2013, six months after the research project began). Another factor could simply be that such stories were considered less relevant to those ineligible to vote (in other areas of the UK) at a time when the referendum vote was one to two years away.

The influence of such factors is ignored in this research in favour of a simple numerical interpretation of data, analysed in crude quantitative terms. The conclusions, such as that noted above, largely go beyond what the available data confirms.


The focus on numerical interpretation is restated in the report’s next contention, that “The simple numerical preponderance of anti-independence statements over pro-independence statements by a ratio of c3:2 on Reporting Scotland and on STV, is also clear.”

In this instance, the report offers a possible explanation of this, as “the editorial decision to allow all three anti-independence parties to respond to each SNP statement creating an unavoidable predominance of statements from the former..”.

We would make two related observations. First, we would not accept that, by allowing the other parties to comment on referendum issues, this, in any way, is evidence of bias or lack of ‘fairness’. Most would regard such an inclusive approach as evidence of steps taken to allow the range of voices to be heard.

Agreed; I offered the explanation in the same spirit and do not tie this behaviour to any suggestion of bias or lack of fairness.

Secondly, it is simply not correct to suggest that “all three anti-independence parties (are allowed) to respond to each SNP statement (our emphasis)”.

 

If that contention were correct, taking the report’s own ‘evidence’, the table noted above would show that, for the 171 pro-independence /SNP statements the report claims appeared on Reporting Scotland, the number of anti-independence/SNP statements would be 513 (171 x 3), not 262.

By ‘each’ I do not mean ‘every’. This is getting desparate!

Political comment on such issues is sought according to the requirements of the story, with balance achieved over a period of time rather than necessarily within any one programme or news item. Given the constraints of time and other factors which impact on the construction of every broadcaster’s news bulletins, this is normal practice across the industry.

What steps do you take to ensure balance over time? Why is there, then, not balance over the 12 months reported?

 

(b)  Anti-independence and economic affairs: examples cited

The report then claims that “Anti-independence statements were heavily concentrated on economic affairs…” and cites various examples to lend credence to its contentions.

To take these in turn:

 

Example 1

 

Trident

The report refers to a Reporting Scotland item on Trident on 29/10/2012 which it claims “is driven by a weight of one-sided and unchallenged evidence and commentary”, cites “unnamed economic advisers” who are “allowed to suggest 6500 jobs (could be) lost if Trident goes and an overall cost of £20bn while the report finishes ominously with ‘Whitehall could play hardball’.”

 

The Trident item consists of a report by BBC Scotland political correspondent Niall O’Gallagher, related to the visit of Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond MP to the Clyde base, followed by a studio interview with BBC Scotland Business and Economics Editor, Douglas Fraser.  Both reports accord fully with the requirements of our Editorial Guidelines.

The jobs figure is cited, in person, by Douglas Fraser, not by some “unnamed economic advisers”.  In the broadcast report, he explains, using graphics, that, under current plans, that figure could go up to 8000, then says: “…but, you could look at it another way, as Nicola Sturgeon was doing; if you take the same money and spend it on other priorities, whether it’s military or civilian, you could create at least as many jobs.”

The £20bn quoted is not the cost to the economy if Trident goes, but rather the cost of replacing Trident (which Douglas Fraser attributes to the MoD, pointing out that it’s a six-year-old figure and the MoD’s record on remaining within budget is not good.  He also mentions the operating costs of £1.5bn pa).

The report author then notes that the item “…finishes ominously with ‘Whitehall could play hardball’”.

Aside from the questionable use of such value-laden terminology as ‘ominously’, this is simply incorrect.   It doesn’t.   It finishes with Douglas Fraser quoting Alex Salmond’s suggestion that a new home could be found for Trident in the USA or France.

I do not question the presence of opposing views here but the weight in this piece was tilted toward uncritical presentation of the MoD arguments.

 

What then is the source of the figures reported by Douglas Fraser if not ‘unnamed economic advisers’?

 

I find the notion that Whitehall might play hardball, quite ominous and I think it was meant to sound that way too.

 

The Alex Salmond comment does not represent the finishing statement in a sequence of ideas but rather is a throwaway piece with humorous intent. I laughed

 

Example 2

 

Energy prices

The report refers to a Reporting Scotland item on 11/12/2012. It claims: “the programme opens with ‘Row over independence could lead to higher electricity bills’ then runs through a series of negative sound bites interspersed with SNP protest – ‘questions mount over independence’, ‘UK government claims cost could rise’, ‘Could Scots customers have to pay more?’, ‘Labour spokesman – danger’ before allowing the evidence of Scottish over-production, renewables and a captive market in England to cast serious doubt on the motivation for the initial headline ‘scare’.

There are a number of significant flaws in this summary. 1. The opening: the programme actually opens with the headline ‘As the row over independence continues to brew, claims that it could lead to higher electricity bills.’

2. The report then claims the programme “runs through a series of negative sound bites”.   The programme presenter then runs through the rest of the headlines, before returning to the main story.

3. In respect of the “negative sound bites” claimed, the report offers the following examples:

* “questions mount over independence” – this line is not used in the broadcast, either in the headlines at the beginning or during the report;

* “UK government claims cost could rise”, “Could Scots customers have to pay more after independence?”- these are not sound bites – they are part of correspondent David Miller’s script, describing the parameters of the debate;

* “Labour spokesman – danger” – this is simply wrong.  No Labour spokesperson appears in or contributes to the broadcast report.

Liberal Democrat MP and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey MP makes a remark about danger.

4.  “…before allowing the evidence of Scottish over-production, renewables and a captive market in England.”

The entire broadcast report is about 1’.50” in length– of that, the first 45 seconds describe the context of the debate, the UK government claims and it includes a clip of Ed Davey MP explaining those claims. In the remainder of the broadcast report, there is a description of the Scottish government’s counterclaim and then a clip of Scottish Government Energy Minister Fergus Ewing MSP elaborating on this.  The broadcast report ends with David Miller citing industry sources, saying that the effect of independence on electricity bills is hard to predict but that those sources add that “it’s inconceivable that England would stop importing renewable energy from Scotland. Energy policy often sparks controversy – today it’s also generated a political row.”

The overall presentation remains, in my mind and I think for any reader of the above, weighted to emphasise risks for which no evidence is provided. Why was this story chosen and presented in such dramatic terms. It could have been ignored (evidence-free as it is) or presented in a less dramatic way.

To suggest that an editorial decision was taken to structure the piece in such a way as to concentrate on ‘anti-independence’ aspects of the story before allowing (our emphasis)…evidence…to cast serious doubt on the motivation for the initial headline ‘scare’” is not borne out – in any way – in analysis of the broadcast package.

The example cited therefore in no sense supports the contention of the author.

I do not suggest, anywhere, the presence of editorial conspiracies. As explained earlier, journalists work semi or unconsciously in response to peer pressure and to satisfy perceived impressions of the expectations of superiors. I feel confident that yes-sympathetic viewers will have been unnerved by this broadcast and that no-sympathetic viewers will be further embedded in their perceptions.

 

Example 3

Cancer treatment

The report then turns to broadcast reports on health issues.  It says: For example, on 27/9/12 the case of a Scottish patient seeking free cancer drug treatment only available in England was highlighted and linked to the relative lack of GP control in Scotland.

First, this story was not related to the referendum, nor at any point in the broadcast piece was this suggested. It was about the respective changes in the NHS in England and Scotland and the effect on patients.

Of course it was not explicitly related to the referendum by the reporter but, by making unfavourable comparisons between the Scottish and English NHS, it unavoidably contributes to the debate. The decision to choose a one-off case and not to balance with stories of English patients feeling pressure to move to Scotland for treatment, or other balancing ideas, leads to bias.

Secondly, the report is categorically not about free cancer drug treatment. Cancer is not mentioned once – the patient case study, Beth Butterfield, has lost confidence in her local doctors and wishes to be sent elsewhere. The problem she has is with the difficulty of transferring hospitals, which in theory would be easier in England due to the new reforms. What Ms Butterfield is suffering from is never explained.

This began a mini-series of reports on alleged failings in the Scottish NHS by Reporting Scotland reporters and by Labour spokespersons.

 

This refers to a one day series of reports (‘NHS Day’– 27/9/12) on BBC News, broadcast across the UK over 24 hours. It was not about “alleged failings in the Scottish NHS”.

 

This story read to me as a quite unbalanced take on the relative developments in the Scottish and English NHS. It was as you note not specifically about cancer care but care generally. You write ‘categorically not about free cancer drug treatment. Cancer is not mentioned once’  Another of your substantive errors, I take it?

I read it as drawing attention to failings in the Scottish NHS. As I reply, a third-party has drawn my attention to another independent study highlighting ‘censorship and distortion’ in BBC coverage of NHS reforms in England (Huitson, O. (2012) ‘How the BBC betrayed the NHS: an exclusive report on two years of censorship and distortion’ http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/oliver-huitson/how-bbc-betrayed-nhs-exclusive-report-on-two-years-of-censorship-and-distorti).

The above research concludes:

“The BBC routinely described the Bill as a reform to empower GPs – the government’s description – rather than as turning the NHS into a market driven by shareholder interests, which was what the critics maintained – accurately, as is now becoming clear.  The BBC’s public service remit should surely have required it at least to present the Bill’s purpose as contested.”

The same criticism can be reasonably applied to the Reporting Scotland story. Why was this story developed so soon after the publication of the Huitson paper?

 

 

(c)   Use of expert advice and ‘evidence’

 

The report then makes a wide-sweeping claim that it found “little evidence” of the use of “independent, academic or scientific” sources in referendum reporting“and where there was, there was clear tendency to use anti-independence over pro-independence evidence.”  Expert sources are regularly used by BBC Scotland where and when it is relevant and appropriate to do so and/or they are cited within reports offered by BBC correspondents and editors.


To suggest that the “tendency” is to use “anti-independence over pro-independence evidence” is another un-contextualised claim made without reference to supporting evidence.  22 references to reports from The Treasury,  IFS, OBR, MoD and only 4 from the Scottish Government suggests a very marked imbalance. The proposals for independence, as laid out in Scotland’s Future, published by the Scottish Government, are currently setting the terms for the debate and are consequently receiving a considerable degree of scrutiny.  Such proposals as the opponents of independence bring forward, either collectively or individually, will also be subject to debate and analysis. ‘Will be’ is not good enough. Why have they been presented so tamely so far? These proposals for change, from either side, will inevitably attract a greater degree of scrutiny than the status quo.  Why? However, to label such interrogation of evidence as ‘anti-independence’ is to fail to take account of the context within which such activity takes place.

To support its contention that “there was clear tendency to use anti-independence over pro-independence evidence” the report cites the following example: “a Glasgow University academic was ‘outed’ as having been ‘bought’ by the SNP to support the independence case(Reporting Scotland, 21/8/13).”

We would make three points here regarding accuracy:

* the date is wrong – the piece in question was broadcast on 22/8/2013, not 21/8/2103; OMG as the young people say.

* the word ‘outed’ appears nowhere in the broadcast; A pretty good choice of vocabulary I think to describe the report but not in the report, nor quoted in an attempt to deceive the reader.
* and it was the Yes Campaign (as stated in the programme), not the SNP (as stated in the UWS report), who paid Dr Bulmer.  Again, is this all you’ve got?

Dr Bulmer appeared in the programme and robustly defended his position. We would regard the broadcast report as entirely accurate and impartial. In both the broadcast report and the commentary that followed, equal attention was paid to the allegations that the Yes Scotland campaign communications were hacked – this was not just a story about Dr Bulmer’s fee.

My full comment was: ‘Indeed the IFS was referred to as a ‘well-respected think tank’ (Reporting Scotland, 19/11/12) whereas a Glasgow University academic was ‘outed’ as having been ‘bought’ by the SNP to support the independence case(Reporting Scotland, 21/8/13). I stand by my interpretation of the ‘outing’ but the main point was about balance in the respect accorded to different sources.

The UWS report then looks at “The sequence of statements whereby anti-independence arguments preceded pro-independence responses as opposed to the reverse order”of which it says “there was a clear majority of the former” on Reporting Scotland.  Again, without the data available either within the body of the report or appended to it, it is difficult to assess the merit of such a contention.  Likewise, without knowledge of what was coded as an ‘anti-independence’ statement or story (see, for example the earlier comments on inappropriate labelling relative to the NHS story, on P9) it is not possible to determine what validity this contention may or may not have.

The same would be true of a report lauding the impartiality of the BBC. Maybe you’d trust the author? However, a list published elsewhere suggests a wider tendency to launch stories with a ‘warning’ to potential Yes voters (Murray, C. (2012) ‘BBC the New Hammer of the Scots’.http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2013/04/bbc-the-new-hammer-of-the-scots/)including:

 

 “Scottish independence: Pension shortfall warning”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22314646

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-22246176

“Scottish independence: Warning over ‘weakened military’”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-21776602

“Scottish independence: ‘Havoc’ warning from pensions firm”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-20562203

“Scottish independence: Luxembourg warns against ‘going separate ways’”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21664450

“Scottish independence: Barroso warning on EU membership”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-20666146

“Scottish independence: Michael Moore issues warning over vote question”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-21016047

“Scottish independence: ‘Border checks’ warning from home secretary”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-17505302

‘By contrast, there are no BBC headlines in this period that promote positive claims about Scottish Independence. You will look in vain for headlines that say “Yes campaign says independent Scotland will be eighth richest country in the world” or “Official GERS report shows Scotland’s public finances much healthier than those of the UK”. Such headlines just do not exist. Reporting Scotland or Newsnight Scotland has never, never been led by a positive story about independence. It has been led on dozens of occasions by the negative.’

The report then contends that “The Reporting Scotland imbalance tends to normalise the No/anti-independence position and put the onus on the Yes/pro-independence position to justify itself.”

 

The use of the word ‘normalise’ is interesting – Scotland is currently within the UK; the Scottish Government is seeking to change that position and has put forward a series of proposals to the electorate; these proposals are, quite rightly, under a good deal of scrutiny, with the Yes campaign and others seeking to elaborate on what would be different from the current ‘norm’.

This is a conservative reading which might reveal ideological positioning. Scotland’s position within the UK is no more normal than it would be outside. The dominant trend (norm?) in the last hundred years has been for imperial breakup and the emergence of new states. It is only correct  to impose higher standards of scrutiny on proposals for change if you think the current situation is demonstrably superior. In the interests of fairness, why not expect the No campaign to make the case for the Union in response to critiques of the British state from those who favour independence?

To infer that somehow Reporting Scotland, in its construction and editorial decision-making, is supporting one side over the other and in so doing, influencing the electorate in one direction relative to the independence debate, is yet another suggestion without substance.

As repeated earlier, I’m only suggesting that it’s happening. I know you don’t get round the table and plot the downfall of the Yes campaign. You don’t do you?

(e)       Personalisation, demonisation and the undermining of individuals

The next part of the UWS report equates, in a rather simplistic way, ‘personalisation’ and ‘demonisation’ which it suggests, in broadcast reports, has the effect of ‘undermining’ the individual: it then applies this theory in its interpretation of Reporting Scotland output.

In this process, it notes that “The tendency by opposition politicians to attempt to undermine the Yes campaign by labelling its ambitions as Alex Salmond’s desires is, in part, beyond the editorial role”.Nevertheless it argues that the broadcasters are complicit in this process – “it was common for reporters and presenters to adopt the same style:”

Independence is the stated aim of the Scottish Government, of which Alex Salmond, as First Minister, is the head. He is, as such, a recognised voice for the independence argument and he has publicly stated his personal and political belief in independence.

No one such figure is as easily identifiable for the anti-independence argument, given that three main political parties are involved, each with its own political agenda.

However, to suggest, as the report does, that for the BBC, as broadcaster, to present Alex Salmond’s personal and political desires as one within the independence argument and that that is, somehow, part of a strategy to “undermine” him as a political figure, is yet another argument wholly without substance.

I think it is a strategy by the other parties and their strategic advisers to weaken the yes campaign by this technique. I think the historical examples I give show that it works. I don’t think the BBC reporters are likely to be part of this plan but rather that they have lazily adopted it. It’s not good enough to say no one figure is as easily identifiable for the No campaign. It would be simple to stop saying Alex Salmond so much and just refer instead to the Scottish Government or the Yes Campaign.

In this respect the report also points to the broadcasting of ‘insults’, the preponderance of which it claims were aimed at Alex Salmond.  However no substantive examples are cited, other than a reference to “personally insulting comments by anti-independence representatives (especially Johann Lamont) aimed at Alex Salmond.”

 

Virtually all of these were from the other three party-leaders. Why not edit them out thus giving more time for substantive points?


Leaving aside the concerns, noted earlier, about what constitutes ‘insulting language’ and the undefined criteria used to identify such language, we would note that robust discussion and strongly voiced opinions often form part of First Minister’s Questions and Prime Minister’s Questions.  What we broadcast from the Chamber is determined on editorial grounds.  In this, as in all of our broadcasting, we accord fully with the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

That, as the report notes, “the use of insults aimed at Salmond declined and had become less common in the second six months of the survey”is perhaps the result of the fact that fewer “insults” (however the report has chosen to identify these) were being made, rather than the decision of the BBC not to report them.

 

 (f)       The approach of reporters and presenters

To support the theory that reporters and presenters had adopted the “same style” as “opposition politicians to attempt to undermine the Yes campaign by labelling its ambitions as Alex Salmond’s desires”,the report cites a number of examples.

 

To take these in turn:

Example 1

 

On 23/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, ‘Alex Salmond under pressure!’

The full headline was ‘Tonight, Alex Salmond’s under pressure over independence.’

We would be interested to understand how the exclamation mark, above, was translated from the actual broadcast piece. This suggests a subjective interpretation of a broadcast headline, which was then transcribed as thus – not what one would expect to find in what should be an ‘objective’ analysis of news output.

The background to this story was that Alex Salmond was personally under pressure over allegations he had lied – this was not an instance of equating independence policy with Alex Salmond.

 

The text of the broadcast piece is as below:

 

Jackie Bird: “Welcome to Reporting Scotland. Tonight, Alex Salmond’s under pressure over independence.

 

Clip from Andrew Neil/Alex Salmond interview.

 

Jackie Bird: The First Minister denies opposition claims he lied in that BBC interview about legal advice over EU membership.

 

Alex Salmond (in Chamber): I hope at a suitable opportunity those, admittedly outside this chamber, who have made these assertions will have the courtesy and integrity to withdraw them.

 

We fail to understand how this serves as an example of the complicity of reporters/ presenters in demonising or undermining an individual.

 

This was used with others to highlight the repeating tendency, especially in headlines, to refer to Alex Salmond by name when it could have been First Minister or Leader of the SNP with the latter more meaningful associations with his role rather than his persona.

 

 

Example 2

On 23/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, Willie Rennie (Lib Dem) ‘challenged Alex Salmond’s policy’.

This quotation does not appear on Reporting Scotland on this day.

Willie Rennie did not appear in the 1830 Reporting Scotland, though Ruth Davidson did.

OK, my mistake.

Example 3

 

On 25/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, Salmond is described by Johann Lamont (Labour) as ‘straight as a corkscrew’ and then compared by Willie Rennie (Lib Dem) to bent salesman ‘Delboy’.

This is a report by Brian Taylor on that day’s First Minister’s Questions, where the main subject under discussion was a forthcoming inquiry into Mr Salmond’s conduct in relation to legal advice on future membership of the EU – an inquiry set up by the First Minister himself. 

 

As in the example cited above, Willie Rennie did not appear in the 1830 Reporting Scotland, though Ruth Davidson did.

It is Ruth Davidson, not Willie Rennie, who compares the First Minister to ‘Delboy’.

 

The comment referred to, and Johann Lamont’s remarks, were delivered in formal session in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament. 

 

The two remarks are followed by a clip of Alex Salmond (also from First Minister’s Questions) responding to these remarks and explaining how in his opinion the misunderstanding arose.

 

The end of the report is as follows: “Mr Salmond is adamant that he gained the trust of the Scottish people at the ballot box and will sustain it through to the Referendum.”

 

In short, not one of the examples cited substantiates the claims made within the report.

 

Unimportant. Reporting Scotland chose to edit in offensive statements at the expense of more important matters. This has the effect of reinforcing processes of demonisation.

 

 

(g)       The role of political editors in framing the debate

The report then moves on to discuss the “distillation of the debate over independence into a largely economic debate” and says that “Particularly notable is the role, here, of political editors in framing the debate in this way, telling the viewer that the debate over living standards, employment and taxation was the only debate anyone cared about. No evidence for this view was given.”

The report provides no evidence to support this contention. Brian Taylor repeatedly does so. .

Social attitude studies have made it clear for some time that the economic debate is the one that voters deem most important and is one aspect of the debate that is of significant interest to them.  Not mentioned in reports. Note, for example, the latest ScotCen Central Research Study (January 2014) which highlights this very point[3]. Tiny sample size, problematic validity,

Political editors did not decide to “frame” the debate in this way and to suggest they did is wholly misleading. No evidence was given.

 

(f)        The impact of ‘closing statements’

Attention is then turned to “closing statements in reports” which it suggests (with no evidence to support such a contention) might be felt (our emphasis) to leave a lingering impression and thus carry more weight than some others”.  Leaving aside the questionable validity of this contention, qualified as it is by a vague suggestion made without reference to any evidence which would substantiate it, the report then suggests that the preponderance of closing statements that are anti-independence are to be found on Reporting Scotland. In support of this argument it cites a number of examples.

Example 1

 

On 27/9/12, in Reporting Scotland, a piece on the changes to the NHS in England was used to suggest that the Scottish system’s reluctance to change ‘is bad news for Scotland’ and finishes with the unsubstantiated suggestion that GPs and patients might be ‘planning to move to England’(our emphasis).

As noted previously (Page 9), the example noted above is not about the referendum. It is about the respective changes in the NHS in England and Scotland and how those changes affect patients. There is no mention or suggestion at any point in the broadcast piece that this is linked to the referendum.

The correct version of the citation referred to within the UWS report is actually: “The changes in England have attracted a lot of opposition, but some think Scotland’s reluctance to change is bad news for patients.” It is, thus, not stated as fact; it is a claim which is examined in the piece.

The report deals with reforms giving English GPs more power, but also mentions that a recent Scottish reform gives Scottish patients more power by sending the money for their treatment directly to their bank accounts.

The report ends with the sentence: “Despite this, Beth is now planning to leave her Dumfriesshire home, and move to England. She hopes the system there will give her better care.” This refers only to Ms Butterfield, the interviewee, who is planning to move.  Contrary to the UWS report contentions, it makes no claim about other patients or GPs.

Topics such as this are unavoidably linked to the referendum. The decision to choose to allocate time to this story of one person who turned out to be a Labour Party plant, at the expense of the several cases presenting the Scottish NHS in a better light, in English newspapers looks biased.

Example 2

 

On 5/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, the Scottish Government’s commitment to universal benefits was immediately followed by a reference to ‘spending watchdog chief Robert Black who has questioned whether such benefits are affordable’ and reinforced by reference to Black’s cv –‘few people are better placed to understand the challenges’.

This report is not about the referendum. There is no mention or suggestion at any point in the broadcast piece that this is linked to the referendum.  For accuracy, it should be noted that the reference in the broadcast report was to “former spending watchdog Chief Robert Black…”

The text of the broadcast piece is as below:

“Sally Magnusson: The Scottish government has reaffirmed its commitment to benefits like free prescriptions and free personal care for the elderly. It was responding to the former spending watchdog chief Robert Black, who’s questioned whether such policies are still affordable. Our political correspondent Raymond Buchanan joins me now. Raymond. “

(The full reference to (Mr) “Black’s CV” immediately follows within the piece):

“Raymond Buchanan: Sally, few people are better placed to understand the challenges public finances face than Robert Black. As Auditor General, his job was to study the statistics, and some trends jump out from the page…”

These are the opening lines of the report.  They certainly do not, as the reports claims, constitute a ‘closing statement.’

The actual closing statement within this report is:

“Raymond Buchanan: But the challenges aren’t confined to an ageing population, Robert Black says there’s a four billion pound backlog for maintenance in the public sector, another sign that as budgets go down, costs are still going up.”

As neither the referendum nor independence has at any point been mentioned in this piece, this last line can hardly be considered ‘anti-independence.’

If as Brian Taylor tells us, the referendum is all about the economy then Lord Black’s intervention is obviously meant to influence the debate on independence. The very respectful treatment of Lord Black’s views suggests at least passivity in BBC staff in the face of elite representatives. The choice of Black’s report and not the more optimistic paper from the Jimmy Reid foundation on the same topic is, perhaps, revealing.

 

 

Example 3

 

On 26/4/13, in Reporting Scotland, a generally negative assessment of the future of insurance companies after independence finished with the Labour spokesperson’s assertion of ‘billions in costs’ and ‘potential closures’.

 

This broadcast piece is about pensions, not insurance companies.

The reference to closure is surely about insurance company offices.

The piece firstly sets out the context of pension schemes’ deficits (vital to the understanding of all that follows).   The piece then describes the challenges set out in the report, with an interview from David Wood from ICAS, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.  We then hear from John Swinney, followed by Gregg McClymont of Labour: “That means billions of extra cost for the companies involved, or it means if they don’t want to meet those costs or can’t meet those costs, it means potentially closing the schemes in Scotland.”

These words from Gregg McClymont MP do close the broadcast report  That’s what matters. – however, the studio discussion on this story continues after that report.

David Henderson’s last line is actually about ICAS:  “And true to form, they’re urging the governments in Edinburgh and London to do some careful pension planning before next year’s referendum. Sally.”  Attempting to soften a blow after it’s been delivered will be of little effect. Again, it’s the repeated pattern of shock news for Yes supporters followed by defensive responses which are disadvantaged by the sequence.

 

Once again, the examples cited do not support the contentions made by this report.

Section 3

 

Concluding Remarks

 

The report closes on a distillation of many of its earlier arguments, though, again with no evidence cited, it makes further allegations, that Alex Salmond is “often portrayed as selfish and undemocratic”and concludes that Reporting Scotland alerts “typically” contain “a Westminster scare story, on the Yes campaign” that are “mostly left unanswered and unchallenged”.

To suggest this is to suggest that BBC Scotland is constantly in breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines (and Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code), its news decisions determined by an editorial imperative to favour one argument over another, the result of which would be hundreds of editorial transgressions every year.

It is a suggestion completely without merit.

The UWS report’s closing remarks are worthy of consideration. It refers to its conclusions as based “on the objective evidence presented here”.

There is little, if any, objective evidence presented within the report: on the contrary, it is, in fact, highly subjective and selective in its approach and in its assessment of broadcast output.

As discussed earlier I accept a degree of subjectivity is unavoidable despite my best efforts. My evidence is as objective as that produced by any research in the field of social and political research. I suspect that it compares well with the pronouncements of those charged to defend corporate interests.

Finally, for it to suggest that the “evidence” it claims to have uncovered points to a conclusion that “coverage seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign” is to draw the report to a close on another wholly unsubstantiated contention, which is based on conjecture rather than any empirical evidence.

There is no evidence whatsoever in the report that it has conducted any research or that it has otherwise collected substantive evidence that bears out this conclusion.

It does not indicate what it means by ‘damage’ – reputational, in terms of voting intentions, etc?   If the latter, how can it arrive at that conclusion without having first assessed the voting intentions of the electorate and then clearly demonstrated a causal link between changes in those intentions, over a period of time, and the direct influence of broadcast output over that same period?

In short, the report concludes with a guess.

Reporting Scotland’s Brian Taylor is regularly asked what the impact of events such as the recent Bank of England governor’s speech in Scotland will have. He rarely hesitates, he gives only anecdotal evidence and is left unchallenged before a mass audience. No harm to him, but I think my evidence base is somewhat stronger.

Overall, it fails to provide any evidence, at all, that would support its main contentions.

ENDS

I think I’ve answered all the questions needed to contest these conclusions. Social research is unavoidably subjective to some degree but we have done our best to reduce the level. The BBC response is a remarkably heavy-handed reaction. Why did they not report the research, let their experts critique it on air and then ask me to defend it? Instead we see a bullying email to my employer and a blanket suppression across the mainstream media in the UK. I’m shocked.

 

There have been in excess of 30 000 hits on internet reports linking to my research. I’ve had more than 100 direct emails and around 400 blog responses suggesting a wide popular discontent with TV coverage of the Scottish Independence Referendum and in most cases suggesting I’ve understated the imbalances and bias. I’ve had only one comment really disagreeing with me.

 

I started out to gather the data, code it, sort it and report it in the professional and impartial style I have learned in 30 years of  higher education. I deliberately avoided reflecting too much as I worked. Remember, I spent most of my days on unrelated tasks. The level of imbalance and the presence of propagandising techniques such as the demonisation of Alex Salmond, which emerged as I processed the first year’s data, did not surprise me. Remember I am a student of propaganda and media compliance in more oppressive contexts such as Russia and the Middle East or Europe in the early 20th Century.

 

My team is small, low budget and part-time. I take responsibility for a small number of factual errors in writing up but these are of no consequence for the overall conclusion which is that Reporting Scotland and STV have produced over one year an account of the independence debate which favours the No campaign.

 

ENDS

Appendix 1

Relevant extracts from BBC Editorial Guidelines

Section 4: Impartiality

Introduction

Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences.  It applies to all our output and services – television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines.  We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.

The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy.  But we go further than that, applying due impartiality to all subjects.  However, its requirements will vary.

The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.

 

Principles

 

4.2.1

We must do all we can to ensure that ‘controversial subjects‘ are treated with due impartiality in all our output.

4.2.2

News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument.

4.2.3

We seek to provide a broad range of subject matter and perspectives over an appropriate timeframe across our output as a whole.

4.2.4

 

We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.

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56 thoughts on “BBC Blasted in UWS Response

  1. I can’t for the life of me make out who’s saying what. Different colours, maybe?

  2. Still reading, but this comment by the Professor jumped out at me [my emphasis throughout] He’s not for backing off is he. I think the BBC in Scotland have created a rather powerful thinking opponent. I await his next report, hopefully just before the referendum, with great anticipation! Thanks for sharing, Derek.

    Yes, I should have made more of the agenda setting of editors in characterising the Scottish public as concerned only about economic matters [BANG!]. I’d like to see the evidence of this other than in the discourse among journalists and a small number of small sample surveys. I see signs elsewhere of a wider discourse, around democracy, compassion and rights, absent in the news broadcasts researched here [BANG 2]. The narrowing of debate to shallow materialist concerns can be seen as ideologically driven efforts to strip the Yes campaign of opportunities to debate [BANG 3]. I’m reminded of my days as a young football fan when my small home team would narrow the pitch for visits by the big clubs thus compressing the play and stifling creativity. I have, of course no objective evidence for this.

    Bang Bang Bang BBC!

  3. Excellent riposte by Dr John Robertson. I hope the BBC continue to make fools of themselves over this.

    The louder they protest the more voters will become aware and disbelieve the BBC’s protests of innocence and turn to social media for truth.

    Incidentally ONN I heard today that one of the bosses at Standard Life told staff recently that Standard Life will upsticks and leave Scotland if there is a YES vote. There is no doubt now that sinister forces are definitely at work on the pro-union side.

  4. “I know you don’t get round the table and plot the downfall of the YES campaign. You don’t do you?” Brilliant. The BBC in full spite mode getting a taste of it’s own medicine. This is a salve, healing all the scars borne of my own frustration when being patronised or ignored by good old Aunty Beeb. The realisation that their shaky reputation has now entered the mainstream and is no longer the preserve of the dreaded cybernat has really shaken them up.

  5. The BBC’s response is typical of large corporations and elite groups when faced with otherwise incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing (such as was carried out by the tobacco companies over the incidence of cancer in smokers) viz.. muddy the waters by producing detailed responses that will persuade the public that the original evidence based findings are “subjective” or open to interpretation. The very approach of the BBC to this report proves the bias in the BBC. I fear however that their response will prove effective with the gullible who still believe that the BBC is “impartial”.

  6. Pravda have met their match

    • Marian, Deja vu all over again. SL threatened to leave Edinburgh if DEVOLUTION came to Scotland. Why would anyone believe them now?

  7. Wow, Dr Robertson is not someone you want to piss off by the looks of things! I love seeing an academic standing up for himself and his team’s work against a corporate bully. Shame that corporate bully is funded by us.

    I particularly loved his comment about Scotland being outside the UK would be no less normal than it being inside the UK, and how the BBC’s assumption that No = normality shows a conservative mindset.

    I don’t know if it’s just my phone browser rendering the text badly, but sometimes it was difficult to tell the difference between the BBC’s comments and the Dr’s comments.

  8. Delighted to see that all through the sustained BBC attack Dr Robertson maintained a firm stance. Congratulations!

  9. The day after independence, the BBC in Scotland needs to have its transmitters on the sovereign territory of Scotland shut down.No other sovereign government would tolerate a foreign broadcaster with HQ in another country spewing out anti_Scots propaganda broadcast from its territory.

  10. Messrs MacQuarrie, Zycinski, Boothman & Small appear to have picked on the wrong academic altogether. They stand opposed to reporting and analysing the debate in the depth, scope and prominence that basic democracy demands of them and there is now incontrovertible, academic evidence to show it. That their only response is a smear with a bit of bullying thrown in is an accurate measure of the mindset prevalent among management at PQ. This cannot and must not be allowed to continue and Dr. Robertson should be thanked for providing what may in time come to be seen as the catalyst for some genuinely balanced, fair & impartial coverage of the most significant public debate in Scotland`s history.

  11. Such a detailed response from Dr. Robertson deserves a dedicated news programme in itself. I look forward to hearing (not reading) the BBC response on this.

    As I read Dr. Robertson’s points the more I appreciated just how insulting the BBC’s prompt rejection of the UWS report must have been. A significant amount of time and consistent thought was clearly dedicated to capturing the data used to provide a reasonable insight into the way the news was presented over this 12 month period.

    In an open democracy with 24 hour rolling news broadcasts I simply cannot understand why this wasn’t discussed. It’s not as if they are short of broadcasting space.

    I say “insulting” because just about every other day I hear a report on the BBC, or ITV, etc saying something along the lines that “… scientists have found that eating six cherries after sipping a pint of lager over a one hour period may increase your life expectancy by as much as 3 years”.

    Dr. Robertson’s observation that “aren’t the broadcasts you own, the raw data?” is quite superb.

  12. So I wonder what the BBC has to say about Brian Taylor’s Big Debate last Friday from Strathallan; a private school in Perthshire. Pete Wishart MP was left fielding questions from an audience of 200 where only 3, yes 3, people were pro-independence. That, to me, is a complete outrage and is just not democratic. This live broadcast followed the live debate on independence in the Lords the day before that had no speakers that were pro-independence. Where’s the balance? Where’s the democracy?

    • Well said Donald, it was a shame really because most of the pupils were very articulate and came up with good valid points.

      I simply cannot see how the BBC could balance that sort of debate, so why on earth chose an institution that was so obviously pro-union?

      At least QT & others make an attempt to have a balanced audience.

      I’m sure Pete’s had tougher crowds and has developed a thick skin, but it was a pretty poor choice.

    • Yes, and where’s the apology from the BBC?

  13. Brilliant! John Robertson has restored my faith in humanity. Previous comments have pretty much summed up my thoughts. It is nice to know that I am one of “100 direct emails” to him.

    Dr Robertson could a very powerful ally for the Yes campaign.

  14. I too received a copy of this and have listened to Dr Robertson speak. There is no doubt about his integrity – holding a Doctorate myself I see nothing but objectivity in his assessment of this social investigation. For such a man to finish his response ( as in the last paragraph ) is damning indeed.

  15. Derek,

    “I suggest you pick your way through it and wonder how the BBC get out of this one.”

    I suspect it will just do what it always does, throw it in the bin and ignore it completely. That is what the great institution that is ‘our’ BBC usually does. It will be treated with the same contempt that complaints from licence payers are treated.

    Their attempt to intimidate Dr Robertson has seriously backfired, and I do not think we have heard the last of it. I look forward to the BBC ducking and diving when asked to appear before the Culture and Media Committee, that’s if they even deign to appear at all. MacQuarrie had to have his arm twisted the last time they were invited to appear (they don’t even have to appear as broadcasting is reserved to westminster; wonder why?)

    How many thousands of complaints do the keep hidden from prying eyes thanks to their get out of jail free clause regarding Freedom of Information requests? The BBC Trust is itself just a fig leaf to allow the state propaganda broadcaster to claim impartiality and accountability.

    The now invisible Daniel Maxwell (where’s he hiding now/) closed comments on the political and business blogs to prevent informed readers from questioning their output or correcting their bias. All dissent must be quashed, all debate stifled. The union is in peril and the BBC will fight tooth and nail to protect it. As far as they are concerned there are no rules as there is no-one to enforce them. They consider themselves untouchable.

    My total respect to Dr Robertson for exposing their bias and obviously getting under their skin. Unfortunately I think it will prove no more than an irritant unless the Culture and Media Committee can use the report and consequential correspondence to expose the state broadcaster to a wider audience. They certainly won’t report it themselves.

    I look forward to September.

  16. I also aplaud the stand Dr Robertson has taken, it reflects my understanding as a Yes voter that the BBC news coverage rarely represents my viewpoint (much less 50% of the time). The part of this that really annoys me is that the BBC see this referendum as foisted on Scotland by Alex Salmond, instead the indisputable fact that a majority of voters in Scotland elected a Party into power that said they would hold a referendum on Independence. It is our wish to have this debate and our broadcaster and Politicans have a duty to deal with it fairly. As an english person who has never felt the need to campaign (I know shame on me) the realisation that the weight of the UK Establishment is pitted against me because I have the temerity to disagree with the status quo is revelatory and made me now actively campaign for a Yes vote.

  17. Very worthy of a careful read. One part of the BBC response, quite near the end, jumped out at me.

    “To suggest this is to suggest that BBC Scotland is constantly in breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines (and Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code), its news decisions determined by an editorial imperative to favour one argument over another, the result of which would be hundreds of editorial transgressions every year.”

    So ,despite the quibbles over definition at the start, the BBC’s own report acknowledges the serious consequences that logically follow if Dr. Robertson’s research is valid. To my mind (I am an academic with around 100 published articles), Dr. Robertson has answered the BBC criticisms of his report convincingly (and I assume the BBC gave this their best shot). Moreover he has a track record of published research on media presentation of political stories for many years, so knows what he is about. I therefore see this as strong evidence that BBC Scotland was indeed constantly in breach of its editorial guidelines, making hundreds of editorial transgressions, in the first year of the independence debate. That is a public disgrace.

  18. Where do the BBC go from here? They are in dispute with research that conclusively proves bias but they have responded in such a crack handed and bullying manner that leaves little doubt these people are not fit and proper to run a public broadcasting service.

  19. It’s not just the BBC (as we all know).

    In today’s Sunday Herald, there was an article about the views of unionists in Northern Ireland concerning the Scottish referendum.

    The sub-headline (sorry I don’t know what the correct term is) under the headline read:

    “Is Alex Salmond a greater threat to the union than the IRA?”

    That is what it said. I posted a comment, saying how dare they write such a thing, which was not published. I couldn’t believe that any Scottish newspaper could print such a question.

    It’s not just the BBC. I wish Dr. Roberston could turn his research towards impartiality in the print media.

    What a report that would be.

  20. The BBC are now tied into the referendum result. A NO vote will be seen by the BBC as vindication of their broadcasting output. A YES vote , well …….. their walls will fall.

  21. Sorry, got the line wrong. It is:

    “Is Alex Salmond more dangerous than the IRA?”

    Which arguably more offensive.

    Here’s the link to the Herald article:

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/if-scotland-voted-yes-that-opens-up-something-irish-republicans-would-get-excited-and.23265602

  22. Thanks for posting this Derek. It’s certainly one of the more illuminating articles I’ve read recently.

    Some fundamental truths here from Dr Robertson. His reply deserves some consideration by all who value truth – regardless of our personal opinions, or bias. The following section is clearly pertinent in the debate on Scottish Independence, it does, however, transcend this topic.

    BBC: As an impartial news broadcaster, it is not the role or function of BBC news to ‘support’ any argument but rather to provide a platform for a range of views to be heard.

    Dr Robertson: This is a hugely important point, much researched in academia across Europe and the US and central to any explanation which goes beyond my account to identify causes. Journalists are known to be subject to peer pressure. Junior reporters work toward, perhaps sub-consciously, the approval of their seniors. Members of media elites (owners, editors, heads and directors) interlock socially with other elite members (politicians, officers, judges, directors, CEs) via selective education, early careers and social/cultural membership. No conspiracy is required. Elite members act in their own interests and those interests are the same as the interests of their groups. Thus thought control in liberal democracies is made possible and far more subtle than in totalitarian states where the people know, always, not to trust their media. You misunderstand yourself and the BBC. Impartiality is not attainable. Like many academics, I practice self-awareness but even then I make no claims.

    …then later…

    Dr Robertson: The level of imbalance and the presence of propagandising techniques such as the demonisation of Alex Salmond, which emerged as I processed the first year’s data, did not surprise me. Remember I am a student of propaganda and media compliance in more oppressive contexts such as Russia and the Middle East or Europe in the early 20th Century.

  23. Another academic with an extensive publication record here. (Glasgow University PhD, former lecturer at the University of London.)

    This is quite outrageous. The BBC frequently broadcasts reports on all sorts of research, some of which is quite obviously dodgy, without making the slightest effort to investigate the validity of even the most risible claims. Would that it subjected some of the nonsense health stories it promotes to even a tenth as much scrutiny as this.

    However, this is the bit that really resonated with me.

    “By contrast, there are no BBC headlines in this period that promote positive claims about Scottish Independence. You will look in vain for headlines that say “Yes campaign says independent Scotland will be eighth richest country in the world” or “Official GERS report shows Scotland’s public finances much healthier than those of the UK”. Such headlines just do not exist. Reporting Scotland or Newsnight Scotland has never, never been led by a positive story about independence. It has been led on dozens of occasions by the negative.”

    This is why I can’t watch BBC news any more. I’m stuck on BBC4 and my DVD collection. It’s soul-destroying.

    All the negativity and gloom they present would be bearable, indeed justifiable, if it was balanced by an equal amount of hope and optimism. Just one story about the transformative power independence may have for the country. Just one story acknowledging that the price of oil may rise! Just one story showing us even a glimpse of the potential and possibilities we’re being asked to decide on.

    It would lift my heart beyond measure to see a story like that. Even once. I’ve given up hope. I can’t bear this unleavened diet of warning and accusation and doom-mongering. I don’t watch any more.

    And then there’s the lies. Nobody attacked Susan Calman on a blog, as she claimed. Nobody attacked her on twitter. Nobody called her the c-word. This is fact. But one of the BBC anchormen not only claimed it as fact, he said the abuse was too vile to read out on-air. Now it has become accepted fact that she was attacked.

    Meantime another Scottish comedian, pro-Yes, was viciously attacked by union supporters, with his home address published and exhortations to “pay him a visit”. Did the BBC report that? A thing that actually happened? No it didn’t.

    Alex Salmond is subjected to a constant barrage of filthy hate-speech online. Has that ever been reported on? No. But the BBC had certainly broadcast stories claiming that independence supporters are abusive.

    I used to love the BBC. Now I’m close to hating it. It is working its little socks off to prevent something that is the dearest wish of my life – self-determination for my own country. And it’s not doing it honestly, it’s adopting the tactics of Pravda and Isvestia. Doctor Who can never atone for this and I don’t care if I never see it again. There will be other shows. Maybe we can even make our own, with our own revenues.

  24. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh

    Thanks for an exceptionally important post, Derek. An astounding, self-defeating wrangle fomented by BBC Scotland. Dr John Robertson’s sangfroid a delight. A few exchanges particularly worth highlighting:

    From Overview:

    BBC: [W]e question the fundamental validity of this report and, in particular, the conclusions which it reaches.

    Robertson: I make no claim for absolute truth; only a level of objectivity somewhat above that attainable by journalists and corporate affairs officers. ——- Towards end of Section one (note especially Robertson’s last sentence):

    BBC: [T]his reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how News, and in particular BBC News, operates. As an impartial news broadcaster, it is not the role or function of BBC news to ‘support’ any argument but rather to provide a platform for a range of views to be heard.

    Robertson: This is a hugely important point, much researched in academia across Europe and the US and central to any explanation which goes beyond my account to identify causes. Journalists are known to be subject to peer pressure. Junior reporters work toward, perhaps sub-consciously, the approval of their seniors. Members of media elites (owners, editors, heads and directors) interlock socially with other elite members (politicians, officers, judges, directors, CEs) via selective education, early careers and social/cultural membership. No conspiracy is required. Elite members act in their own interests and those interests are the same as the interests of their groups. Thus thought control in liberal democracies is made possible and far more subtle than in totalitarian states where the people know, always, not to trust their media. ——- From John Robertson’s final response:

    The BBC response is a remarkably heavy-handed reaction. Why did they not report the research, let their experts critique it on air and then ask me to defend it? Instead we see a bullying email to my employer and a blanket suppression across the mainstream media in the UK. I’m shocked… …The level of imbalance and the presence of propagandising techniques such as the demonisation of Alex Salmond, which emerged as I processed the first year’s data, did not surprise me. Remember I am a student of propaganda and media compliance in more oppressive contexts such as Russia and the Middle East or Europe in the early 20th Century…

  25. Derek – Can you do an FOI request to the BBC to establish the man (or woman) hours and cost involved in pursuing this challenge of a respected academic study

  26. It would also be useful to know how many complaints “our” BBC received as a result of their failure to report or respond to the WoS report until subjected to considerable pressure. I now encourage those who complain to me about clear media bias to complain formally as we are the paymasters. Good to see that Dr Robertson is not to be brushed off! The BBC used to be referred to as Auntie. When Auntie is exposed as being less than honest we deserve an explanation,.

  27. I am just an ordinary guy without even an O level to my name. What I take from this is that the BBC have forgotten Rule No.1

    Rule No.1 = When you find yourself in a hole, Stop Digging!

    Enjoying your blog Derek. Please ensure that your former employer is well stocked with shovels.

  28. I suppose if you are sitting in a nice office in the BBC , you may feel empowered enough that you can question any methodology of any report but it would appear (to this licence payer), that this is a first. Why this one? Why do they feel particularly stung into action by this paper? For months in Scotland,the viewers have endured, experts, academics, commentators and one psephologist. While their brand or title flashes up on screen, their connection to which political party, lobby group or Westminster dept is never made clear in the interest of ‘impartiality’.In fact, the relationship between some BBC weel kent faces (and some not so well known) to certain political parties is not made clear to the viewer, yet an Academic producing one report from an Independent University,who are part of the community have elicited a completely over the top, defensive, accusatory response. Do BBC Scotland now intend to ‘challenge’ every report or perhaps they should take on board a ‘previous report’ they may have come across.”The aim of the whole exercise, in all our minds, was not to knock the BBC but to help it address a problem that senior management knows to exist but that it has not yet turned its corporate mind to”- The King Report (Professor, University of Essex 2008) aided by Cardiff University and BMRB for The BBC Trust Impartiality Report,BBC Network News and current affairs-out of context but completely apt. More power to you and your team Professor Robertson but could I suggest if you require further material a study of Newsnicht would be a good start!

  29. sorry that should be Dr Robertson

  30. Sorry not had time yet to read all the UWS response or the comments. Although the BBC has an obligation to fairness and balance it is a British institution. I think that as a British institution it has an inherent, in built bias towards the No campaign. The BBC will face upheaval if we have a Yes vote. Jobs will change, jobs will go, structure will change and funding arrangements will change. BBC Scotland may cease to exist. So, no surprise that they are unable to report fairly on the referendum and absolutely no confidence that they can fix this. If Yes win this campaign it will be in spite of the BBC and the rest of the media and it will be a credit to the internet and the new ways that information, discussion, debate and opinion can be exchanged and expressed.

  31. Just sent the following email to the editors of Medialens, a site that has a long record in “describing how mainstream newspapers and broadcasters operate as a propaganda system for the elite interests that dominate modern society.”

    I am just fed up with the cock & bull of the MSM, and think it is time to internationalise the effort to address media balance in the independence debate

    “Dear Editor(s)

    I would be interested in heariing if you had any plans to follow up the medias behaviour with regard to the Scottish independence debate.

    It has been a long time contention that the main stream media is biased towards the status quo.

    This appears now to be backed up with an academic study, conducted by Dr John Robertson at the University of Western Scotland

    link- http://issuu.com/creative_futur/docs/robertson2014fairnessinthefirstyear

    Please let me know if you are going to investigate this further

    Best wishes

    Thomas Dunlop”

  32. Superb comment, Morag, thanks.

  33. Who can forget the BBC’s recent coverage of the IFS report on Scotlands finances, 50 years into the future, if an indy Scotland were to continue along the same path as the UK. Wall to wall on all channels and internet and radio, for days, of black holes and on how the IFS was the most impartial think tank ever! Says who?

  34. I still can get over James Naughtie almost blaming Salmond for the failed Darrien expidition live on radio. There was the proof that these guys are lunatics!

  35. Personalisation, demonisation and the undermining of individuals

    According to the BBC Alex Salmond’s Ryder Cup trip ‘cost £470,000′.

    http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/6340-bbc-scotland-alters-misleading-ryder-cup-headline

  36. I have complained to the BBC about their response to Dr Robertson and today received a letter (unsigned and wishing me kind regards!) with a series of self justifying statements. I responded by telephone (03700 100 222) requesting the following six answers: 1) Who wrote the letter – I want the name of the person who has signed off with kind regards! 2)I wish to have a list of the ‘ inaccuracies’ together with the reasons why these conclusions have been reached. 3) Who has questioned the methodology? I assume that the BBC employed an academic of equal standing to Dr Roberson in the field and I have requested his name. 4) If no academic has been recruited who in the BBC has found fault with the methodology? 5) I have asked for a list of research papers and institutions where the BBC has asked for data and further information- they claim to reserve the right to do this. 6) If they are so certain that your research is so wrong why then have they not exposed it further on their news channels? If any readers feel similarly I suggest they contact the BBC at the number above>

  37. “By contrast, there are no BBC headlines in this period that promote positive claims about Scottish Independence. You will look in vain for headlines that say “Yes campaign says independent Scotland will be eighth richest country in the world” or “Official GERS report shows Scotland’s public finances much healthier than those of the UK”. Such headlines just do not exist. Reporting Scotland or Newsnight Scotland has never, never been led by a positive story about independence. It has been led on dozens of occasions by the negative.”

    Is it just me? You know, it wasn’t until I read this that it dawned on me that I had become conditioned not to expect to see any pro independence headlines/articles from any arm of the MSM.

    Constant negative reporting on independence and media bias against those who support independence had, for me, become the accepted norm.

    • Oh, I’d noticed it all right. It’s the most obvious thing, to me. Never, NEVER say anything positive about independence, let alone anything inspirational! People might get the wrong idea!

      It’s pernicious. It’s soul-destroying. And I can’t believe it’s not deliberate.

      At this stage in the independence process we should be seeing a positive vision of an independent Scotland being put forward by the media, even if only as a counterbalance to the negativity. I would drink it up like a camel in the desert. But instead, any time they have to report something positive it’s in the form of “Alex Salmond claims” and then a procession of unionists is unleashed to rubbish it.

      My heart cries out for some looking forward to what might be, some examination of the prospects that could be before us. If that appeared, AS WELL AS the negativity, we’d win at a canter. So it won’t. No use crying about it.

      And Derek, I know you don’t believe the BBC is doing this deliberately, but I ask you. Look at the potential for inspirational programming looking to the possibilities of a new Scotland. Who could resist making such a film? But the entire subject is verboten, by BBC diktat.

      • I’d noticed the negativity alright, Morag. What I hadn’t noticed was the subliminal conditioning that anti independence bias was a state of normality for the MSM – that and my own acquiescence to it.

  38. Send a link!

    You know, we – the ordinary and grateful readers of Derek Bateman’s blog – owe it to Dr Robertson and to Derek to send a link to this story to everyone in our address books. And why don’t you do it too, Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservative and Scottish LibDem readers (we know you’re out there quietly following Derek’s blog. Doesn’t this story make you ashamed of yourselves?).

    If the BBC and the print media are trying to keep this story from the public, we can do our bit to upset their plan by passing on links ourselves.

  39. I think this confirms that the BBC’s complaints procedure and editorial guidelines are not fit for purpose. Ever since the SNP have been elected to office in 2007 there has been a litany of complaints about the BBC’s broadcasting of Scottish politics and current affairs. Did it need academic research to sound the alarm bells at the BBC?

    It also highlights how completely useless the Audience Council Scotland is. Surely, Bill Matthews, Chair, Audience Council Scotland should be considering his position in failing to address this long term and ongoing issue. What of the others on the ACS board. Surely they have been found wanting too;

    David Garrick, Munwar Hussain, Neelam Bakshi, Jamie Kinlochan, Mary Duffy, Amanda Bryan, Matthew MacIvor, Jennifer Harrower, Iain Campbell and Andrew Jones.

    This undemocratic, unrestricted and unchecked bias in broadcasting represents institutional failure at the very heart of the BBC.

    • MINUTES OF THE AUDIENCE COUNCIL SCOTLAND MEETING

      Held on Friday, 20 November 2013 at Pacific Quay, BBC Scotland

      Referendum Coverage:

      Council members discussed recent output relating to the referendum debate. Members believed that in addition to coverage of the debate between the two campaigns, there was scope for journalism and other coverage on a broader front. There was discussion of the degree to which in-depth analysis was provided on the BBC’s various media platforms. Members stressed the need to offer a context for the debate, and to reach the widest possible audience with the arguments and issues which arise from it. Trustee Richard Ayre said the BBC would have an important role to play as an authoritative and trusted source of impartial journalism, however to protect its reputation it was important that it owned up quickly where a mistake was made.

  40. Bravo Dr Robertson, Brilliant piece of work, and they picked on the wrong guy. We need more Dr Robertsons at the BBC, thorough and impartial. Maybe after independence we could have a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation, state owned and completely impartial and accountable to the people. Now theres a thought…..

  41. How about ‘The Stuarts’, of which Part 1 was shown last week on BBC2 but only in Scotland. A blatant piece of Unionist propaganda which ignored the early Stewarts/Stuarts, many of whom fought against the English, but started in 1603 when James VI went off to become King of England in succession to Elizabeth.

    It is really looking as if they are trying to brainwash us.

  42. Thank you Dr Robertson. This is a refreshing stance to elite corporation bullying and a deservingly demeaning response to the frustratingly manipulative BBC. Well done!

  43. Hasn’t negative coverage always been given to the SNP government? Once challenged a print journalist said: “It’s our job to hold the government to account”. Which didn’t explain the relentless negativity and I was not around Scottish issues to contrast it with treatment of Holyrood in Labour days.

    Also worth a look – the BBC guidelines, to come into operation on 30th May. http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/our_work/scotland_referendum/draft_guidelines.pdf.

    Funnily enough, at a glance, most of the 13 pages seem to address the issues Dr Robertson raises: 1.3 Principles of the Guidelines There is no area of its output where the BBC’s commitment to due impartiality and independence from political influence is more closely scrutinised than in reporting election and referendum campaigns. For this campaign in particular, that scrutiny will be intense and high profile. These guidelines are intended to offer a framework within which journalists and content producers: - can operate in as free and creative an environment as possible and - deliver to audiences impartial and independent reporting of the campaign, providing them with fair coverage and rigorous scrutiny of the policies and campaigns of all relevant parties and campaign groups.

  44. Verry informative, At the BBC will word filter down or up to be carefull in reporting. the BBC sets itself on fire

  45. […] Saving the best until last. The BBC has been noted as have an anti-independence bias in a study then tried to scare off the prof… […]

  46. […] Bateman has posted the reply to the BBC’s curt rejection of the academic study documenting its extreme bias in […]

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