All academics are respected, but some are more respected than others


  By G.A.Ponsonby
Last week a respected academic appeared on STV and BBC.  Professor John Curtice was talking about the latest survey on social attitudes.
The Scottish Social Attitudes survey was carried by every news outlet in Scotland, its findings deemed crucial to the independence debate.  Interviews and articles accompanied the latest poll and Professor Curtice enjoyed yet more media attention.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
Last week a respected academic appeared on STV and BBC.  Professor John Curtice was talking about the latest survey on social attitudes.
The Scottish Social Attitudes survey was carried by every news outlet in Scotland, its findings deemed crucial to the independence debate.  Interviews and articles accompanied the latest poll and Professor Curtice enjoyed yet more media attention.

His views were treated as though written in tablets of stone.  He managed to dictate the narrative of the day’s news in Scotland – no mean feat.

Professor Curtice is, you see, a respected academic who is one of a list of other respected academics who turn up on our TV sets regularly – David Bell, Jo Armstrong, John McLaren, Brian Ashcroft, Tom Devine and Jim Gallagher are others.

But one academic it seems is less respected than the list above.  That academic is Dr John Robertson, who last week revealed results of a study his team of researchers at the University of the West of Scotland had undertaken into TV reporting of the independence referendum.

Dr Robertson’s team analysed not a week, not a month but a full year of early evening news output, broadcast by BBC Scotland and STV.  The research team watched, noted and carefully tabulated their findings before compiling a report.

The findings were revealed last week by Newsnet Scotland – they showed that BBC Scotland, and to a slightly lesser extent STV, had been favouring the No campaign in their evening TV news output.

Our article took social media by storm and was tweeted hundreds of times, at one point our counter indicated over 650 tweets.  It became one of the best read stories we have ever published and was read by well over 23,000 people.  However a search for the story on any of Scotland’s traditional media outlets would have drawn a blank – a news blackout appeared to have been imposed.

The subjects of the study rejected the findings of the report.  STV at least replied to people who had asked the broadcaster for a response – BBC Scotland, in keeping with the tartan shawl of secrecy that surrounds the tin hut on the Clyde, said nothing.

Well, nothing publicly that is, until former BBC Scotland journalist Derek Bateman revealed that the broadcaster had sent an intimidatory email to Dr Robertson demanding he hand over his research data.  According to a source who has read the email, it contained a “very heated attack” on the “credibility” and “methodology” of Dr Robertson’s work.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the University of the West of Scotland is a quack organisation, on the fringes of the Scottish education establishment and that BBC Scotland are correct to treat the study with contempt and mistrust.  However this same broadcaster was happy to use research from the University two years ago in a prime time TV programme.

So why the mistrust now?  The reason of course was that this study confirmed what many already suspected, that BBC Scotland has serious issues when it comes to political reporting.  That STV was also found guilty was not surprising given that it ‘apes’ much of what its next door neighbour does.  There’s also the fact that STV is a business and its editorial decision may have been based on the belief that they were indulging the majority view of their viewers.

Some commentators, such as Derek Bateman, have expressed surprise that the study was ignored by newspapers.  But that suggests Scotland’s newspaper industry is interested in highlighting the corruption that is eating away at the soul of BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland provides a nice little earner for too many newspaper journalists in Scotland for them to want to rock the boat.  Too many of them get to appear on the TV and radio disguised as ‘neutral’ commentators whilst being paid a few hundred quid in order to promote their own wee agendas?

The newspapers also enjoy regular free advertising on BBC radio and TV with their headlines read out – that’s tens of thousands of pounds worth of free promotion … thanks to the beeb – or more accurately the licence payers.

One newspaper had the opportunity to run the University of the West of Scotland report as a scoop, which would have been massive, but the Herald ignored the study despite being in possession of it days before it was sent to Newsnet Scotland.

The refusal of the so-called ‘Scottish’ media to report the story did not surprise independence supporters who have long since given up on Scotland’s media.  The reason of course is that journalism was one of the first casualties of the independence referendum. 

Nationalists already knew that the media in Scotland was essentially worthless – it’s so riddled with pro-Union cabals that the independence debate is slowly being taken from them.

Social media reported and debated the indy-broadcast study because traditional media closed the story down.  It’s precisely because of citizen journalism that Dr Robertson has been invited onto Radio Scotland today (08:20).  His invite to appear on the Saturday morning dead zone tells you all you need to know about BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland is, and has been for quite some time, held in absolute contempt by many who are less than enamoured with the current Union.  It wouldn’t be too strong to say that there are tens of thousands of Scots who loathe the broadcaster – they despise it.  Its political coverage is manipulated and packaged in order to minimise any benefit to the Scottish Government and to promote pro-Union narratives.

Dr Robertson’s report came barely a week after the BBC Trust found BBC Scotland guilty of having misled the Scottish public over one of the key issues of the independence debate – membership of the EU.  It took the Trust nearly a year to give a ruling on what was an open and shut case.  The guilty verdict was the second in six months for BBC Scotland’s news department, it too dragged on for a year.

Two guilty verdicts in six months and an academic study highlighting clear political bias would, if it was the main UK national news, have led to a public outcry with the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, being summoned before a House of Commons Committee to answer for the blunders – before being forced to resign.  But not in Scotland where nobody seems to care that we have what now looks to be a dysfunctional management in charge of an institutional corrupt political news department.

Those who believe that the BBC is capable of acknowledging its own failings need only look to the Jimmy Savile scandal to see how the impenetrable walls of the institution can be used to shield offenders.  How many famous presenters, their careers over, have now admitted they were aware that these practices were going on? 

It’s so bad that on any given day you cannot just detect but actually predict how BBC Scotland will report a major political story.  Even stories that would ordinarily be helpful to the Yes campaign can be turned with ease into ammunition against them.

On November 30th last year I wrote an article entitled ‘Lifted from the internet’ – The poisoning of the independence debate.  The article highlighted the appalling misreporting that followed the highlighting of a letter from an EC official.  First Minister Alex Salmond had revealed the existence of the communication in response to claims from his Unionist opponents that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU.

Part of my article dealt with claims by two BBC Scotland reporters that the Scottish Government had downloaded the communication from the internet.  Both Brian Taylor and his colleague Niall O’Gallagher said the document had been “lifted from the internet” by the Scottish Government.

Despite being contacted by Newsnet Scotland and informed that their claim was mistaken, BBC Scotland refused to issue a correction.  The refusal to acknowledge their mistake came despite Newsnet Scotland informing BBC Scotland that the document held up by Alex Salmond had been sent to his Government by us.

Indeed the day before we sent the PDF to the Scottish Government we had sent a copy to BBC Scotland.  Receipt was later confirmed to us by a BBC Scotland official.

Those who remember the news reports will also recall that opposition leaders at Holyrood had themselves accused Alex Salmond of having googled the communication.  The BBC’s misreporting dovetailed nicely with Unionist rhetoric and a story helpful to the independence campaign (the official communication) was turned into an anti-Salmond smear.

And the story doesn’t end there.  In frustration, Newsnet Scotland decided to submit a complaint to the BBC over the inaccurate nature of the reports.  The response was almost as bad as the original misreporting by the two BBC Scotland reporters.

A spokesperson said: “There was some confusion as to the provenance of the letter when the First Minister’s official spokesman was questioned after FMQs and the phrase ‘lifted from the internet’ was written by a leading news agency used by many media outlets.”

Incredible but true.  According to BBC Scotland, two of their reporters had blithely reported as fact a claim that had emanated from an un-named news agency, a claim that had they asked the source of the story – Newsnet Scotland – could have been corrected.  But they didn’t ask, indeed in all of the news reports, BBC Scotland refused to even disclose to listeners and viewers that the letter had been revealed by us, in an exclusive.

Who had provided BBC Scotland with the false information?  We don’t know, but a casual search of the internet reveals the usual suspects all parroting the same false claim.  So the whole of the Scottish media ran another smear which poisoned the independence debate.

Just as in the case of Lucinda Creighton where BBC Scotland broadcast something we now know was inaccurate and misleading, the “lifted from the internet” claim has become accepted as fact and regularly finds its way into online debate.

BBC Scotland is elitist, arrogant and dysfunctional.  Any attempts at extracting basic information are met with a wall of silence or abrupt dismissals.  Few nationalists would weep if its political news department closed down completely.

It is unable to handle the independence debate – the latest offering, a ‘debate’ from Greenock was more of the same partisan ranting from the audience.  These football style tribal shouting matches where ‘fans’ clap and cheer their own team’s mini-speeches are worthless.

They appear unable or unwilling to strip out ignorant political bigotry and allow for mature, reasoned debate.  Its morning phone in is a maelstrom of partisan ignorance designed it seems to allow some of the most misinformed political bigots you have ever heard to promote their views … uncorrected by a host, apparently equally ignorant.

In September last year, BBC Scotland announced it had appointed the former editor of the Independent on Sunday, John Mullin, to lead its coverage of the Scottish independence referendum.  If the dross that has been presented to licence payers since then is evidence of his influence, then god help us.

BBC Scotland is institutionally corrupt in its coverage of political news and I firmly believe that those who work within its walls know this to be the case, and have done for some time.  Guilty verdicts, resignations and the University of the West of Scotland study are indicators that intelligent people cannot ignore.

Who would have believed that in the space of a year, we would have witnessed:

  • A respected former BBC Scotland presenter resigning and revealing the head of news tried to influence the content of political programmes.
  • BBC Scotland being found guilty of misleading viewers over a key independence issue.
  • One of its top political reporters leaving under a cloud pending an investigation.
  • An academic study finding BBC Scotland guilty of pro-Union bias.

All have come to pass but none has generated headlines in the newspapers, which means BBC Scotland can continue along its dysfunctional path.

Derek Bateman highlighted what appeared to be a conspiracy of silence after the damning University report was published:

“Has anyone come across coverage of the West of Scotland University media bias report in the mainstream media? I can’t see it anywhere and don’t suppose BBC Scotland discussed it either.  Isn’t that in itself remarkable…a Scottish university produces a report on a year-long study of news and finds a disturbing trend showing bias in what is a regulated industry – broadcasting – including the taxpayer funded BBC, and no one in the world of journalism in our country thinks it’s worth telling the public.

That’s a subject worth academic scrutiny all by itself…what principles do the media adhere to in judging items, who decides and what criteria are applied.”

It’s difficult to underestimate the damaging effects on society and democracy in Scotland if this approach continues over the next eight months.  I have said it before, the media are in danger of creating a sense of grievance so powerful that it will manifest itself in a political bigotry so pronounced and so deep that it may last for generations in Scotland and could split communities.