BBC admits parts of academic’s interview removed but denies misleading viewers

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  By Martin Kelly
 
BBC Scotland has admitted a broadcast in which a respected academic was heard to say that Scotland’s economic recovery was not as strong as it ought to have been, but apparently gave no reasons, had been “edited from a longer interview”.
 
However the broadcaster has refused to address claims that the missing part of the interview, that heard Professor Brian Ashcroft say the slow recovery was in part due to the UK coalition’s austerity measures, meant viewers were misled.

The complaint arose after an item was broadcast on BBC Scotland’s news programme Reporting Scotland on June 12th this year in which Professor Brian Ashcroft had been giving his views on the Scottish economic recovery.

Viewers of the flagship news programme heard the academic criticise the apparent weakness of the recovery insisting that it should have been stronger given the extent of the banking crisis.

“There is a recovery, we hope it continues, but we must remember we’re still five years into a major financial crisis and at this stage we should be recovering much more strongly than we are.” he was heard to say.

However viewers did not hear the academic give what he believed were the reasons for the poorer than expected recovery, which included the UK coalition’s austerity policies as well as weak exports which had been included in a press release issued earlier that day on behalf of the academic.

Also broadcast on the same programme were comments from then Scottish Secretary Michael Moore who claimed, contrary to the academic’s view, that the recovery was in fact a result of the UK coalition policies, and that the UK Government was “taking all the right measures to get the economy on the right track”.

Viewers also heard from First Minister Alex Salmond who criticised the austerity agenda and warned Scotland’s economic recovery “could get blown off course by London economic policies”.

According to the complainant, the decision to edit the academic’s interview and remove his criticisms of the UK coalition’s austerity agenda caused viewers to be misled over the strength of argument put forward by both politicians.

In the complaint to the BBC, he wrote: “Had Professor Ashcroft’s views been shown in full then the viewers who rely on the flagship teatime news programme for their political news, would have had the benefit of an impartial academic lending weight to Alex Salmond’s opinion and challenging Michael Moore’s.”

However, Newsnet Scotland can reveal that the BBC Scotland official tasked with investigating the complaint refused to address this key element, claiming the original recording had been deleted.

The BBC Scotland official said: “As noted in earlier correspondence with you, the rushes of the full interview are no longer available, having been deleted, with only the broadcast programme archived.  This is a normal part of a ‘good housekeeping’ process to which all programme-makers adhere.  However it does mean that I am unable to compare the full unedited filmed interview with the clip that was shown on Reporting Scotland on 12 June.”

Despite an apparent reluctance to acknowledge that the part of the interview which was edited out contained criticism of the coalition’s austerity agenda, the BBC Scotland spokesman also denied the broadcast item effectively laid the blame for the slower recovery at the feet of the Scottish Government.

The official added: “That said, having viewed the broadcast and considered the points raised in your complaint, I cannot agree with your contention, in your original submission, that ‘Viewers were left with the impression that Professor Ashcroft had simply criticised the rate of growth, and by extension the Scottish government.’

“The question effectively is whether the broadcast item effectively misled viewers as a result of what was included within it and/or omitted from it.  I do not believe that it did.”

The refusal to admit that the missing segment would have undermined the comments from Mr Moore and lent weight to the argument put forward by Mr Salmond was made despite Professor Ashcroft himself confirming to Newsnet Scotland the day after the interview that he had indeed been filmed blaming the austerity agenda.

“Yes, I did give reasons for the weak recovery from the financial crisis over and above what one might expect after a bank crisis: fiscal austerity and exporting problems.”

The BBC Scotland spokesman also denied the corporation had lied when suggesting in an earlier response that no editing of Professor Ashcroft’s interview, in order to remove that segment, had taken place.

Prior to being made aware of the academic’s confirmation he had indeed been filmed giving his reasons for the slower growth, a BBC official responded to the complainant’s claim by saying:

“In struggling to follow your thought process, I infer that you somehow believe that, whatever Professor Ashcroft said in his statement, he will have repeated word-for-word to us, and that we edited out anything that you did not see on the screen which had been in the statement.

“If that is what you are really thinking, I can assure you that we do not produce programmes on that basis and that in the real world people do not necessarily parrot phrases time after time without omission, addition or some other alteration.”

However, despite the original claim from the BBC that it had not “edited out anything that you did not see on the screen” in the latest response the BBC Scotland spokesman denied the corporation had initially lied.

“I can find no evidence to support this view.” He said, and added “This does not say that the only words Professor Ashcroft uttered were those which appeared on screen; nor does it deny that the clip which appeared was edited from a longer interview.

“What it says is that editorial decisions determine what goes in to any TV news piece and what is omitted or rejected from any such news item.”

In a statement to Newsnet Scotland the complainant said: “The BBC initially indicated that no editing had taken place.  It now admits that the interview was cut short, but this admission came only after the BBC was made aware that Professor Ashcroft had given a statement to Newsnet Scotland that undermined the BBC’s initial reply.

“To simply ignore my point that by removing this part of Professor Ashcroft’s interview, the BBC protected Michael Moore’s claims, is simply bizarre.  Had the interview been broadcast in full then the public would have heard an impartial academic agreeing with Alex Salmond.”

Newsnet Scotland understands that the complaint will now be forwarded to the BBC Trust for further investigation.