By a Newsnet reporter
The BBC has defended its decision not to report a follow up statement from a foreign minister who claimed her comments on the EU membership status of an independent Scotland had been ‘spun’ and taken out of context.
In an official statement in response to a complaint after it refused to report comments from Irish minister Lucinda Creighton, a BBC official said:
“In her email to the deputy First Minister, she reiterated her comments to BBC Scotland that Scotland would be welcomed by its EU neighbours and that negotiations would have to take place and they could take some time. She did not retreat from her position in our interview that ‘Scotland would have to apply for membership’ and that there would be an ‘application and negotiation process’.
“In view of what I say above, you will, I hope, understand why there were no good journalistic reasons to have deviated from the coverage we gave to this story across our output.”
The complaint follows the BBC’s handling of an interview given by Ms Creighton earlier this year where the Irish Foreign Minister was heard to say that a newly independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership.
The interview was broadcast on Reporting Scotland and reporter Raymond Buchanan said later that her views “chimed” with those of Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore who was shown claiming that “Scotland would be outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in”.
However, in a series of follow up statements, the Irish Minister complained that her interview had been “misconstrued” and “spun” and that at no point had she suggested a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the European Union.
In a response to Newsnet Scotland the Irish Minister made it clear that her own view had in fact chimed with those of the Scottish government and not, as suggested by Mr Buchanan, Lib Dem MP Michael Moore.
She wrote: “I was asked about the future of negotiations with the EU in the event that Scotland votes for independence. I thought that my reply was largely in line with that of the Scottish Government. I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU. Scottish people are citizens of Europe.”
She added: “My understanding is that the Scottish Government has already committed to a negotiation with the EU between 2014 and 2016, if you vote for independence in 2014. If my interview suggested something other than that, this was not my intention. I think my comments have been misconstrued – if so I sincerely regret this.
“As SNP Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson said ‘Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence’, and that, ‘The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries’.”
I think that sums up the situation quite well.”
Despite the original interview and claims by Michael Moore featuring prominently in news coverage days earlier, the BBC refused to report the clarification statement including claims that her views had been misinterpreted and that she did not agree with Mr Moore that Scotland would be out of the EU trying to negotiate its way back in.
The stance by the broadcaster was compounded by subsequent broadcasts in which several Unionist politicians repeated the erroneous claims that Ms Creighton’s view was that independence would leave Scotland out of the EU.
The refusal of the BBC to report Ms Creighton’s clarification led to complaints that the broadcaster was suppressing views that may have been viewed as being damaging to the anti-independence campaign and that it was selectively reporting news stories in order to pursue an anti-independence agenda.
In February, the BBC caused anger by claiming that the Irish Minister’s clarification remarks were not news.
In an official reply to a licence payer who had provided a quote from Ms Creighton in his complaint, a statement issued on behalf of the BBC’s Head of News said: “As to the quotes you give from the email, I am not sure what they add to the sum of human knowledge.”
The BBC also denied that its coverage of the interview with Mr Creighton contained claims that a newly independent Scotland would be “thrown out” of the European Union.
Addressing Ms Creighton’s comment where she said: “I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU.” – The BBC responded by saying: “Nor did anyone else – so not a news line”.
However the claim by the BBC was not supported by the Reporting Scotland item which very cleary showed Scottish Secretary Michael Moore claiming a newly independent Scotland would be out of the EU.
The BBC’s latest reply from the corporation’s editorial complaints unit official adds: “I explained to you in my first response the BBC’s position on the claim that Ms Creighton’s interview had been ‘misconstrued’ and on Raymond Buchanan’s linking remarks to the Secretary of State’s comments, in the light of both Mr Moore and Ms Creighton agreeing that Scotland would need to go through an application and negotiation process.”
However, this response appears to differ from the earlier claim which insisted that no-one on Reporting Scotland said that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU.
The broadcaster has faced several accusations that it has misrepresented comments from foreign officials in order to portray ministers as being concerned about the effects of independence and having doubts about EU membership, when in fact they have expressed no such views.
In March this year, BBC Scotland reporter Glenn Campbell claimed that the small European Country of Luxembourg was the first to come out against Scottish independence.
Describing a statement issued by the country’s Foreign Minister as devoid of “diplomatic restraint”, the BBC Scotland reporter claimed that, “Luxembourg has warned against Scotland becoming an independent country”.
However, within days the reports were rubbished by the office of Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn which challenged the BBC’s presentation of the official statement.
“The BBC chose to present the position of the minister in opposition [to independence]. Whereas it was more nuanced than that,” an official added: “It’s a reflection which is valid for all member states, not to go their separate ways.”
“…there was no misunderstanding on the part of Scotland’s parliament, which interpreted the minister’s comment as directed at the UK’s anti-Europe stance.”
This month a letter written by Chargé d’affaires at the Luxembourg Embassy in London, Béatrice Kirsch, emerged in which she repeated the criticisms of the BBC:
“Whilst acknowledging that the BBC is usually excellent in their news coverage, it failed on this occasion to appreciate the nuance of Minister Asselborn’s quote and position.”
In a firm rebuttal of Mr Campbell’s interpretation, Ms Kirsch insisted that Mr Asselborn’s quote was: “… not one of opposition but a call to all member states not to go their own separate ways.”
The refusal by the BBC to report accurately comments made by foreign officials has led to claims that it is deliberately seeking out views that can be presented in a fashion that would undermine the independence argument.
Other examples of news management by BBC Scotland include claims by foreign ministers that the remainder of the UK might not automatically inherit the current EU membership of the UK.
In March, comments from the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics were edited out of a news report on Reporting Scotland. The remarks by Mr Rinkevics, challenged the view that the rest of the UK would automatically inherit the old EU membership if Scotland became independent.
Asked if the rest of the UK would have to formally apply for EU membership, Mr Rinkevics said: “I understand the commission and also colleagues from the EU legal services are also currently considering that so I do not want to make any comment vis-à-vis that part of the question, I think we need solid legal opinion.”
However on that evenings main news programme, there was no mention of the Minister’s view on the rest of the UK, whilst a comment suggesting a newly independent Scotland would need to apply was highlighted.
Newsnet Scotland understands that the complaint relating to the initial interpretation of Lucinda Creighton’s remarks and the subsequent refusal by the BBC to broadcast her clarification statements in news programmes will be pursued.
The complaint will be in three parts:
That the BBC, in a Reporting Scotland item, implied [wrongly] that Ms Creighton had expressed a view that was in agreement with that of Secretary of State Michael Moore who said that a newly independent Scotland would be outside the EU trying to negotiate its way back in.
That the BBC selectively reported the episode in a manner that left licence payers with a wholly inaccurate interpretation of Ms Creighton’s views – as can be seen in the clip below.
That the clarification statements given to both Newsnet Scotland the Deputy First Minister of Scotland were very clearly newsworthy and deserved to be given the same level of news coverage to that enjoyed by Mr Buchanan’s original interview and that there were indeed good journalistic reasons for reporting them.
A public rally calling for a balanced all inclusive referendum debate from our broadcasters is being held in Glasgow on Saturday May 18th at 12:30 pm. See BARD2014.com for details.