By a Newsnet reporter
Bosses at BBC Scotland’s Glasgow HQ are spending cash given to them to improve referendum coverage, in order to discredit a university study critical of their news output.
Former presenter Derek Bateman has claimed that extra staff, who were recruited specifically to help carry out research aimed at expanding the broadcaster’s coverage of the referendum, have instead been told to go over past news broadcasts.
According to Mr Bateman, who spent over twenty years at BBC Scotland, bosses at his former employer are using the new recruits to “subsidise the BBC’s PR response” in a bid at discrediting a university study that found the broadcaster was favouring the No campaign in its evening news reports.
Writing on his blog, the respected journalist and broadcaster criticised the decision to hand the task of trying to determine whether BBC Scotland is biased in favour of the No campaign, to raw recruits with no experience.
He said: “Remember these are all novice broadcast people who are being trained on the job, having never worked in the industry before.
“Now some are being asked to make judgements about the content, tone and balance of programme output when they simply don’t have the experience in journalism to know if a news item is being personalised, if it’s weighted to one side and has enough independent content or indeed if an expert can fairly be described as independent.
“These are judgements only an experienced professional could make and, as I have written before, this work needs to be monitored by an independent academic source.”
Last year BBC Scotland announced it had secured £5m extra funding which would be used to recruit fifteen trainees to help up its referendum coverage.
In a statement to Newsnet Scotland, at the time the £5m extra referendum cash was announced, BBC Scotland said: “We will be offering high quality training provided and supported by the BBC College of Journalism and senior BBC News staff, as well as the chance to learn on the job. These posts represent an excellent opportunity for trainees to gain valuable experience and to make a contribution to the BBC’s coverage of such a significant story.”
Claims that the recruits are being used to go over old broadcasts follows publication of a study carried out by an academic of the University of the West of Scotland which found both STV and BBC Scotland had favoured the No campaign by a factor of three to two in early evening news items.
The study by Dr John Robertson was criticised by both STV and the BBC with both broadcasters challenging the figures and conclusions of a subsequent report.
However a row has grown after it emerged an official at BBC Scotland had sent what was described as a ‘bullying’ email to Dr Robertson that called the academic’s professional integrity into question. The email described the study as lacking validity, it also criticised the methodology Dr Robertson had used.
Mr Bateman added: “I don’t see how the BBC can win this. With complaints raining in to the Trust and the MSPs gearing up for an inquiry, they needed to find an elegant point of exit and retreat tail between legs. Instead they’re in full war cry, determined to prove Dr Robertson wrong and or biased himself.
“They need corporate strategy help to save themselves otherwise I think there must be a real chance that someone is sacrificed. How they must rue their decision to write such an objectionable letter of complaint in the first place.”
Last week it emerged that Holyrood’s Culture Committee is to examine the study carried out by Dr Robertson.
Publication of the study followed news that the BBC Trust had found BBC Scotland guilty of misleading viewers over a key issue of the independence debate. The guilty verdict followed an item broadcast on Reporting Scotland that dealt with the EU membership of an independent Scotland.
BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan, who was responsible for item, resigned days before the Trust confirmed it would hold its own investigation.
Despite the ruling, BBC Scotland management have refused to issue a correction or any apology for the misleading item which appeared on the flagship news programme over a year ago.