BBC Scotland’s new year – part 2

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
Yesterday we highlighted how BBC Scotland had broadcast a press release from Labour MSP Jackie Baillie in which the MSP had claimed Scotland’s NHS was joint top of a European league table for infectious diseases in hospitals.
 
The story was based on data collated when Ms Baillie’s own party were last in power and despite being made aware of this for two days prior to the broadcast, BBC Scotland still went ahead.

By a Newsnet reporter
 
Yesterday we highlighted how BBC Scotland had broadcast a press release from Labour MSP Jackie Baillie in which the MSP had claimed Scotland’s NHS was joint top of a European league table for infectious diseases in hospitals.
 
The story was based on data collated when Ms Baillie’s own party were last in power and despite being made aware of this for two days prior to the broadcast, BBC Scotland still went ahead.

This is part of a three part mini-series of articles on BBC Scotland coverage of news and current affairs in the first week of 2012.

Today we will compare and contrast BBC Scotland’s handling and coverage of two very similar stories.

These stories involve claims by political parties against another.  Accusations of misuse of public cash that centre on a major national event and investigations by independent authorities into the allegations.

Last week former Glasgow Councillor and now SNP MSP James Dornan announced that a complaint he had made to Strathclyde police was to be investigated by the police authority.

Strathclyde’s Police Chief Stephen House confirmed that his officers were investigating the complaints after Mr Dornan had alleged “an outrageous abuse of tax payer’s money”.

The investigation, we were told, would centre a multi-million pound land deal involving Labour controlled Glasgow Council and a property developer.

It was alleged by Mr Dornan that Scotland’s largest local authority had paid £1 million more for the property than it should have.  A freedom of information request, according to Mr Dornan, had revealed that information given to him and other councillors at the time had inflated a valuation figure, provided by a reputable valuation firm, by almost £1 million.

In August of 2008, the council’s then director of Development and Regeneration Services, Steve Inch, told councillors that, according to survey firm Colliers CRE, £17 million was “an accurate reflection of the value of the sites”.

However following the release of the valuation report it was discovered that Colliers had valued the land not at £17 million but at just over £16 million.

The story caught the attention of the Scottish press, particularly the Herald newspaper who have consistently covered an ever increasing number of highly questionable goings on at the Labour controlled local authority.

The story also included other land deals involving payment of £1.3 million to someone who had made donations to the Labour party and who had previously been given the land for free by the same council.

It was as big a story in Scotland that day as you could find and an item was sure to feature on Reporting Scotland.

It did, and here is the item in full:

Yes, 15 seconds and if you watch again you will notice that two significant elements are missing from the story.  The name of local authority – actually it doesn’t even make clear that a local authority is involved – and the name of any party.  In fact there is so little information provided to the viewer that it is pretty much impossible to ascertain just what the complaint involves.

Radio broadcasts on Newsdrive that evening were similarly vague and those who listened to the five bulletins would have been none the wiser as to who sold the land (Glasgow Council), who sanctioned the sale (Stephen Purcell), which party received a donation from one of the benefactors (Labour) and which party controlled the council (Labour).

It must have been quite a feat for whoever prepared the bulletins, to leave out what are unquestionably very pertinent details especially given the recent history involving that same council.

So, a 15 second TV item and five radio bulletins – all omitting to mention the involvement of Labour in this story.

However the BBC were not so vague back in 2010 when they covered a story that also involved alleged misuse of public cash, albeit a much smaller amount – £180,000.  It too centred on complaints from political opponents and also featured an investigation by Audit Scotland.

The Gathering was the centre-piece of the 2009 Homecoming and was also the subject of complaints by political parties after it emerged that a loan had been made to a company that subsequently went bust.

However the treatment of this story by BBC Scotland was altogether different from the multi-million pound Glasgow Council land deal investigation as can be seen …

Items broadcast on Radio Scotland were similarly detailed and made it abundantly clear which party was being accused of wrongdoing with helpful soundbites from Labour MSPs.

The two stories are not identical, of course they aren’t.  However the level of scrutiny afforded the Glasgow Council multi-million pound land deals is indirectly proportional to the seriousness of the alleged wrongdoing.  The Homecoming loan was arguably equally disproprotionate, but in entirely the other direction.

The ommission of any mention of Labour or Scotland’s ‘largest local authority’, a phrase BBC Scotland was notably fond of using whenever there were disputes between the Labour run council and the Scottish Government prior to the 2011 Holyrood election, is striking.

This is one story we will be keeping a close eye on.

Tomorrow: Brian’s Big Debate and the anti-English accusation [Will now be at a later date]

Related story: http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/4019-glasgow-council-facing-police-probe-over-commonwealth-games-property-deals