The BBC has defended its limited coverage of comments made by Irish Minister Lucinda Creighton on the EU membership of an independent Scotland, by suggesting that her clarification remarks following a BBC interview did not “add to the sum of human knowledge”.
Responding to a complaint that the BBC had presented only a partial view of Ms Creighton’s comments on the issue, the corporation has suggested that clarification statements issued by the Irish European Minister were not news and that an Andy Murray tennis match was more important.
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, contrary to BBC protests that no-one had suggested a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU, the BBC itself – in an item on Reporting Scotland – reported just such a claim from Scottish Secretary Michael Moore. The BBC also said that Ms Creighton’s views “chimed” with those of the Scottish Secretary.
The corporation was replying to a complaint that it had downplayed clarification statements issued by Ireland’s European Minister after she was interviewed on January 25th by BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan.
Responding to a question from Mr Buchanan, the Irish Minister was heard to say that “Scotland would have to apply for membership” of the EU and that “there would be an application and a negotiation process”.
The interview led to bulletins on BBC Scotland throughout Friday which focused on the membership application issue. In BBC reports, Mr Buchanan said that Ms Creighton’s views “chimed” with those of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and that both were in “agreement” over the status of a newly independent Scotland.
That evening’s Reporting Scotland showed footage of Mr Moore clearly stating that an independent Scotland would find itself “outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in”.
The broadcasts led to sustained attacks on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by the Better Together campaign who claimed Ms Sturgeon had been “humiliated” by Ms Creighton.
However, following questions by Newsnet Scotland and others including the Deputy First Minister, the Irish Minister complained that her comments had been “misconstrued or perhaps manipulated by some quarters” and that they “seem to have been presented or taken out of context.”
Ms Creighton also expressed agreement with the Scottish government’s view, that a simplified process would follow the period between a Yes vote and independence that would see Scotland’s EU membership continuing, saying “I think that sums up the situation quite well.”
The admission by the BBC that they failed to report a key statement because it did not “add to the sum of human knowledge” and thus was not news, will be viewed as bizarre by many.
However the claim that no-one had suggested a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU is clearly at odds with the broadcast on 25th January in which Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is heard claiming just that.
In the official reply, the BBC also questions whether a quote from Ms Creighton that Scots are already “citizens of Europe” is news, writing: “a news line on the day of the Murray/Djokovic Australian Open final?”
Confirmation that her views were “largely in line with that of the Scottish Government”, were also dismissed by the BBC as “Her opinion of a reply we had already broadcast”.
The corporation also claimed that Ms Creighton’s follow up statements were indeed covered “at some length”.
However, the coverage consisted of a discussion on the Sunday Politics Show on January 27th in which the BBC re-played the original interview without touching on the controversial thrust of Ms Creighton’s comments. The show saw BBC Scotland presenter Andrew Kerr defend the BBC’s original report by pointing out that Ms Creighton had referred to Scotland having to “apply” for EU membership twice during her interview.
This was followed by a brief and unspecific reference to the Irish Minister by reporter Glenn Campbell in an edition of Reporting Scotland later that week. Campbell, despite Ms Creighton’s very clear follow up statements, said only that she “seemed to accept an application could be completed within the SNP’s timetable for independence by May 2016”.
The BBC response to the complaint, in full:
Thank you for being in touch again about Reporting Scotland on 25th January.
It is not correct to say that the email that the Irish European Affairs Minister sent to the Deputy First Minister “got no BBC coverage at all”. Sunday Politics Scotland raised that very issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, at some length.
As to the quotes you give from the email, I am not sure what they add to the sum of human knowledge.
“I was asked about the future of negotiations with the EU in the event that Scotland votes for independence. [Correct, that was the question – but not a news line]
I thought that my reply was largely in line with that of the Scottish Government. [Her opinion of a reply we had already broadcast]
I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU. [Nor did anyone else – so not a news line]
Scottish people are citizens of Europe. [a news line on the day of the Murray/Djokovic Australian Open final?]”
Thank you again for taking the trouble to be in touch.
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