Indy news study row set to grow as BBC mounts further attacks on academic

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The BBC has mounted further attacks on an academic study which called into question the balance of its TV news coverage of the independence referendum.
 
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that replies sent by the broadcaster to members of the public who had complained to the BBC over the issue, contained a list of serious accusations regarding the accuracy and methodology of the study.

The responses, sent out by the BBC’s complaints department said the BBC had spent “several days” reviewing the research conducted by Dr John Robertson and concluded that the academic had used questionable methodology that had resulted in a study of equally questionable validity.

The replies, which were sent out on masse regardless of the specifics of the complaint, said:

“It is our view that the report consistently fails to support its contentions with factually accurate evidence; for example there are several substantive factual inaccuracies within the references it makes to Reporting Scotland news output.

“We are also concerned, for example, with the inclusion of a number of non-referendum stories within the data outlined in the report.

“We also believe that the report failed to define terminology used within it; for example ‘fairness’, ‘insulting language’ etc. or whether any account was taken of what the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines or the Ofcom Broadcasting Code have to say in this respect.”

The issue has already seen the academic hit back after a BBC Scotland Policy Officer levelled similar accusations days after the study was published.

Dr John Robertson, an academic based at the University of the West of Scotland, insisted the year-long study that found both BBC Scotland and STV had favoured the No campaign in TV news coverage, had used the most robust methodology available.

In a statement issued on Monday, the academic defended his research and said: “The methodology adopted is of the most robust form and compares very favourably with that employed in reports commonly presented on TV.”

Dr Robertson also revealed that the study had been commended by another academic publication body for its impartiality, which the University of Edinburgh’s Political journal Scottish Affairs described as “admirable”.

He added: “The research is not based on a small sample, as is common in surveys often reported on TV without critique but is based on one whole year and every evening from 6-7 pm on two channels.”

On the claim contained in the report by Dr Robertson, that the news coverage by both the BBC and STV had caused damage to the Yes campaign, the BBC complaints department said:

“The report concludes the authors have ‘evidence of coverage which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign.’  Our strongly held view is that there is no evidence whatsoever, as contained within the report, that supports this contention.  It is no more than an assumption, based on the report’s findings which, themselves, we contest.”

However, the claim that BBC news coverage has not damaged the pro-independence campaign was undermined by a recent ruling by the BBC Trust that BBC Scotland had misled viewers over one of the key issues of the independence debate.

BBC Scotland was found to have broken editorial guidelines on accuracy after an episode of Reporting Scotland, broadcast in January 2013, misrepresented the views of Ireland’s European Minister by claiming Lucinda Creighton believed a Yes vote would result in Scotland being forced to leave the EU.

Despite the Irish official issuing statements denying she held such a view, the BBC refused to report her statements on any news programmes.  The broadcaster has also failed to issue an apology or correction following the guilty verdict.

The reporter, Raymond Buchanan, who was responsible for the broadcast resigned days before the BBC Trust publicly announced it was to investigate the matter.