It’s more than headlines that have to change at BBC Scotland


By G.A.Ponsonby 
So BBC Scotland has decided to correct the errors contained in an online article it published on Saturday.

Fully two days after one of the most blatant pieces of politically motivated articles ever published by the state broadcaster appeared as the number one story in Scotland, the corporation quietly removed the offending fiction and replaced it with fact.

By G.A.Ponsonby 
So BBC Scotland has decided to correct the errors contained in an online article it published on Saturday.

Fully two days after one of the most blatant pieces of politically motivated articles ever published by the state broadcaster appeared as the number one story in Scotland, the corporation quietly removed the offending fiction and replaced it with fact.

The corporation’s decision to amend the headline and text on a Nicola Sturgeon interview piece is a small victory for those of us yearning for mature and objective reporting from the state broadcaster.

However, that it took fully two days before any action was taken on what by then was a piece that had most probably been read by tens of thousands of Scots, and perhaps even more English, is indicative of the malaise we have highlighted repeatedly on this site.

For those unfamiliar with this latest example of BBC Scotland’s very own unique take on what constitutes professional journalism, here is a brief explanation.

SNP Depute Leader Nicola Sturgeon was interviewed by BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor as a prelude to the SNP Conference in Glasgow last weekend.

The Saturday morning interview was a typical format with viewer’s questions being read out by BBC Scotland’s political editor and Ms Sturgeon answering them.

Mr Taylor asked a question on the banking crisis and how an independent Scotland would have coped.

Here, for those unfamiliar with the exchange is what was said:

The answer, whether you agree with it or not, was clear, Scotland could have coped with the banking crisis and would have worked with England to avert catastrophe, the same way as other countries had with banks that crossed their jurisdictions.

There was another point contained in Ms Sturgeon’s answer, the fact that America, Australia and Europe all contributed to the saving of RBS.  Indeed as revealed by Newsnet Scotland as far back as July 2011, the US Federal Reserve contributed a total of $600 billion to the bailout of both RBS and HBOS.

However, here is how BBC Scotland reported Nicola Sturgeon’s answer.

Relied on? – It must rank as one of the most blatant examples of misrepresentation ever witnessed at the hands of BBC Scotland, and that’s saying something.  How BBC Scotland managed to interpret Nicola Sturgeon’s words in this way simply beggars belief.

Within hours of the story taking its spot at the top of the corporation’s Scottish online news, staff were fielding complaints.  Newsnet Scotland were alerted by several readers and we watched to see if the article would be corrected.

For two full days nothing was done, until Monday when by then the story had disappeared from the main news page.  BBC Scotland quietly removed the offending headline and edited the article beneath to more accurately reflect the words of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

In doing so, BBC Scotland had demonstrated yet again a corruption that is eating away at its very heart.

But it didn’t stop there, for eagle eyed observers will notice a peculiarity on the amended version of the article – the date/time stamp.  Look closely and you will see that BBC Scotland have given as the latest update to the article the afternoon of the interview – 10th March.

The BBC use the 24 hour clock, so anyone looking at this item will be forgiven for thinking that BBC Scotland corrected their online news story within hours of the 09:30 interview.

In fact the actual date/time of correction was two days later on Monday 12th March at around 21:00.  News media monitoring site NewsSniffer logs the change at 21:10 – although this may be an estimate.

So, not content with passing off misrepresentation as factual news, BBC Scotland have tried to cover their tracks by showing a wholly inaccurate date/time for the last update.

On Tuesday Newsnet Scotland invited three senior figures at BBC Scotland to explain how this article came to be published and why the corrections were carried out surreptitiously.  Our emails were sent to Nicola Sturgeon’s interviewer Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland online editor Tom Connor and their boss John Boothman.

We requested a read receipt and one duly arrived from Mr Connor, so he clearly received and almost certainly read our email.  Neither Mr Taylor nor Mr Boothman have responded.

We asked four questions of the online article:

  • Was the interviewer, Mr Taylor, aware of the wording in the original article prior to it being published and did he agree with it?
  • Did BBC Scotland online editor Mr Tom Connor sanction publication of the original article?
  • Who decided that the original headline and wording needed to be corrected and why did it take two days to correct it?
  • Why has no apology or correction been published by the BBC?

We are realists and do not expect an answer to any of our questions.  We will consider taking the matter further if we do not.

Online news stories on BBC Scotland are frequently updated.  This is normal given the dynamic of certain stories and the continual flow of information as events become clearer and facts emerge.

However this was a static interview that required minimal journalistic prowess in order to establish the thrust of Nicola Sturgeon’s answer, the meaning was clear and it was not going to change.

The BBC may defend their ‘inaccuracy’ by pointing out that the video was available alongside.  However, how many people would have taken the time to listen to 20 minutes of a thirty minute political interview to hear what was actually said for themselves? – people trust the BBC to report honestly.

Most people would have read the headline and formed their opinion, some would have read the article, all would have been left in no doubt that Scotland could not afford a bailout.

In fact the liability for the bank bailout was not, as Brian Taylor suggested, £60 billion.  The liability to Scotland for RBS and HBOS would have been closer to £1 billion – an unreported fact (unless you count Newsnet Scotland and Newsweek Scotland) and one that blows the Unionist scare story over the banking crisis out of the water.

And it’s this aspect of this episode that is most disturbing.  This was the start of the SNP Conference in Glasgow, it was an opportunity for the SNP to communicate its message to a mass audience. 

The banking collapse has been a fundamental plank of the Unionist attack on an independent Scotland.  Given the importance of this issue to the referendum debate it is vitally important that comments and arguments are reported accurately.

BBC Scotland didn’t do this.  Instead they set about manufacturing an article that was so at odds with the meaning of the comments it purported to be relating to an unsuspecting public, that one has to conclude that it was deliberate.

How can this be so, you might ask?

The answer is that BBC Scotland must now be considered politically corrupt.  The London controlled Scottish outpost is now so badly contaminated that almost every political news item should be treated with caution.

Why has this happened?  A mixture of fear perhaps – good honest people knowing that their career will stall should they speak out. 

Other explanations include the political leanings of some of the station’s high profile reporters and chiefs. 

In a Scotland where support or sympathy for the SNP usually resulted in the career ladder being kicked away it wouldn’t be surprising if those of a Unionist bent tended to climb higher than those less inclined towards Britannia.

Many will recall respected journalist Iain Macwhirter complaining of being ‘black listed’ by BBC Scotland because he was deemed to have been too fair to the SNP.  The claim was of course denied, but Macwhirter spent some considerable time out in the broadcasting wilderness.

There are now so many examples of BBC Scotland’s tabloidisation of political news, where stories are managed, suppressed, embellished and selectively reported that it’s now impossible to list them.

Only last night [Tuesday] saw former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell ‘interviewed’ on Newsnight Scotland and allowed to fire off the usual attack on the SNP’s referendum plans, but no-one from the independence movement was invited on to put the counter argument.  STV on the other hand allowed Stewart Maxwell from the SNP to respond to McConnell, good for them.

BBC Scotland is measuring itself against a set of broadcasting benchmarks that were designed pre-devolution, they are not only not fit for purpose – they have become corrupt.

When the first Labour/Lib Dem administration was elected in 1999 the template was adequate only because there was no effective opposition to the majority Unionist chamber.

In 2007 cracks began to appear in BBC Scotland’s façade as they tried to force it to fit a changing Scottish political landscape in the aftermath of a minority SNP administration.

In 2011 the façade was shattered completely and we are now witnessing the result of decades of decay and lack of reform.  What little quality programming there is, is to be sacrificed in favour of bland predictability, expect more ‘interviews’ with the likes of Jack McConnell and Michael Moore and even more football and violence.

Any news site can make errors.  Newsnet Scotland has done so in its time – and has apologised for its error.  However, any organisation which distorts the comments of a Minister to such an extent and, in response to protests, simply alters its text days later without any apology is not worthy of its reputation as a balanced source of news.

One interview, one contrived story and no apology – a metaphor for all that is wrong with BBC Scotland.


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