Media Watch 13: The BBC bias story takes on a familiar shape


Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign: Number 13:

 Thursday 31st March to Wednesday 6th April

The cumulative data showed heavy bias by BBC Scotland, from January 8th until the beginning of the Purdah period on Wednesday 16th March, Here are the data for this last week, with the running total from 8th January, in brackets:


So, despite the Purdah rules, Reporting Scotland is still steadily pulling ahead on the negativity for the SNP/SG count.

Dr John Robertson
Dr John Robertson

Thursday 31st:

‘Labour has shot itself in the foot!’6

Who said that? Glenn Campbell? No way! Yes, it was a ‘first’ since my study began on the 8th January. Reporting Scotland criticised Labour for the first and only time this year. The report did give Labour quite a bit of time to defend and to explain their U-turn on tax but, in the end and at the beginning, they were shown to be at the very least, to have been quite foolish, changing tack in the election phase.

The named person policy and Labour’s U-turn on the issue was the main topic in the election campaigns update, on STV. The report was pretty balanced and fair. Also of some relevance, for the election, was the positive story of new technology adopted by Police Scotland, to improve their pre-emption of crime. 4

Friday 1st April:

I watched them both but there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off. Just Jackie and her palaver so entwined and these visions of Johann that conquer my mind (This may be a Dylan reference and therefore best ignored. Ed).

Monday 4th April:

The big election story for both seemed to be the secret deal between the SNP government and China. 1 Yes that China, the one dumping steel and destroying UK steel production. You’ve got to watch these Chinese. Spike Milligan, my guide on geopolitics from the 1960s reminded us of their general untrustworthiness by pointing out that their floors were so fiendishly designed that no matter where you walked they were always under your feet! Kezia, Ruth and Willie were frothing with suspicious wee minds – ‘That Nicola’s up to something and she’s not telling us what it is!’ Bernard Ponsonby had read the whole thing and said it all looked pretty innocuous and that it wasn’t actually a full-blown deal of any kind, but the weans were too busy jumping up and down to listen. Here’s my guess – it’s a really good deal which Nicola will announce nearer the election date, having got endless fun out of teasing the others.

I’ve cracked it! China Petroleum and Chemical are also known as Sinopec and their acronym is SNP! What a scoop! The SNP have done a deal with the Chinese to turn Scotland into a very wealthy Chinese dependency like Hong Kong with an option for full-independence as long as we stay in the EU. David Cameron is already on board. Well actually he’s on the board of Sinopec having convinced them he’s Scottish and telling them that his dad taught him how to avoid taxes. They’ve both clearly underestimated ‘The Swinney!’

The election reports were, as expected, fairly balanced and RS seemed to have tired of trying to protect Kezia. They did a quick re-run of her recent mistakes before trying half-heartedly to suggest that the China deal secrecy exposure would help them make a comeback. Nobody seemed convinced. They had a wee dig at the implied hypocrisy of MP George Kerevan criticising the Tories’ Chinese connections but couldn’t seem to be bothered to make much of it. The report finishes with Nicola say, with a wee snigger:

Frankly if political opponents are saying that as First Minister I shouldn’t be encouraging investments into Scotland then all I think they’re doing is demonstrating that they’re not fit to be in the job.’

Then we heard that RS had been wasting public money on an IPSOS-MORI poll of only 1002 people to find out what forms of taxation they preferred. The results were no surprise so Brian diverted to services instead – utterly pointless. At least this attempt to influence rather than to reflect politics, as they should be doing, is less disturbing ethically than last year’s survey of attitudes to migrants.

Finally, we had the closure of a Red Cross home in Irvine and the suggestion of inappropriate transfers to old folk’s homes. Imagine my surprise to see Dr Danielle Farrel, one of the residents, who was the last PhD student I supervised, explaining the problem. I know from ten years working with Danielle that the problem is longstanding and nothing to do with recent funding cuts. The report doesn’t blame the Scottish Government but is another addition to BBC Scotland’s editorial preference for bad news about Scotland’s social and health services which just may harm the prospects of the SNP.2, 9

Tuesday 5th:

‘The Holyrood election campaign focuses on corruption allegations made against a Chinese business seeking to invest in Scotland.’ RS 1

‘The owner of a Chinese company that’s seeking to invest in Scotland has been linked to corruption.’ RS

‘The Conservatives are promising a new fund to tackle potholes. Labour say scrapping the council tax can save average householders more than a £100. The SNP are raising concerns about Tory plans for a graduate tax and the Lib Dems say the SNP still have questions to answer about investment links with China.’ STV 

Remember, it’s just a memorandum of understanding and not a contract but for Reporting Scotland and the Unionist parties, it’s become the ‘focus of the election.’ STV don’t even headline the story, keeping it in proportion, but RS have foregrounded it dramatically and bizarrely, implying that they are just responding to developments out there. If it has become the focus, it’s, in large part, because they’ve tried to make it the focus, making news rather than reporting it, as their Charter demands. We get an extended report including pained and self-righteous lectures from Willie Rennie, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson on ethical behaviour. After all that angst, we hear from the First Minister that there is no agreement. So, there is no story here at all unless you make one, is there, BBC Scotland?

‘So what do folk really, really want, I’ll tell you.’

Brian Taylor presented some of the results of an IPSOS-MORI poll commissioned by Reporting Scotland into taxation and funding preferences. In the run-up to the General Election, last year, they commissioned a survey of attitudes to immigration which suggested Scots were not much more tolerant than the English. They are spending our money trying to influence politics rather than to simply reflect it, with these projects, contrary to their Charter. Fortunately this one hasn’t really got them anywhere. First, how valid was the survey of 1002 people out of an electorate of more than 4 million? You know the answer, I’m sure, is ‘not at all.’ The scope for error, in a sample of a miniscule 0.00025% of the electorate, is huge.

Interestingly, at the beginning of this survey report section, we heard that the statement: ‘Guarantee NHS spending increased by same rate as in England’ got 83% approval. This is a devious wee insertion. Why would you ask that question and, in that way? Is there any evidence that Scotland underfunds its NHS by comparison with England? Well no, there isn’t. In a Nuffield Trust report for 2015, titled Health Spending Across the UK Nations (reference below), we see that Northern Ireland spends the most at around £2300 per capita, with Scotland second at around £2100 per capita and England third at around £1800 per capita. I say ‘around’ because the NT graph is not properly scaled. You can see it yourself below. The way the BBC question is posed, inserts a bit of doubt that Scotland may not be spending as much as England when to do so is dishonest. 1 Away from the notion of propaganda, it’s a leading question therefore not a good one in any sense.

Once again, the STV coverage is balanced, unsensational and professional. Reporting Scotland, as before so many times, take one aspect which they see as negative for the SNP, and unprofessionally attempt to make it the focus.

Scottish Resistance is it?
Scottish Resistance is it?

Wednesday 6th:

There was little to say about the election coverage and Kezia ‘coming out’ was the only tasty titbit….coming out as a ‘mibbenat’ of course. Leave Kezia alone, I say. This is starting to feel like bullying. Those streetfighters, the mighty Scottish Resistance, have already announced that they too are fed up now Big Jim’s left the party, so to speak, and will turn their megaphone on Ruth and the Tories. They better watch out, Ruth is made of sterner stuff. I look forward to the confrontations.

Jackie Bird was, of course, allowed a ‘Montford Moment’ of ‘Disaster for Scotland!’ . The economy in the rest of the UK is growing three times faster than is Scotland’s. Thank goodness we’re no independent. We need Westminster to maintain this level of performance, don’t we? 1

Most entertaining for me was when young Willie announced that he wanted schools to be able to access ‘massive online courses’ from universities, too.  They’re called ‘moocs’ or ‘massive open online courses’ and they’re not just massively massive, they’re massively unstructured too, making them only suitable for quite advanced leaners, usually postgraduates or maybe very smart post-18s. So that’s Willie and rest of his team out.


Nuffield Trust (2015) Health Spending Across the UK Nations