Media Watch 14: On health, saving steel jobs and those shoogly schools in Edinburgh


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:  Thursday 7th April to Wednesday 13th April

Dr John Robertson
Dr John Robertson

The cumulative data showed heavy bias by BBC Scotland, from January 8th until the beginning of the Purdah period on Wednesday 16th March, and this week is following the same pattern.

BBC Reporting Scotland continues to pull ahead on the negativity for the SNP/SG count. Come on STV! People are starting to agree with me that you’re better than the rest. 20 reports favourable to the SNP and 21 unfavourable, looks like balance. BBC Scotland with 73 unfavourable to the SNP and only 13 favourable, speaks for itself. BBC Scotland’s 15 scare stories on the Scottish NHS since January, as the English NHS collapses, doesn’t speak for itself, it swears!

Thursday 7th:

‘It’s claimed patients in the North of the country could die if a trauma centre is not located in Aberdeen.’ Reporting Scotland, 1.30pm 1, 9

By 6.30 and again at 10.30, BBC Scotland had dropped this story, even though they had more time for it. It had featured repeatedly in the morning and again at 1.30pm. I tweeted my disgust at the distortion of the facts but I doubt I can claim credit for them dropping it by 6.30. It’s a very shoddy type of reporting which they’ve done before on the same topic. Here’s what the peer-reviewed research on this precise issue concluded. The report by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh published in 2012 (reference below) suggested that Scotland needed a maximum of two major trauma centres to improve patient care. Since then research involving Aberdeen staff and published in the Journal of Acute Care Surgery also concluded that:  ‘Scotland’s trauma system could be optimized with one or two MTCs.’

Note the research leading to this conclusion ‘involved Aberdeen staff’ and that a maximum of two larger centres would improve patient outcomes. Larger centres have more specialised staff and, as even Eleanor Bradford has reported, have better outcomes’. See this from the research report:

‘Political considerations are often founded on the paradigm that immediate access to care must be best when there is evidence that traveling further to a centre capable of providing definitive care may be associated with better outcomes.’

So to have four smaller centres could worsen care and outcomes across the country including Aberdeen and lead to deaths. The very small number of extreme trauma cases suggests more helicopter use before having more centres. Try travelling by road from Wick or Mallaig, to Aberdeen, and you’ll see that an Aberdeen centre would offer no advantage to the ‘North of the Country’. This is politicking by self-interested medics and BBC Scotland is using the story to sustain their campaign against the Scottish Government using the SNHS as the most inappropriate source of scare stories.

If they had read and understood the RCS research they might have come up with this headline instead:

‘It’s claimed patients in Scotland could die if the four small trauma centres are not combined into no more than two larger, better-staffed and better-equipped, specialist trauma centres.

The Election coverage was fairly balanced if a little too generous, on BBC, to Willie Rennie. With that rictus grin that would scare your granny, he got a lot of time to try and set the agenda for the broadcasts. You’d never know the SNP were the party of government.

Friday 8th:

‘New life for the steel plants at Clydebridge and Dalziel!’ RS

‘The Steel Deal!’ STV

Both get off to an enthusiastic start with these headlines. Let’s see how they go.

On one report, we see Nicola walking alongside the new owner, with the strains of Scotland the Brave in the background. On the other we can almost see Nicola to the left, in the crowd, and there are no pipes to be heard at all. Go on guess. I know it was too easy. The first one was STV. If you think that’s bias, you’re MacParanoid whispers a MacTernan-like wraith on your back. RS give the Scottish Government a one-line credit for the deal but then we get the usual ‘oh dearie dearie me’ from Douglas Fraser just so we don’t get too cocky about the future. It’s a real big bucket of cold water from Douglas hanging a really gloomy and not-too-relevant tail/tale on the report. Both he and the reporter before remind us that this industry used to employ 100 000, in the distant past, with the implication that this is not much to get excited about. That would be good stuff for a documentary I suppose. In the end, RS have turned this good news story in a bad aftertaste. 2

‘This is about keeping positive. The UK steel industry has an opportunity to grow again and we’re seeing this emerge, from this plant, to have a solid future.’

On STV, instead of the Fraser Institute of Just Giving-up, we got the above quote from the Union leader and aptly named, Steve McCool. We weren’t reminded of the former glories of the 100 000 workers because, I guess, STV had not thought it too relevant to a current news report. Didn’t the older works make pig-iron anyway? And we segue into the next report seamlessly.

Both did Willie Rennie’s ‘pigtorial’ piece. Was this filmed at Blairmore, where the Camerons may have first tasted the pleasures of porcine love? At least Willie wasn’t aware of any such goings-on as he, with perfect timing and with mounting enthusiasm, as one pig visibly attempted to be in a poke with another, told us:

‘We like to organise our visits to send a message in very pigtorial terms, exactly what we’re asking for.’

He probably didn’t say ‘pigtorial’ but that’s what my brain said. I’m not sure he meant to ‘ask for’ what the upper pig was giving the other, but I think the Scottish electorate probably will give him a right good one.

Monday 11th:

‘We can reveal that all 17 Edinburgh schools being checked for building faults need urgent repairs.’ Reporting Scotland

It turned out it was only four of the schools but never mind eh? Well, to be fair, RS 5 did link the PPP/PFI schemes to Labour and the coalition with the Liberals, as did STV. However, STV went a bit further, in the interests of accuracy, by reminding us that the SNP had ‘scrapped them’ in 2007 and replaced them with a not-for-profit trust. Kezia tried to blame the Tories for the mess the old schools were in and Ruth made the astounding suggestion that they (the Tories) had been asking the SNP government ‘for years’ to include the ‘fabric of the buildings’ in school inspections. Willie Rennie was puzzled as to why building control hadn’t picked this up. Do they do pig pens too? Did Ruth really mean that the inspectors would need to carry masonry drills and be prepared to open up the wall cavities to check that the cross-cavity ties had actually been installed? Would they dig up the foundations to check they were deep and thick enough and go on the roof to check the tiles? How ridiculous. The Herald newspaper gave Ruth a wee hand with an article still listed as I wrote at 9pm, in Google (still alive the next day) with an apparently new headline, posted after 8pm but with comments below from as early as 1.44pm and this below at 5:12pm:

‘You have to give the Tories credit for creativity. I wouldn’t have believed it possible to spin this one against the SNP! On the other hand it is entirely predictable that the Herald gave the story oxygen. This newspaper seems to have an agenda – and I say that as a member of no political party and a determined floating voter.’

The word ‘accused’ was no longer in the headline or the text but still there in 6 of the comments by readers below and MSP Liz Smith (Conservative) triggered 8 sarcastic comments by readers yet again she was not in the text of the story by this time. I posted at 9.47pm. By 10.09, the url was updated and this comment had appeared:

‘Looks like the political spin from the Tory party via the Liz Smith press release has been totally written out of this article. I wonder why?’

What Ruth and Willie missed is that former FM Lord McConnell of Wherever (Labour) had taken the local authority building control departments out of the loop. In the past, the architect/engineers would represent the clients (local authorities) and their interests by checking up on the building contractors as they built. In the PFI arrangements, the funding consortium was the client and clearly did not provide the kind of building control inspections that a local authority could have done if they had not been put out of the loop and into the position of mere tenants of the consortium’s property.

‘Private financing has been revised, remodelled, rebranded, down the years but it hasn’t gone away. The current SNP government has devised its own model.’

There it is then, the ‘Glenn Campbell Humbug Quotient’ or GCHQ, as he makes sure Labour don’t get all the blame by telling us the SNP are just as bad with that dodgy PFI, didn’t you know, without explaining any differences in the models such as the not-for-profit SNP model. The Edinburgh School Project PFI made £2 million in profit last year, STV tell us the next day. The SNP model is designed to reduce profiteering but you can take balance only so far, eh Glenn?

We had the usual Reporting Scotland focus on alleged failures in the Scottish NHS – ‘A family left devastated’. In this case it’s a refusal to approve a drug costing £250 000 per patient per year. The report is traumatic viewing but I’m deeply concerned by the motives behind Reporting Scotland’s serial morbidity. 1 STV spent that time on another well-made piece on the Dave’s Panama scandal showing, again, that they look like becoming more a Scottish Six than BBC Scotland seems to be able to manage.

Tuesday 12th:

‘We’ll be trying to get to the bottom of the deal that led to schools being built using private finance.’

Now there’s a promise from Jackie Bird that we might actually want.

‘A fuller picture is emerging of the deal struck by Edinburgh City Council with the Edinburgh School Partnership. Documents show that by late 2003, difficulties forced the project to split in two.

Just like the brick curtain wall and the inner structural wall, then? Unintended irony I guess. Well, no surprise there then. No mention of the ‘L word’ at all. The ultimate responsibility of Scottish Labour with the Lib Dems in tow, for taking local authority building control officers out of the loop, as I’ve described above, is a no go area, it seems. As Kezia sinks beneath our wisdom like a stone, RS desperately struggles to protect her. 8 Compare the endless coverage of the Forth Road Bridge repairs, always linking to the Scottish Government’s implied neglect, with this blame-free coverage and the ideological nature of BBC Scotland becomes all too clear.

And on the Scottish NHS, Glenn Cam Béal (‘Crooked Mouth’ – apologies to other Campbells) reminds us of the very wee poll they did where the leading and deliberately misleading, question along the lines of ‘Do you want spending to increase in Scotland, to keep pace with spending in England’, was  given the highest priority’. Again, I’ve done this one, above. Spending in Scotland is always well ahead of the pace of that in England! 

The report opened with a Scottish ambulance screaming along the road. Again, they’ve missed the irony here as we read, the same day, that the English: ‘Ambulance privatisation descends into total shambles.’ Read the full story here.

As the whole English NHS is dismantled, when will we ever hear of the Scottish Governments role in protecting ours? Jackie, Eleanor and Kezia, are our very own ‘Angels of Mercy (NOT)’.

Wednesday 13th:

‘Scottish Tories concede defeat’

OK, I admit that’s my headline but, on STV, Ruth did decide to go for second place where she will be able to ‘go toe-to-toe’ with Nicola. Has she seen how sharp those toes are, not to mention the stiletto heels? STV gave Ruth a fair do and the cheeky McKay held back his comedic tendencies – scared of Ruth?

‘The Buildings Closures Crisis’

That’s what Jackie has decided it is (BCC). So, it’s not the Labour PFI Crisis (LPFIC), then? 8 Every report, back in December and January, on the Forth Bridge Closures Crisis (FBCC) made reference to the alleged or implied neglect of maintenance by the Scottish Government. What’s the difference? If you complain, it’ll just be described as highly skilled and, of course, apolitical editorial judgement. One of the reporters, outside a school, told us that ‘questions mount about the contracts’ but didn’t tell us what any of them were because…… ‘we’re not allowed to tell you?’

RS gave us an honest account of the Tory manifesto which is probably not good for their chances but, for the bit on prescription charges, showed an image of a label which read:

‘This medicine might colour your urine.’

By ‘medicine’ is BBC Scotland cheekily suggesting that the Tory policies are a purgatory medicine for us? It’s true. If you can’t afford the prescription, discoloured urine is a likely clue that you needed it!

‘Analysis by the left-leaning IPPR suggests Labour is planning to raise more from income tax than any other party.’8

I’m not sure ‘planning’ is the best word for a party ‘praying’ to hang on to second place, miles behind, is it? Anyway, what’s this left-of-centre think-tank thing, Jackie? Is that the same IPPR describe in 2015 as:

‘A leading left of centre think-tank has been criticised by the charity watchdog for appearing to be close to the Labour party. The Charity Commission found the Institute for Public Policy Research – once dubbed “Tony Blair’s favourite think-tank” – had “exposed itself to the perception that it supported the development of Labour Party policy”.’

It’s a quote from a Telegraph writer, who probably thinks left-of-centre is bad. How did Jackie mean it? Does she think New Labour was left-of-centre? Is that the same IPPR as in this headline from 2002?

‘IPPR: PFI failing schools and hospitals’

Was it Jack McConnell’s favourite think-tank?

What about the Bird Bias Counter? I’ve had to give up because Jackie Bird is on far more than the others and so any kind of scientific comparison isn’t possible.


Hope, Christopher, January 2015 IPPR think-tank rapped by charity watchdog for appearing to be close to Labour 

Penman, Danny, December 2002 IPPR: PFI failing schools and hospitals