Media watch: All along the broadcasting fiss-ure…


Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Number 9. Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign.

Thursday 3rd March to Wednesday 9th March 2016

Thursday 3rd March 2016:

‘You told her (Kezia Dugdale) basically to frack off!’

STV’s Colin Mackay said this to FM Sturgeon as she and Willie Rennie ‘photobombed’ him. Sturgeon takes it well and replies ‘Don’t put words in my mouth!’ McKay then finishes by suggesting to Rennie ‘Everything now, that’s what you want isn’t it?’

Mackay had been a bit jocular the previous evening and is clearly going for laughs now. It’ll end in tears but hopefully tears of laughter. We’ll see if he tries the same patter with Kezia or Ruth. One might greet and the other might give him a doing.

Mackay: Having a laugh
Mackay: Having a laugh

That was all we got though. I can’t believe they didn’t let Kezia go on and on about the SNP betraying us over fracking. Reporting Scotland to the rescue? That would be a surprise after their documentary on fracking which let INEOS completely off the hook.

‘Fracking ain’t allowed to happen. So says the First Minister. She defends the moratorium but her critics aren’t convinced.’

RepScot were to take the story more seriously and it was a pretty balanced report (Sally in the chair?) which gave Brains Taylor an opportunity to give a lesson in how to enunciate the word ‘fissure’ as ‘fissss your’ with no trace of a Sean Conneryesque ‘sh’. Sadly he went straight on to say ‘pressure’ with a ‘sh’! Try to be consistent, Brains! It was an informative piece though we did get a wee reminder of future gloom with ‘As Scotland’s North Sea riches subside…..’

Friday 4th:

The Scottish Tory conference was the big one for STV and RS, it seems. Dave says we can be Scottish, British and European. On that,  STV’s Bernard said: ‘He was met with stony silence.’ Maybe he needed a fourth identifier to make it really appealing.  What about being a ‘Dudist’ too? I am. See the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski character, the Dude, for more on this slow-growing but non-preachy religion. There’s only one commandment – ‘I will do my best not to be a complete fucking arsehole.’ I suppose that rules the Tories out. As for me, I am doing my best, really. Dave went on about the EU but Ruth, ‘son of Dave’ (geddit?) didn’t.

RS had a good news story about Inverness Airport thought it might have been more accurate and balanced if we had heard that the operating company HIAL is owned by and therefore funded by, the Scottish Government.

Monday 7th:

‘There was a 5% rise in visitors coming to Scotland last year. Glasgow’s Kelvinside Museum and Art Gallery saw a 12% rise…..Visit Scotland has describes the figures which exceeded the UK average as spectacular.’

STV reported briefly in the middle of the show on this good news story for Scotland’s tourism industry. The Kelvinside figures alone are surely worth attention. Glasgow gets far too little credit for the fantastic attractions it offers visitors, free. Celtic’s Carlton Cole’s leave of absence to go back to London seemed more worthy of headlining. Will he now count in the tourism stats for London which are falling after the Paris attack and the Calais ‘Jungle’ crisis?

I watched RS next, to see what they’d make of this story. They missed it! Instead a sneaky big reminder that council cuts are still hurting and, by implication, the Scottish Government is underfunding them. Quite a long story from Mull about withdrawing the mobile library service, a trip to Kabul and more than ten minutes on the current tragic murder story squeezed the good news about tourism out. I suppose the trip to Kabul shows they’re up for a Scottish 6? The murder report was positively morbid in its detail and in its righteous blaming of education authorities for failing in some way because the culprit had a previous record of violence. Missing was the highly significant context. Just how many pupils with previous records of violence in school were the education service monitoring, as well as the one who did go on to kill? My guess is hundreds. On Wednesday 9th, the Herald reported: ‘More than 480 weapons seized from pupils in the last three years.’  It’s all too easy for some journalists to blame education professionals and frankly distasteful when their own standards can be so questionable.

On a more positive note, both gave full reports on the new massive flood drain in Glasgow – big enough to drive a double-decker bus through! The SNP minister got a chance to be associated with it. If we’d never invented double-decker buses, how would we describe such size, I wonder?

Tuesday 8th:

BBC 1 (Salford) was first to ask the question: ‘Why aren’t junior doctors in Scotland on strike?’ It’s taken them some time mind you. Forced out into the open, Reporting Scotland covered the story for the first time, not headlined but 12 minutes in, and found a way to turn it into a bad news story for Scotland.  First, there was some bad news to be reported to put the audience in the requisite ‘Scottish Government bad’ mode of thinking. Some of the Scottish farmers are still waiting for their subsidies from the EU. Again RS demonstrates why the current team are not fit for a Scottish 6. Why not mention the controversial nature of agriculture and fisheries subsidies which use up 40% of the EU budget or the fact that they create poverty in the developing world? Second headline was the Dunblane massacre anniversary and third was a legal challenge to the Government’s plan to assign a named person for every child to look after their welfare.

A short introduction to the story of junior doctors not striking in Scotland was quickly hijacked by accepting Jeremy Hunt’s claim that it’s all about reducing deaths at the weekend. Yes, Eleanor Bradford, was more determined than ever to remind us of the dark side. She launched into a confused and evidence-light scare story.

‘If you go into a hospital at the weekend are you more likely to die? That’s the central question which has led to strikes in England and thousands of cancelled operations. Several studies have suggested that the death-rate is higher at weekends and UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt has made it his mission to address it.’

I’m going to ignore the ‘Hunt supporter’ joke. Too late, I said it. It’s not just in England, Eleanor notes and refers to one study in Dumfries. She tells us it is 4 deaths in 100, during ‘normal times’ (?) and 6 in 100, at the weekend, based on that one study. It’s sourced (!) as ‘BMJ, January 2013’. Here’s what it actually covers:

‘All emergency medical admissions to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2010

Here’s what in concluded:

Adjusted weekend mortality in the all weekend versus all other days analysis was not significantly higher

So, the data is from 2008 to 2010, six to eight years old and thus not valid. It’s only one study and it’s from a tiny atypical region (rural). Secondly, it does not suggest at all that weekends are significantly more dangerous. It does demonstrate that public holidays are but we all know that people are more likely to be taking risks on mountains or driving motorbikes, for example, on public holidays.

She speaks to the professor responsible and he tells her straight:

‘As a rough guide the number of people who are admitted on a Saturday and die is the same as the number of people who are admitted on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and die. The difference is that there are fewer people admitted at the weekend so if you express the death rate as a percentage it would appear that the death rate at weekends is higher.’

Eleanor: ‘So far so confusing.’

Me: ‘What? What primary school did you go to?’

Most children understand percentages in P6 at 10-11 years of age.

OK thinks Eleanor, never mind the only research I looked at and which contradicts me, I’ll try a different tack. She asks the Prof, suggestively, if Scotland doesn’t need to worry. She gets what she needs. The Prof says that: most of his colleagues agree that we are understaffed at weekends…so we probably don’t provide patients with the same high quality service at weekends’

Good grief, this is rubbish. We start off with research and then dump it for one man’s hesitant opinion when it doesn’t suit the reporter. This is bad, bad, bad.

The Scottish Government get a wee chance at the end, spoken for them by Eleanor of course, to deny there’s any evidence. They don’t have to prove that. Eleanor has to prove there is evidence. She blatantly hasn’t.

We then get a wee piece on a junior doctor coming home but it’s finished off with ‘…but the debate about weekend care is just beginning.’

Remember the ‘several studies have suggested that the death-rate is higher at weekends.’ All we’ve been shown is the Dumfries study which clearly doesn’t do that. How many is ‘several’. It doesn’t matter because a quick Google search for ‘NHS weekend deaths research’ reported in the last four weeks, only suggests the exact opposite of Eleanor’s claim. Here are the first nine results and they all contradict Jeremy Hunt, David Cameron and Eleanor Bradford!

Jeremy Hunt ‘misrepresenting’ data on weekend death rates … › News › UK › Home News

Jeremy Hunt’s claim of 6,000 NHS weekend deaths was … › News › UK › UK Politics 24 Feb 2016 – Jeremy Hunt’s claim of 6,000 NHS weekend deaths was ‘inaccurate’, author of … researchers dubbed a “Hunt effect” – where sick people who have listened to …

Why David Cameron is completely wrong about 11,000 … › News › UK › UK Politics 24 Feb 2016 – … Minister’s Question time about death figures in NHS hospitals at theweekend. … because, he said, new research showed that the figure was in fact 11,000.

David Cameron Claims There Are 11000 NHS ‘Weekend ……/david-cameron-weekend-deaths-nhs-junio...

Hunt ‘misrepresented’ data on 7-day NHS – BBC News

Hunt’s NHS weekend deaths argument questioned – › UK › Politics & Policy

What would a “responsible health secretary” do? – BMJ

Corbyn Attacks Hunt Over “misrepresenting” 7-day NHS … › Featured

Junior doctors, the NHS, and European unemployment ……/junior-doctors-nhs-and-european-unemployment-fa…

I notice it’s now known as the ‘Hunt Effect’. We’re increasingly familiar with the ‘Bradford Effect’ caused by poor research skills or maybe something more political.

STV headlined with another ‘council cuts catastrophe story’ and somehow missed Reporting Scotland’s ‘research review’ on weekend deaths in hospitals. Was this because, like me, they couldn’t find the several studies or indeed, any recent studies at all?

Wednesday 9th:

‘A huge drop in North Sea oil revenues could contribute to a £15 billion hole in Scotland’s finances’ 

Instantly in tune with the reactions of the Unionist parties, RS go, with the first headline, for the instant scare. Why ‘contribute to’ I wonder? Are they suggesting there already is a hole in the onshore economy? I’m aware of none. RS also headlined another Police Scotland ‘controversy’. What happened to the new Total gas field, West of Shetland, which could heat every house in Scotland? STV didn’t headline the oil story but covered it with this opener:

‘Public spending in Scotland last year was £15bn pounds higher than the amount of money taken in taxes.’

Remind me, which one is the Public Broadcasting Service with a charter demanding impartiality? Is it STV? I thought it was BBC. Doesn’t look like it does it? (Actually, they both have that remit. Ed)

The RS report did have an attempt at balance but allowed the wee parties three times as much time as the SG and Brains Taylor far too much time altogether. He even spent time on a wee story about a mistake in the SG report concerning the choice between calendar and financial years then admitted it made no difference to anything. So, the point was? The SG can’t even produce a 100% error-free report!  I think I’ve identified hundreds of RS reports which would fail a first-year journalism student. Overall, the report was imbalanced in favour of ill-informed Unionist gloating. The STV report was professional, I thought, balanced and impartial. As with the BBC report which was typically much more gloomy, the absence of academic sources offering insight into the usefulness or otherwise of the GERs figures in indicating the future economy of an independent Scotland was regrettable. The National newspaper gave us a rare alternative view in the Scottish print media with the headline: ‘GERS: Economy resilient despite oil revenues decline’ and interviewed Dr Neil McGarvey who explained why the bad news is really bad news about Westminster’s historical management of the Scottish economy and not a good indicator of how an independent Scotland could manage it in the future. A comment from a reader in the Herald today was particularly interesting:

Herald online: Craig Patrick 9:13am Thu 10 Mar 16

Looking at Scotland’s national accounts (GERS) you can see that there is an expenditure line labelled “Public Sector Debt Interest” in 2011/12. This amounts to £4.1 billion and begs the question. Why does an oil rich nation at a time when oil and energy prices are high have to pay so much interest on debt? No other similar nation with a strong onshore economy and the additional bonus of a large and well established oil and gas sector like Scotland is burdened with such payments.

Note: The £4.1 billion is simply the cost of servicing the interest on a much larger debt, there is no actual capital repayment element in that figure.

So I looked back at 32 years of historic GERS data and found the following quite staggering:
Every year for 32 years (the entire available data) GERS includes a deduction from Scotland’s block grant equivalent to Scotland’s population percentage share of Westminster debt.
Over the 32 years, Scotland’s share of UK debt interest amounted to £64.1 billion.
However, during that time had Scotland been an independent country with its geographic share of oil revenues established under international law (as would be the case under independence) Scotland’s’ borrowing over 32 years would have been zero, nil, nothing, no pounds sterling at all.

I hope that is clear but for absolute clarity let me put it in other words. Scotland paid £64.1 billion (sixty-four thousand one hundred million pounds) interest on debt that Scotland had no need for, simply because we are not an independent country! As a result, on average, £2,000 million was ripped out of the heart of Scotland’s economy every year for 32 years, to pay interest on loans that Scotland didn’t take out and didn’t need.

When will the MSM in Scotland offer us this kind of debate that we need so much? RS then gave much time the case of a possible leak to the media by a serving officer on a murder investigation and the exposed officer’s complaint. I’ve no idea who is to blame but I found it very telling that BBC journalists are so willing to investigate a complaint against Police Scotland (It’s the SG responsibility remember?) yet never report on the many complaints made against them. They don’t even count them, they told the Holyrood Education and Culture Committee in March 2014.


Herald, 9.3.16: ‘More than 480 weapons seized from pupils in the last three years.’ at:

BMJ January 2013: Emergency medical admissions, deaths at weekends and the public holiday effect. Cohort study at: