Media Watch: Rival stations set out their battle positions for the campaign ahead

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Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Number 11. Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign: Thursday 17th March to Wednesday 23rd March 2016

Thursday 17th March 2016:

‘The SNP and Labour are ruling out income tax cuts for higher earners in Scotland, announced in the Chancellor’s budget.’

‘Tax takes centre stage as party leaders clash at Holyrood.’1

The STV report was excellent, informative and balanced with a critical rather than passive take on Osborne’s policies. Further, they had edited out low-information value sequences where Kezia and Nicola sparred tetchily. RS were to be less restrained, apparently loving cheap and reality-distorting accounts of conflict as much as the Daily Mail do. The above difference in the opening quotes is subtly but revealingly indicative of the ideological starting points of STV and RS. The latter (RS) appear to start from the assumption of a pre-existing, dysfunctional government (not Labour) and work to reinforce that assumption, while the former (STV) start from a position of reasonable impartiality then follow the content to a reasonably  justifiable assessment, mostly. You might not agree with where STV arrive but they always allow the possibility of an honest outcome.

In the report we also hear RS describing: ‘tax shaping up to be a key battleground in the Scottish elections. Look at the STV headline again. ‘The SNP AND Labour are ruling out…’ The RS video excerpt begins with Kezia angrily and loudly challenging the SNP to reject George Osborne’s plan to raise the threshold for the higher tax band. Did anyone there expect the SNP to agree with George?

I'm Kezia, me, and I'm pure ragin'
I’m Kezia, me, and I’m pure ragin’

As Kezia rages, the SNP benches smile wearily before Nicola gets a chance to say that no, of course, we won’t be doing that and will make that clear next week…..Nicola’s face says ‘Calm doon, keep yer breeks on.’ RS chose to include the tantrum, to not evaluate it and to give Labour another opportunity to try and persuade the viewers that only they care. STV didn’t include it. I have to assume they spotted that the outburst was more heat than light.

‘College lecturers go on strike in what could become the most serious industrial dispute to hit Scottish education for a generation.’ RS 1

STV, the fools, missed reporting, entirely, on: ‘what could become the most serious industrial dispute to hit Scottish education for a generation.’ I worked in schools and HE for nearly 40 years. This was a ridiculous exaggeration worthy, again, of the Daily Mail. Get a grip BBC Scotland!

We now know, of course that the strike was called off, two days later, on Saturday 19th March. Here’s what the Socialist Worker had to say about it:

‘Scottish further education college lecturers have scored a stunning victory in their battle for national bargaining and equal pay. Bosses have crumbled after just a single day’s strike.’

Neither STV nor RS were to give the strikers or the Scottish Government much credit for their settlement.

Friday 18th:

‘EU payments to farmers; there are fresh concerns about a government IT project that’s supposed to deliver them.’ RS 1

Fresh concerns, are they really? Like the Forth Bridge repairs, the rail viaduct repairs and the Ballater floods saga, RS have been hammering away at these stories for weeks, well beyond their sell-by-date, such that they are far from fresh, I’d say. STV missed this fresh story somehow. The newspapers, however, have clearly seen this as an important story for some time too. See this from the Financial Times on 2nd March 2016:

‘Flagship IT project failure sows cash flow problems for farmers’

The above quote is actually about England’s flagship IT and its unpaid farmers’ subsidies. Who knew the same thing was happening in England? Why would RS miss that valuable comparison? They always remind us of the crises in the English NHS so that we can keep Scottish problems in perspective, don’t they? The RS ‘exclusive report’ is actually a very interesting piece on possible corruption and incompetence in the management of the IT project using the tired farm subsidies story as a starter. So, the English IT system is to blame for delayed payments as is the Scottish one. The Police Scotland IT project is in trouble too and the BBC IT project! See this from the Portland Business Journal:

‘Most analyses conclude that between 65 and 80% of IT projects fail to meet their objectives, and also run significantly late or cost far more than planned.’

No sign of any such useful contextualisation of the story by RS so no surprise there. SNP Scottish Government fails again so why won’t you people out there vote Labour?

If you’d like a more analytical piece on the Scottish Tories, their well-off farmer friends and the completely unfair agriculture subsidies for the already well-off, have a look at this excellent piece from caltonjock.

Monday 21st:

‘Lawyers acting for people with contaminated NHA blood projects, say not enough has been done to trace other potential victims.’ Reporting Scotland (RS) 1

Jackie Bird in the chair and Eleanor Bradford as ‘Not Healthy Correspondent’, headline this ‘Another Scottish Government failure’, story. First, this is clearly a case of bias by selection. There are hundreds of equally newsworthy stories, ‘out there’. RS will report only a chosen handful. STV missed this one because they, presumably, were not alerted by the same one legal firm perhaps keen to get free advertising. STV did a big piece on the Budget crisis for the Tories with Ponsonby very articulate and informative on this. I suppose RS can’t do this kind of thing until they get a Scottish 6 and some new reporters, is that it?

One firm of lawyers, Thompson Solicitors, and only one case, form the evidence base for this inadequate report. So we have Bradford, using one source, a law firm with strong historical connections to Labour,  providing the only evidence for her report. This is not an adequate basis for a report in a newspaper never mind the publicly funded national broadcaster currently piggy-backing the nation’s good will towards its other departments making nature documentaries, drama and so on.

Tuesday 22nd:

Flooding
Flooding

At last we have a Scottish 6! It’s not on the BBC though it’s on STV, who in the last few days seem to be exploiting their prime position at 6pm to get in first with the big stories. Last night we had a very thorough piece on the chaos in Westminster and tonight the Brussels terror attacks dominated much of the first part of the show. Again, it was a very good piece with a clear Scottish perspective on a global issue.  By contrast, RS have clearly been told to stick to the local stuff. Indeed, they even return to Ballater (really, they do) for the umpteenth time:

‘Flood-hit villagers in the Aberdeenshire village of Ballater have been told they will receive pay-outs after Reporting Scotland revealed that one insurance company was blocking them.’ 1

You’ve got to laugh. The local Deeside Piper missed this story altogether. So, Reporting Scotland wins the Deeside Journalism Awards again with their fantastic scoop. Bring on the BBC Scotland 6 with headlines like ‘Glasgow Man Gets a Fright in Brussels!’

Both cover the SNP tax reforms in a fairly balanced way, with the opposition parties split in their criticisms. STV’s report is better presented and explained.