Media Watch: Scotland’s vices must be kept in proportion, especially in Ballater

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Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Number 10. Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign.

Thursday 10th March to Wednesday 16th March 2016

Thursday 10th March 2016:

‘1500 jobs to go in one year. Glasgow City Council approve plans they say are necessary to balance the books.’  STV

‘Eight drugs tests have been performed across Scottish football in nine months. Is that enough?’ Reporting Scotland

Football requires brains! Any numpty can run and jump around despite the side-effects of drugs on their brain. Is there a drug to turn you into Lionel Messi?  Then RS tell us of 1500 jobs cuts by Glasgow City Council, and a new financial watchdog for the Scottish Government. The latter will be like UK Chancellor, George Osborne’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) but hopefully less biased. Returns to alleged crises in health care, to the starving farmers and to the flood in Ballater, were to be expected to keep us from getting too cheerful.

JOB CUTS

STV go with the fitba story, of course, and the Glasgow City Council job cuts. A suggestion was made that GCC could use reserves to offset the cuts and by the following day newspaper reports suggested they would but only partially do so. I searched for the level of financial reserves held by the councils and found the Audit Scotland, 2014/2016 report for Glasgow,  but in it, there was only mention of useable reserve funds of £92 million. Yet, and of course this is not reliable, a reader responded to a Herald newspaper report on cuts on 13th January this year (reference below) by suggesting that the councils were: ‘sitting on £1.8 billion!’ If that’s true then surely GCC would have more than £90m? Anyway, what are non-useable reserves?

‘A lack of leadership and planning is presenting Scotland’s Health and Social Care Services from adapting fast enough.’

STV’s account of the Audit Scotland (AS) Report is accurate. The report  is, however, a fairly unconvincing one from AS, given its inspectorial headline statements. It doesn’t really have the evidence needed to make its claims. In brief, they have no real empirical evidence only some interviews and case studies which may or may not reflect the wider Scottish context.

If you’re in the mood for a withering and patronising, assessment of the work of so-called experts, read more at: https://thoughtcontrolscotland.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/auditscotlandsnhsrespons.pdf

Tory MSP Mary Scanlon was shocked (‘Oh, but he’s talking about the Auditor General!’) back in March 2014 when I suggested that the then Auditor General was only human, with regard to bias. I’ve got previous on disrespect.

Friday 11th:

‘The problem, which led to the Forth Road Bridge closing, was not foreseeable.’ STV

‘The fault could not have been predicted’ RS

We’re agreed then. After all that reporting, nobody was to blame. It’ll be interesting to compare the reports. STV’s piece was quite short and balanced. In a longer report, RS were able find some wee negatives and let the Labour representative on the committee suggest that, despite the report’s agreed conclusions, he still had reservations about the speed of the safety mechanism. Further we heard that there was lack of clarity about responsibility for the bridge, denied by the Minister. RS have fairly wrung a stream, a firth even, of bad news out of this story, with three ‘Leven Bridge is Falling Down’ reports for every one of the same on STV, in January and February 2016.

RS did a bit on the SNP conference which was fair though I did raise my eyebrows at the insertion of the idea that ‘all eyes’ would be on the forthcoming Labour conference. So, all our eyes will be on Kezia without, I hear, Jeremy Corbyn getting in her way?  ‘All eyes, are you sure?’

Monday 14th:

STV and RS covered the Scottish Government’s draft bill seeking the removal of the time bar on child-abuse victims, requesting damages and include the mention of a reservation that pre-1964 cases will not be covered by this bill. These cases are expected to be considered next week, by the Education Secretary. Recently, RS accused the SG of being complicit in the cover-up of such cases.

Unknown-2The move by the SG to cut air passenger duty in Scottish airports was fairly balanced in the STV report. Kezia was agin it but her voice was strangely free of that whiney tone. Likewise, RS seemed unable to work up much of a reaction. Even Labour’s Jackie Baillie was a bit subdued. What is this? At the back of their bourgeois little minds, are they thinking: ‘Hey I like flying places and, if I get a promotion to the ‘big office’, I’ll need to fly down there for meetings?’ I think I’m more opposed to this idea than they seemed to be.

‘After the floods, the recovery. We report from Ballater and three months on from Storm Frank, the town’s still getting back on its feet.’ RS

We report from Ballater!’ said as if it was ‘We report from Baltimore!’ RS headlined the ‘Ballatergate’ again. They’ve been on Deeside eight times now. I wonder if the Deeside Piper and Herald newspaper has got this scoop.  No, quite the reverse, they’re ‘over it’ and moving on. In fact: ‘Floods won’t stop DYMT!’ they trumpet, mysteriously for those not on Deeside.  Indeed, the Deeside Youth Musical Theatre youngsters have picked themselves up, dried themselves down and started all over again, with their version of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Raincoat! Jackie Bird opens by telling us ‘It’s almost three months since the flooding in Ballater.’ Yes I know, three months and you’re still going on about it! Why on earth are we still on this story? Does the reporter live there? Will it help to defeat the SNP in some way?

FIBBERS

I’ve discussed this before. Some of the locals ‘made a mistake’ on their insurance application form or maybe told a wee fib about how far they were from a river. It turns out that the nearby bit of the river didn’t cause the flooding so the victims feel the insurance company should still pay out. Are we surprised they’re taking a strict line and refusing to pay out? The local Minister of the Kirk was interviewed and he sided with the locals. He even threatened the insurance company, that: ‘Ma boss is bigger than anybody else’s boss.’ Laugh, I almost flooded my breeks. I think he meant that God and not the Moderator of the Kirk who is only a moderate-sized chap. In my day, a Minister of the Kirk would have told those who filled their forms in wrongly, intentionally or mistakenly, that his ‘big boss’ would likely say, in his infinite wisdom and mercy: ‘Well Hell mend ye! Ye’ll ken better next time.’

Both covered the SG plans to increase the number of university undergraduates from less affluent backgrounds. The STV report was fairly positive about what seems a worthy ambition. RS, with the help of Labour commissars, were able to find something wrong, to balance the report of course! We heard: ‘The government’s critics question whether its decisions are actually helping.’

Ian Gray MSP
Ian Gray MSP

The ‘critics’ turn out be just Iain Gray MSP who admitted ‘The commission’s report has to be welcomed.’ Then he remembered: ‘What’s unfortunate, I think, is it comes out when we’ve seen half a billion pounds of cuts to our schools and other services.’ Now, reporter, tell me what exactly is the criticism of the government’s decisions not helping? It escapes me.

Tuesday 15th:

‘An international study finds teenagers in Scotland are amongst the most anxious and unhealthy in Europe and North America.’ RS

Jackie – we have bad news about Scotland’s health. Who would like to report this? Eleanor, yes, bad news, this is your area of expertise, isn’t it? No, Ms Bird, it’s health news that I do. It’s not my fault everybody’s sick in Scotland. The report opens brightly about our 11 year-olds but then we hear there’s ‘a dramatic decline’ by age 15. The first bad news is that they are second only to Malta in how pressurized they feel by homework. Imagine they hadn’t felt pressurized by homework? You can see the RS headline on lazy teachers. Make it up yourself for fun. Seriously, though, by their standards, it’s a quite balanced piece on fairly reliable research findings. Remember, though, we don’t know the sample size and the results are based on self-reporting of how these 15 year-olds think they feel. Just because it’s the WHO, doesn’t mean it can’t be questioned.

REPORT

The balance would have been greater had Eleanor remembered this bit from her own online report:

‘A positive finding was that the level of reported alcohol consumption among Scottish 15-year-olds continued to fall.

Dr Fergus Neville, a research fellow at the University of St Andrews, told Good Morning Scotland: 

This is a good news story. I think there’s a perception that alcohol is becoming an ever-increasing problem for our young people but since 1998 every time we’ve done the survey, every four years, we’ve seen a steady decrease in the proportion of 15-year-olds who’ve reported to have been drunk two or more times in their lifetime.’

Both do a short but wholly good news report on SG’s new cancer –care strategy.

Wednesday 16th:

‘The Chancellor announces a tax on sugary drinks’ STV

This is clearly anti-Scottish. It’s another attempt to grab extra taxes from Scotland’s ‘liquidity’. First, it was the Whisky. Then it was the Oil.  Now they want the Bru! It’ll be the water next. They’ve gone too far now.

‘The numbers don’t add up. Private nurseries claim Scottish Government plans for more, free child-care are unworkable.’

This was quite a balanced report but, of course, light on the Westminster cause of all the pain. RS did a quick piece on the same claim.

‘It demonstrated that Scotland was better as part of the UK.’ RS

NORTH SEA

The big story for both though, was £1billion of tax breaks for the North Sea Oil Industry. You won’t be surprised to hear that RS were able to turn it into a very long ‘Better Together’ story with a quick reference to a ‘struggling’, ‘badly hit’ industry and to ‘plunging’ oil prices before we even get to hear from the ‘Irn Bru Chancellor’ on how he would save this ‘Scottish Industry’. Worst of all was the claim and a graph allegedly demonstrating that prices show ‘little sign of rising in the future.’ This is nonsense. No one has any idea what will happen in even five years never mind ten, given the enormous instability in oil-producing areas and in the nuclear industry. This is sheer propaganda.

RS had a quick good news health story from Eleanor Bradford. Steady now, she was praising the Chancellor’s sugary drink tax and not the Scottish Government. Then some bad news about unemployment and a barely substantiated piece on cleft surgery changes about which ‘not everyone’s happy.’ And, your point is?

Sources: 

Audit Scotland: Glasgow City Council 2014-2016 at: https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=31839&p=0

BBC Online: Scottish teenage girls more sick and stressed says WHO report

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-35806893

Herald, 13 January 2016: But major urban councils rule out domino effect over fears of political backlash at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14201089.Ministers_face_mutiny_as_Scots_local_authorities_plot_council_tax_hike/