Media Watch special: The Doc presents the reporting story so far…


Media academic Dr John Robertson has been tracking TV news coverage of Scottish politics for the last three months, as BBC and STV position themselves for the coming Scottish Parliamentary campaign. Eleven weeks in, and in the same week as parliament was dissolved so that the official campaign can begin, he presents his interim summary…

This analysis covers BBC Reporting Scotland and STV News as broadcast at tea-time on weekday evenings, although we do also monitor other shorter bulletins for comparison. The period in question is January 8 to March 22 2016.

Although the evidence of bias is more clear and valid in the detailed textual analysis of full reports (the language, the sources, the balance), a more quantitative approach to counting and representing data, in a form admittedly reduced in complexity and less valid (but not invalid by any means), does offer an idea of the frequency and distribution of forms of bias. So, in this period, we had these results:

Media upsum Even after this fairly short time of 11 weeks – or 55 broadcasts – a pattern has emerged of a very strong tendency for Reporting Scotland, by contrast with STV, to present a very negative picture of Scotland and it’s politics, health, social services, policing and other issues. This can be read as an attempt to create a climate of dissatisfaction amongst the electorate.

The opinion polls suggest, however, that the attempt has been in vain. On average, Reporting Scotland had bad news for the Scottish Government/SNP/Independence more than once every night while for STV it was only every third night and STV also had a good news story for them nearly as many times.

With particular regard to the NHS Scotland we see Reporting Scotland hammering away at this perceived weak-spot for the Scottish Government every fourth night, on average. Remember, also, most of these latter reports were flawed, in my view: See my earlier reports on them.

Finally, note the small-scale but revealing failure of Reporting Scotland ever to criticise Labour and the willingness of STV News to be a bit balanced in this way. STV is a business which could be damaged by alienating the probably more than 50% of its viewers who now support independence. By contrast, Reporting Scotland has probably lost many Yes supporters in the last few years and, of course, can rely on the licence fee income regardless of its performance….for the moment.

I’ve coded this week too and added the data to the table. All I found was four 1s and a 9, for RS. See if you agree or disagree with this example of my coding. I’ve included the Ballater story as one of them, as I see it as part of a longer term thread designed to make things seem generally worse than they are under SNP government.

And now let the real election campaign begin…