Our latest appeal – Academic research into BBC Scotland’s referendum coverage

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  At the turn of the year Newsnet Scotland published the results of an academic study into the referendum coverage broadcast on early evening TV news programmes.  The study found that news items were favouring the No campaign over the Yes campaign by a ratio of three to two.

STV and BBC Scotland were found to be equally at fault, but both rejected the study findings.

  At the turn of the year Newsnet Scotland published the results of an academic study into the referendum coverage broadcast on early evening TV news programmes.  The study found that news items were favouring the No campaign over the Yes campaign by a ratio of three to two.

STV and BBC Scotland were found to be equally at fault, but both rejected the study findings.

However the response from the BBC was to attack the integrity of the academic who had carried out the study and to suggest its findings lacked credibility.

The research led to BBC Scotland chiefs facing questions from MSPs on Holyrood’s Culture Committee.  Head of BBC Scotland Ken MacQuarrie repeated the criticisms the corporation had levelled at the academic, Professor John Robertson, and his methodology and refused to accept BBC Scotland had any issues to address.

Notwithstanding the interim nature of the original study, which continues, that’s where the episode ended.  Case apparently closed.

In light of this, Newsnet Scotland has decided to commission our own academic study into the referendum output reported by BBC Scotland.  We have been in communication with a respected academic who has agreed to carry out a similar study to that cited above.  Today we have launched an appeal [see bottom of article] to fund this research.

This new month long study will focus on one of five areas of BBC Scotland news coverage.

  • Good Morning Scotland
  • Newsdrive
  • Morning Call
  • Newsnight Scotland
  • BBC Scotland news online

There is argument for monitoring output from each of these BBC Scotland platforms.

Good Morning Scotland sets the day’s news agenda and its presenters set the tone.  Politicians and commentators add to this narrative through interviews and discussions.  The individual agenda of newspapers are regularly promoted free of charge and headlines read out.

Newsdrive has similar influence.  It picks up the stories from earlier in the day and keeps momentum going.  Breaking stories are also covered and similar interviews with politicians and commentators help set the agenda.  It is often a good barometer for what will appear on that evening’s Reporting Scotland.

Both the aforementioned radio programmes have faced accusations that presenters have been more aggressive with pro-independence interviewees that with their pro-Union counterparts.

Morning Call is the early morning weekday phone in programme.  Not always political but critical nevertheless in helping to fashion opinion on a string of key issues.  A clever mix of professional and public opinion makes this a very influential shaper of public opinion.  Topics can be designed in order to allow the promotion of views [sometimes hopelessly misinformed] that can help or hinder a campaign, policy or party.

Newsnight Scotland is soon to be replaced but still carries significant weight amongst those who influence the referendum debate.  Politicians, journalists and a whole plethora of talking heads will be invited onto the show to discuss whatever issue the BBC deems important.  Allthough broadcast late at night, it can still determine the news agenda as Stewart Stevenson found to his cost after an infamous interview with former BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan on the day heavy snowfall caused chaos on the M8.

BBC Scotland Online is one of the most visited news sites in Scotland, with a newspaper style format allowing headlines to steer the reader.  It can also allow one story to dominate over another through clever positioning.  Last Monday was a case in point when a pro-independence story was moved from top spot in a matter of hours down to number 15.  A story beneficial to the No campaign remained virtually unchanged in 2nd position throughout.

As mentioned already, we have set up an appeal to pay for this research.  The total amount required is £6000 – the appeal asks for a further £500 in order to take into account the fees of the crowdfunding company.

This research will be subject to the highest academic rigours.  Newsnet Scotland will have absolutely no involvement or input into the research or its methodology – our only role will be to commission and pay for the study.  We do not know what the findings will be.

BBC Scotland will not monitor its own output and even if it did it would not make findings public.  Management at BBC Scotland offer as proof that they are impartial the fact that they are the BBC.  We are the BBC therefore we are beyond reproach, is the mantra.  It’s a stance that necessitates outside monitoring.

If you believe, as we do, that BBC Scotland simply cannot be trusted to police itself then please visit our crowdfunding appeal by clicking the image below: