Reporting Scotland editor denies giving false information to complainant

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
The Editor of Reporting Scotland has denied giving false information to a licence fee payer who had complained about ‘selective editing’ of an interview that appeared on the programme.
 
The editor also claimed that the video tape containing the unedited interview, with Professor Brian Ashcroft, could no longer be examined due to the “good housekeeping” practiced by BBC Scotland.

The original complaint followed an interview broadcast on the flagship news programme on June 12th this year in which Professor Brian Ashcroft had been giving his views on the Scottish economic recovery.

Viewers of Reporting Scotland heard the academic criticise the weakness of the recovery insisting that it should have been stronger given the extent of the banking crisis.

“There is a recovery, we hope it continues, but we must remember we’re still five years into a major financial crisis and at this stage we should be recovering much more strongly than we are.”

However viewers did not hear the academic give what he believed were the reasons for the poorer than expected recovery, which included the UK coalition’s austerity policies as well as weak exports which had been included in a press release issued earlier that day on behalf of the academic.

According to the complainant, this information ought to have been included in the broadcast which, as it was aired, gave no reasons for the apparent weaker growth.  The omission was compounded by the appearance of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore who was heard arguing that the same coalition policies were the reason for what growth there was.

Also appearing in the same item was First Minister Alex Salmond who also warned that the coalition’s austerity agenda risked derailing the recovery – something Professor Ashcroft’s views, had they been heard in full, would have lent weight to.

Challenged by the complainant to explain the removal from Professor Ashcroft’s interview of his criticism of the coalition’s austerity policies, the Reporting Scotland editor denied any such editing had taken place, saying:

“In struggling to follow your thought process, I infer that you somehow believe that, whatever Professor Ashcroft said in his statement, he will have repeated word-for-word to us, and that we edited out anything that you did not see on the screen which had been in the statement.

“If that is what you are really thinking, I can assure you that we do not produce programmes on that basis and that in the real world people do not necessarily parrot phrases time after time without omission, addition or some other alteration.”

However Newsnet Scotland can reveal that Professor Ashcroft did indeed provide his BBC Scotland interviewer with both his concerns that the economy was not recovering at a strong enough pace and the reasons, he believed, for the weaker growth.

Asked by Newsnet Scotland to confirm whether he had included both his concerns and reasons in his interview with the BBC, the academic said:

“Yes, I did give reasons for the weak recovery from the financial crisis over and above what one might expect after a bank crisis: fiscal austerity and exporting problems.”

When this information was put to the BBC by the complainant along with another complaint that the initial reply from the programme editor that the original assertion that Reporting Scotland had not “edited out anything that you did not see on the screen” was false, the Reporting Scotland editor said: “You say you received what you call ‘false information’ in my first reply. You did not”

The Reporting Scotland editor added: “In your second complaint, you claim that Professor Ashcroft told a website, Newsnet Scotland, that he had made certain comments in the BBC recorded interview which were not included in the final version. Presumably you did not know that when you made your original complaint, otherwise I assume you would have included it.”

The editor continued: “At this distance from the events I am afraid that I can no longer check the contents of the unedited tape, because of good housekeeping practised by all responsible and financially prudent broadcasters.”

Quizzed by Newsnet Scotland on whether the original video recording, as implied by the Reporting Scotland editor, had been erased a BBC Scotland official said:

“Hi … the complainant has received a detailed response which we are not adding to.”

The episode follows worrying trends at the BBC in Scotland which has seen political news stories manipulated and others suppressed.  Last week it emerged that a high profile story on Reporting Scotland involving a ‘leaked’ Scottish government energy document had been steered by the Better Together campaign in an attempt at attacking SNP oil claims.

In May, following concerns of a massive over-representation of pro-Union guests on debate and discussion programmes, BBC Scotland refused a Freedom of Information request to disclose the names of the guests who had appeared on its political programmes.

Last month the BBC refused to investigate a complaint after one of its reporters had suggested an Irish Minister held views on an independent Scotland’s status in the EU, views that the minister subsequently denied holding.

The broadcaster had also refused to report, on its news programmes, the complaints from Lucinda Creighton that she had been “misconstrued” and her comments “spun”.

CORRECTION – This article originally named Diarmid O’Hara as the editor of Reporting Scotland at the time of the broadcast.   We would like to make clear that Mr O’Hara was actually replaced as editor of the programme one year ago and has no knowledge nor involvement in this matter.