The Dirty Dozen – The case against BBC Scotland: Part 2


  By G.A.Ponsonby

In March this year Newsnet Scotland published an article which challenged the widely held belief that the BBC’s reporting of the independence referendum could be trusted to be fair and balanced.

The article contained six of the worst examples of BBC political reporting in relation to Scotland and indicated a political agenda was at work.  Now, five months after its publication and three weeks before the referendum, we publish the second installment.

The six additional examples below are not exhaustive, indeed to fully expose the level of political news manipulation that has destroyed the BBC’s reputation as fair and impartial, would have required several volumes.

For those for whom these revelations come as a shock, we simply ask that you consider why the BBC has sought to manipulate the news at this crucial time in Scotland’s history.  Once considered then the question you need to ask is why, and at whose behest?

The Dirty Dozen – The Case Against BBC Scotland: Part 2


Number Six – The EU and Foreign Officials

In April 2013 the independence campaign was in its relative infancy.  Both sides were just one year old and neither had yet established themselves in the minds of the electorate.  The debate, as it was, wasn’t inspired and even the so-called Project Fear had not truly left the ground.

However one issue was moving centre stage – the EU membership of a newly independent Scotland.  A narrative, promoted by Unionist politicians and media commentators, was taking shape that suggested Scotland would find it difficult to remain inside the European Union in the event of independence.

The issue hovered around the fringes of debate for a while until one morning a BBC reporter called Glenn Campbell filed a report that suggested at least one current EU member was against Scottish independence.  An item broadcast on Radio Scotland in March heard Campbell’s colleague Gary Robertson tell listeners that the Government of Luxembourg had “broken the mould” and had come out against a Yes vote.

In the discussion that followed, Campbell informed listeners that, “Luxembourg has warned against Scotland becoming an independent country”.

The claims by the BBC man centred on a statement by Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn who said:

“As we are all facing serious economic and social challenges, this is a time for solidarity between Member States of the EU and within Member States, rather than for going separate ways.  This being said, Scotland’s constitutional future is a matter to be decided by the people of Scotland.

“But its future within the EU is a matter for the whole EU and can thus only be determined with the agreement of all Member States.”

The news was broadcast throughout the day by the BBC and also featured in TV and online reports.

However all was not as it first appeared.  Within days of the item appearing on the BBC, Luxembourg officials complained that they had been misrepresented.

According to the Luxembourg’s English speaking news organisation Wort, the phrase ‘going separate ways’ was not a reference to Scottish independence but was in fact a reference to the UK Government’s anti-EU European stance.

According to the news organisation, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said that the nuance of the minister’s words had been lost in the BBC article.

“The BBC chose to present the position of the minister in opposition [to independence].  Whereas it was more nuanced than that,” he said, adding: “It’s a reflection which is valid for all member states, not to go their separate ways.”

In the article, it claims: “…there was no misunderstanding on the part of Scotland’s parliament, which interpreted the minister’s comment as directed at the UK’s anti-Europe stance.”

The report in Wort was confirmed when an official at the Luxembourg Embassy in London accused the BBC Scotland reporter of failing to interpret accurately the response given by the nation’s Foreign Minister

The letter, written by Chargé d’affaires Béatrice Kirsch, said: “Whilst acknowledging that the BBC is usually excellent in their news coverage, it failed on this occasion to appreciate the nuance of Minister Asselborn’s quote and position.”

The report as it was broadcast on Radio Scotland

No correction or apology was ever issued by BBC Scotland.  The BBC would later find itself in hot water over its reporting of the the issue of the EU, as we will find out later.


Number Five: The Doctored Photographs

One of the key battlegrounds in the independence debate has been the traditional working class vote.  This sector of Scottish society has historically given its loyalty to the Labour party.

From the outset, it has been acknowledged that in order for Yes to prevail in the referendum then a sizeable number of Labour supporters have to vote against the official stance of the Labour party.  In early 2013 a new movement was emerging from within the Scottish Labour party, it was in favour of Scottish independence.

Scottish Labour for Independence was the brainchild of Allan Grogan, a member of the Labour party who had become disillusioned with the party’s stance on independence.  The movement was small to begin with but gradually started to grow as its profile increased.

Today it is widely accepted that at least one third of Labour voters in Scotland will vote Yes.  However back in the early part of 2013 the Labour party was still arguing that claims of significant support for Yes amongst its members was all but non-existant.  The party was – and still to some extent is – claming that Labour for Independence was a front set up by the SNP.

However the accusation entered the public psyche proper in July 2013 when the BBC decided to headline Labour’s claims in a news report.

A BBC Scotland online article written by reporter Glenn Campbell contained an image which had come from the official No campaign group ‘Better Together’.  The image had been altered to include the phrase ‘SNP Cllr’ beside three men who were pictured holding an Labour For Iindependence banner which proclaimed – ‘Yes is the future!’

In the article, the BBC reporter had written:

The Scottish Labour party’s deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, has described the campaign group Labour for Independence as an “SNP front”.

Mr Sarwar said SNP politicians and officials have appeared in campaign photographs alongside the Labour for independence (LFI) banner.

One photograph, published by the ThinkScotland website, appeared to show the SNP leader of East Ayrshire council, Douglas Reid, campaigning with Labour for Independence.

Another picture, tweeted by the pro-union campaign Better Together, identified several SNP councillors from Midlothian holding an LFI banner.

The image was also shown on Newsnight Scotland where presenter Gordon Brewer drew viewers attention to the SNP councillors.

However appearing on the programme, LFI founder Allan Grogan revealed the image shown by the BBC had never been used by his organisation in order to promote its pro-independence campaign.

Newsnet Scotland then discovered the images presented by the BBC had in fact been altered.

We obtained the original photos which proved that the images distributed by Better Together – and published by the BBC – had in fact been cropped in order to remove other individuals who were holding a Yes Scotland banner.

In the images, far from trying to present themselves as members of Labour for Independence, the SNP councillors had simply joined LFI members in a joint photograph showing all of the group.  The two sets of Yes groups had been attending a pro-Yes event.

The image sequence below show the original two pictures taken at the Yes Scotland event which cleary shows both groups of activists holding each others banners side by side.

The doctored image featured in several BBC Scotland news items and was cited as ‘evidence’ backing Labour’s claims in a Radio Scotland interview Allan Grogan gave to BBC Scotland presenter Gary Robertson.

Allan Grogan being questioned by Gary Robertson

It was the second image found to have been altered by Better Together after another was found to have had a caption removed that identified the people in the picture.  The caption also made clear they were attending a Yes Scotland event.

No correction or apology was ever issued by BBC Scotland.


Number Four: The ‘anti-English’ phone-in

One of the most repugnant claims levelled against supporters of independence is that they are motivated by feelings of anti-Englishness.  It has been a recurring theme throughout this current independence debate and has been thrown around by a succession elected Unionist politicians.

On December 12th an official Scottish government report showed that racist attacks against a group describing themselves as ‘white British’ had increased by twenty four per cent in the last year.

The statistic resulted in newspaper headlines suggesting, or in the case of one newspaper asserting, that attacks on English people was on the increase.

A press release was issued by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie expressing concern over “anti-English rhetoric” and “racist abuse towards English”.

That day, listeners to Radio Scotland’s morning news programme Good Morning Scotland heard presenters reading out the aforementioned newspaper headlines.  This was followed by the host of Call Kaye, Kaye Adams, who in a trailer for her own phone in show said: “So, are we seeing a rise of anti-English sentiment in Scotland; up fifty percent apparently over the last seven years.”

When her radio phone in programme started, Ms Adams asked: “Is anti-English sentiment on the rise in Scotland”.  Listeners were asked if they saw it in their own area and to phone in to say what they believed the cause to be.

There was a general acceptance conveyed by the show that we were witnessing an upsurge in anti-English sentiment.  With the agenda set and listeners primed, the show kicked off and very quickly and predictably a stream of callers and texts messages were aired that sought to give examples of this apparent ‘rise’ in anti-English sentiment and who was to blame.

On cue, two texts messages attacking the SNP or independence supporters were immediately read out by the show host.

“Well, well, well what a surprise.  Anti-English hatred is on the rise, no wonder with what’s been preached from the SNP it’s a worry” said the first text message.

“There’s been an anti-English feeling in Scotland far away from sport.  That’s the reason used by a large section of Scottish people who plan to vote for independence, it’s very, very scary we are a blinkered nation unfortunately.” said a second.

“I’m not sure what kind of further analysis we can actually do” said Kaye Adams.

However what listeners to the show were unaware of was that further analysis of the official figures was indeed carried out and showed that anti-English attacks in Scotland had actually decreased by 17%.  The whole BBC Scotland radio show had been based on a lie, and a very dangerous one at that.

A complaint to the BBC about the show and the false claims by its host were met with a refusal to apologise or admit a mistake had been made.  The show’s producer defended the phone in explaining that the show was based on claims by Scottish Lib Dem MDP Willie Rennie.

“This was a reflection of figures released by the Scottish Government which showed Racist incidents are up by 10% on last year with a particular spike in the number of “White British” victims, sparking fears of a rising Anti English sentiment in Scotland. Over the past seven years, the attacks on ‘white British ‘ are up by fifty per cent.

The claim that these figures reflected an Anti-English Sentiment came from Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie who said: “We can’t allow Anti-English rhetoric to enter our country”.

The result of the Call Kaye programme was to give those with an agenda an opportunity to air their prejudices.  The programme had lazily accepted a politically bigoted interpretation of statistics from a Unionist politician and presented the claim as credible.

Here is the full programme for those who may have missed the original broadcast.

No correction or apology was ever issued by BBC Scotland.


Number Three: Trimble and Northern Ireland

Another tactic, although mercifully rare, adopted by opponents of Scottish independence is to somehow try to link the drive for a Yes vote to the situation in Northern Ireland.  When it raises its head the usual claim is that independence for Scotland will somehow lead to a resurgance in violence in the province.

In a news report in May this year, BBC Scotland did exactly that.  The corporation misreported comments from a former Northern Ireland First Minister claiming he said a Yes vote would threaten peace in the province.

In its broadcast and online news reports on comments from Lord Trimble, the broadcaster said the politician viewed Scottish independence as “the biggest threat to peace in Northern Ireland”.

The claims by the corporation followed an interview in which Lord Trimble had said he believed a Yes vote in the independence referendum would lead to strains in Northern Irish politics.

He said: “If the referendum in Scotland goes in the way I regard as the wrong result, that will change the political context in Northern Ireland and that would cause strains.

“It would put what is now a non-issue [a possible referendum] into a major issue and it would be divisive, obviously.”

However, claims by the BBC that Lord Trimble had said Scottish independence would lead to a return to violence in the province were challenged by the former First Minister himself who accused the BBC of attributing views to him that he did not hold.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, Lord Trimble confronted BBC Scotland presenter Bill Whiteford who had earlier repeated the claim.  The former Northern Irish First Minister challenged the BBC Scotland presenter’s report, saying: “Unfortunately you are not the only person who has made this mistake.”

Referring to several BBC reports claiming he had said a Yes vote would mean a return to violence, he added: “I did not say that. It is not my view.”

Referring specifically to his original interview given to the BBC Daily Politics Show in which he had spoken of a Yes vote causing strains and division in Northern Ireland, Lord Trimble said this did not mean a return to violence.

On the contrary, he added, Scottish independence would lead to the complete opposite of what the BBC was reporting and reduce further the possibility of a return to violence.

He said: “Actually, a Yes vote in Scotland would reinforce the argument against violence because it’s a demonstration of how you can achieve major change through the political democratic process.”

No correction or apology was ever issued by BBC Scotland.


Number Two: NHS Hospital Infections

The NHS has become one of the key issues of the independence referendum.  It’s not difficult to see why as the institution remains one of the most revered of all public services.

It’s been at the centre of Scottish and British politics for decades and elections have been won and lost on public perception of how successful or not each political party is deemed to have administered this sacred institution.

Over the last twelve months BBC Scotland been at the centre of several controversies involving its reporting of NHS waiting times.  BBC Scotland’s health correspondent Eleanor Bradford has been taken to task by this site for appearing to deliberately exaggerate some figures and/or apply a political agenda to some of her reports.

However probably the worst example of deliberate false reporting by BBC Scotland on the issue of the NHS took place in early Januray 2012 when in several BBC broadcasts a Labour MSP was allowed to accuse the SNP Government of having left Scottish hospitals so poorly maintained that they were the most infected in Europe.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie was heard claiming that official figures showed that Scotland was now the “superbug capital of Europe”.

According to Baillie, research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre showed that Scotland has the highest rate of bugs in Europe, hitting 9.5 per cent.

Listeners heard the Labour MSP saying: “Being the superbug capital of Europe is an accolade no country wants.  These figures show that, despite recent progress, the SNP government still has a long way to go in the battle against healthcare-associated infections.

“Sadly, almost everybody knows someone who has contracted a healthcare-associated infection, like C.diff or MRSA.

“We must aspire to deliver the cleanest hospitals and the lowest levels of hospital-acquired infections in the whole of Europe – not the highest.”

However Newsnet Scotland was able to reveal that the claims were entirely false, the data used by the Labour MSP was in fact collated in 2005/6, at a time when her own party was in power at Holyrood.

Ms Baillie’s attack featured prominently on BBC Scotland which ran the story in several news bulletins throughout the day.

Newsnet Scotland also revealed that the corporation had in been in posession of the facts – that showed the claims by Baillie to be false – for fully two days before it broadcast the news item.  An embargoed press release had been issued by the SNP which pointed to the official information that proved the Labour MSP’s claims were untrue.

Worse than that, official statistics released months earlier showed that cases of MRSA and MSSA were at their lowest level since records began.  Cases of MRSA had fallen by over 75.8 per cent compared with the same period in 2007 and was now at the lowest level since surveillance began in 2005.

The figures also showed that the number of MRSA cases were also at the lowest level since surveillance began in 2005.

Clostridium difficile infections were at the second lowest number of cases since surveillance began in 2006 – the previous quarter being the lowest.

No correction or apology was ever issued by BBC Scotland, nor has there ever been any questioning of Jackie Baillie’s claims.


Number One: Guilty – The Creighton Scandal

The BBC in Scotland is not answerable to any organisation in Scotland.  Incredible as it may seem, Freedom of Information laws do not apply nor does the Scottish Government have any power over the institution north of the border.

In order to seek redress, people living in Scotland have only one course of action – a complaint to the corporation’s own watchdog.  The BBC Trust is notoriously loathe to find against the broadcaster, however one incident from 2013 was so outrageous that the Trust found against BBC Scotland.

The Lucinda Creighton scandal is perhaps the singlemost worst example of news manipulation and coverup BBC Scotland has ever pulled off.  The episode, which related to one of the most debated issues of the independence debate – EU membership – cost one of the corporation’s most experienced reporters his career.

Raymond Buchanan had been sent to Ireland to cover a trip by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.  The trip to Dublin would normally have garnered some positive publicity for the Scottish Government.

The BBC plan to send Buchanan to Ireland to cover the trip was revealed by Head of News and Current Affairs John Boothman to Holyrood’s Culture Committee days before the visit.

While there, Buchanan was to interview a little known politician named Lucinda Creighton.  Ms Creighton was Ireland’s European Affairs Minister and the country was about to take up its EU Presidency role.  On January 25th 2013, an item appeared on flagship news programme Reporting Scotland.

When the interview aired on that evening a careful edit and not so careful voiceover by Mr Buchanan appeared to apply a wholly different emphasis to the Irish Minister’s unedited interview.

The Irish Minister and UK Government Minister Michael Moore, we were told, shared the same view.

Unionists seized on the BBC broadcast and began attacking Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who had insisted Scotland could negotiate the continuation of its EU membership from within the EU.

Immediately after the interview was broadcast Newsnet Scotland decided to contact the Irish Minister in order to clarify her views.  The email response we received shattered the myth being perpetrated by the BBC and pro-Union commentators.

“I was asked about the future of negotiations with the EU in the event that Scotland votes for independence.  I thought that my reply was largely in line with that of the Scottish Government.  I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU.  Scottish people are citizens of Europe.

My understanding is that the Scottish Government has already committed to a negotiation with the EU between 2014 and 2016, if you vote for independence in 2014.  If my interview suggested something other than that, this was not my intention.  I think my comments have been misconstrued – if so I sincerely regret this.

As SNP Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson said ‘Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence’, and that ‘The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries’.

I think that sums up the situation quite well.”

Unknown to Newsnet Scotland, the Deputy First Minister had also sought clarification from the Irish Minister.  The response received by Nicola Sturgeon echoed that received by Newsnet Scotland.

It was an open and shut case.  The BBC had misled viewers into believing Ms Creighton held views that she clearly did not.  A complaint was lodged against the BBC on February 2nd.

Despite the Irish Minister distancing herself from the claims being made by the BBC and very clearly stating her views were in line with those of the Scottish Government, the BBC refused to report her statement in any news broadcasts.

By now the BBC claims were now being repeated in the Scottish Parliament by Unionist MSPs who were falsely claiming the Irish politician had been subjected to intimidation by supporters of independence.  Scottish Minister Fiona Hyslop was herself accused of attacking the BBC.

Members of the public were filmed on topical programmes referencing Lucinda Creighton during debates on Scottish EU membership in the event of independence.

Raymond Buchanan’s broadcast on Reporting Scotland was now firmly embedded in a media dominated by pro-Union leanings.  The impression it had left people with was now being accepted as fact.

In December 2013, Newsnet Scotland learned that the BBC Trust had finally come to a decision on the complaint made almost one year earlier.  It found BBC Scotland guilty of having breached editorial guidelines on accuracy.  In a damning verdict, the Trust said the item on Reporting Scotland had “misled” viewers.

The Trust said: “The complainant said that BBC Scotland, in its coverage of the interview with Ms Creighton, gave the misleading impression that Ms Creighton thought an independent Scotland would be forced to leave the EU and would then have to negotiate its way back in from outside, and the misleading impression that her views were at odds with those of the Scottish Government.”

In its conclusion, the Trust said: “The Committee, on balance, agreed with the complainant in relation to this particular broadcast.”

It added: “The Committee agreed that this juxtaposition of clips, connected as they were by the word ‘and’, would have led viewers to believe that Ms Creighton and the UK Government shared the view that Scotland would be outside the EU and would need to negotiate its way back into the EU. The Committee concluded that this piece was therefore, in breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guideline on Accuracy.”

Buchanan had left BBC Scotland days before the Trust had revealed its intention to investigate the complaint.  No newspaper has ever reported the findings of the BBC Trust nor sought to question Raymond Buchanan.

To date, BBC Scotland management refuse to apologise for the misleading news report and have failed to issue any correction.  Viewers who watched the initial report and who may have been influenced by it, remain oblivious to its inaccuracy.

The result of the news item is that for almost a full year, pro-Union commentators were able to cite Lucinda Creighton as evidence to back up their claims that a newly independent Scotland would be forced out of the European Union.  The BBC has never reported Lucinda Creighton’s actual views on the issue of EU membership.

In its statement to the Trust, BBC Scotland claimed that no-one from the corporation was able to question Lucinda Creighton on the issue after she issued her clarification emails.

Newsnet Scotland can reveal that the BBC did indeed interview Lucinda Creighton on February 13th, a mere two weeks after the EU row broke.  The Irish Minister was interviewed in a twenty five minute edition of the BBC political programme Hard Talk.  She was not asked to clarify her stance on the EU status of Scotland after a Yes vote.