The Dirty Dozen – The case against BBC Scotland

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By G.A.Ponsonby

The BBC trades on its reputation like no other organisation.  It’s this reputation for fairness and accuracy that ensures its news broadcasts carry weight, not just here in the UK, but internationally.

People trust the BBC like no other broadcast news outlet.  Indeed so deep runs that trust that in the UK the public allows itself to be coerced into funding the corporation through the TV licence, a tax costing each household £145.50 each year.

What though if that trust is misplaced and the privilege given to the BBC is being abused?  How many people would continue to fund a broadcaster if they suspected they were being manipulated?

Below, I present evidence that suggests the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics and the referendum is being manipulated in order to present the Scottish Government and SNP in the worst possible light.  I challenge those who read the complete series – ‘The Dirty Dozen: The case against BBC Scotland’ – to explain the handling of political news by BBC Scotland and to deny that there is something very wrong at the Glasgow HQ at Pacific Quay.

The list is in no particular order, but I have left the worst example to the end. After reading it, ask yourself if you trust the BBC to report the referendum fairly and accurately.

Number Twelve – Any Questions
Any Questions is a radio show broadcast on Radio 4.  Its format is similar to the TV show Question Time in that panellists are asked to comment on issues of the day.

In this particular example, broadcast on August 2010, the issue under discussion is the release on compassionate grounds of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.  Mr Megrahi, now dead, had been diagnosed with incurable cancer and, as is the protocol under Scots Law, had been allowed to leave prison to die after satisfying the conditions for such a release.

The release had divided public opinion and many Unionist politicians had attempted to politicise it in order to attack the SNP minority government.  The comments you are about to hear were made by Baroness Ruth Deech who is a former Governor of the BBC and Douglas Murray who is the Director of The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC).

The show, broadcast on Friday 20th August, heard Baroness Deech claim that Scots lived off of benefits paid for by English subsidies and that the release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi had embarrassed the rest of the UK.

The comments, from both guests, were met with enthusiastic loud applause and howls of laughter from the audience in Harvest Fields Centre in Sutton Coldfield.

Here is an edited recording of Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray’s comments:

The BBC refused to issue an apology after the broadcast.  Not only did the BBC refuse to admit any wrongdoing, the broadcaster also refused to consider a complaint from a listener because the listener had contacted Ofcom.

A fuller report covering the episode can still be read from the Newsnet Scotland archive by clicking the following link: Fury at BBC’s ‘anti-Scottish’ broadcast

It should also be noted that few people actually still believe that Megrahi was in fact guilty of the Lockerbie bombing with most of the opinion that it was not Libya but in fact Iran that sought the atrocity in retaliation for the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner by a US warship.

 

Number Eleven – The Salmond/Swinney manipulated video
On November 24th 2010, a debate took place in the Holyrood chamber.  BBC Scotland’s Reporting Scotland ran a news item that evening in which they showed the First Minister apparently shaking his head in mocking fashion following a parliamentary statement by John Swinney.

The item, as can be seen, gave the impression that Swinney’s words were being made fun of by Mr Salmond.

Here is the clip as it appeared on Reporting Scotland:

However, when Newsnet Scotland viewed the actual footage supplied by official Holyrood cameras we were shocked to find the footage aired by the BBC had been manipulated and was not in fact what had taken place.

The clip below shows an unedited recording of the actual moments leading up to Alex Salmond’s shaking of the head:

As can be seen, Salmond wasn’t mocking John Swinney at all, he was in fact mocking the then Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott.  If you look back at the BBC clip you can just about hear Tavish Scott speaking at the moment Salmond shakes his head, Scott’s voice is drowned out by the BBC Scotland voice-over provided by BBC Political Editor Brian Taylor.

BBC Scotland had presented a wholly different interpretation of events to the one that had actually occurred.  Despite being confronted with clear evidence that they had manipulated the video footage, BBC Scotland never apologised.

Number Ten – The Pre-election Poll
Prior to the 2011 Scottish elections BBC Scotland conducted a survey to find out what policy area the Scottish public deemed the most important.  A Labour policy on health waiting times ‘won’.

The broadcaster had initially claimed that it would survey the public on the manifesto commitments fom each party.  However it later emerged that the survey had been carried out after the Labour party manifesto launch and before the SNP manifesto launch.

Challenged on this, BBC Scotland acknowledged the SNP had indeed not yet launched their own manifesto, but wrote: “However, all the main parties, plus the Scottish Greens, have made their general pledges known in BBC Scotland’s issues grid guide.

“In terms of parties, the top-ranked policy was in the Labour manifesto; to cut the waiting time for suspected cancer cases to see a specialist from four weeks to two.”

The poll result was not surprising really given that Labour had just launched its manifesto which received widespread media coverage – not least on the BBC.  That this policy pledge had become embedded in the minds of the electorate is also not surprising.

The decision by the BBC to conduct a poll coincided with poll results that suggested Scottish Labour’s huge pre-campaign lead had been eroded and the SNP was beginning to inch ahead.  Both are discussed here in studio discussion in the week prior to the survey being published.

During an election period the BBC is not allowed to commission voting intention polls.  The poll was commissioned from pollsters ICM and included 25 questions the broadcaster had compiled for the 1004 respondents.

There was concern that some of the questions appeared heavily qualified and may in fact have influenced the responses.

A question on nuclear power listed only wind and wave as a possible alternative instead of the more inclusive term ‘renewable energy’.  The BBC also listed the council tax replacement Local Income Tax in a question despite no party offering it in the last election.

The BBC poll came close to breaking the corporation’s own guidelines on conducting polls in the midst of election campaigns.  The reason for this guideline was reinforced when almost as soon as the BBC headlined the poll, Scottish Labour altered their campaign thrust and began highlighting their waiting time pledge, the one the BBC had said ‘won’ the popularity poll.

BBC Scotland had influenced an election campaign and the beneficiary was the Scottish Labour party.  There was no apology or even an acknowledgement from BBC Scotland that it had crossed the line.

Number Nine – Montenegro and ethnic cleansing
In January 2011 a diplomatic row erupted after the then Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray attempted to link the independence of Montenegro with ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

Mr Gray launched his attack during the last session of First Minister’s Questions of 2010.

To raucous laughter from the Labour benches Mr Gray claimed that Montenegro had needed “two world wars, the Balkan conflict, ethnic cleansing, a war crimes tribunal and a UN peacekeeping mission” in order to achieve independence.”

Montenegro reacted to the slur with fury, firing off official letters of complaint to Labour leader Ed Miliband and Iain Gray – ironically a letter was also sent to First Minister Alex Salmond.

Marijana Zivkovic, chargé d’affaires at Montenegro’s British embassy, expressed her “deep regret” at the Scottish Labour leader’s comments.  Ms Zivkovic pointed out that their nation was the only former Yugoslav republic to stay out of the Balkan conflict and actually provided shelter to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the bloodshed.

Writing to the Scottish Labour leader, she said: “Your statement that Montenegro was involved in ‘ethnic cleansing’, including references to ‘a war crimes tribunal and a UN peacekeeping mission’, is simply incorrect.”

The diplomatic row made front page headlines and was carried by newspapers in Scotland and England.

However, in a move that provoked controversy, BBC Scotland adopted a news blackout and refused to report the story.  The ‘news blackout’ led to accusations that the state broadcaster was failing in its public duty to scrutinise fairly and there were allegations that the story had been suppressed in order to minimise damage to Labour in Scotland.

When finally one BBC presenter, Isabel Fraser, confronted the Scottish Labour leader over two weeks later in a late night interview, Gray repeated the slurs.

The BBC has never reported the diplomatic row in any news bulletin, despite Gray repeating the slur on one of its own late night current affairs programmes.

At the time of the row, Scottish Labour were still enjoying a relatively comfortable lead in Scottish election opinion polls.  Suspicions persist to this day that BBC Scotland bosses suppressed the story in order to minimise damage to the Scottish Labour campaign.

Readers may find an article published by us in 2011 particularly relevant, given the subject matter of this article: Scottish News from the BBC and a Question of Diplomacy

Number Eight – The Fabricated Survey
The 2011 Scottish election campaign wasn’t the first to witness questionable coverage on the part of the BBC.  The 2007 election, the first won by the SNP, saw a quite blatant attempt by the BBC to mislead the Scottish electorate in the run-up to the vote.

In 2007 during the campaign for the Scottish election the BBC hosted a live TV debate, a Newsnight special ‘Act of Disunion,’ which was shown on January 16.  Quizzing Alex Salmond on the prospects for businesses in an independent Scotland, host Jeremy Paxman confronted the SNP leader with what he claimed were results from a survey carried out by the BBC.

According to the BBC presenter not one of fifty companies the corporation had questioned supported the SNP’s independence plans.  Viewers watched a seated Alex Salmond calmly deal with the thrust of the question as Paxman continued to highlight the findings of the poll.

Paxman told Salmond: “We spoke to the 25 largest companies in Britain and the 25 largest companies in Scotland and not one of them favoured independence.”

However an alert viewer became suspicious of the claims broadcast by the BBC and endeavoured to try to find out if they were indeed accurate.  It subsequently emerged that the BBC had manufactured the poll result and only seven firms had replied to the BBC questionaire.  Contrary to Paxman’s claims, a majority had declined to express a view ‘one way or the other’, two had declared ‘neutrality’ and one leading business said ‘it didn’t care.’

After an official complaint the corporation was forced to issue an apology.

Fraser Steel, the head of the BBC’s complaints unit wrote: “The Newsnight team, having now reviewed the material gathered concede that they got this wrong, and that the inference drawn from the results in the question – that the biggest companies were unanimously ranged against independence – was not a valid one.

“I hope you will accept my apologies, on behalf of the BBC, for the mistake.”

The willingness of the BBC to issue public apologies when it is found guilty of misleading the public and breaking editorial guidelines on the issue of Scottish independence has since reduced significantly, as readers will learn when we publish part two of ‘The Dirty Dozen – The case against BBC Scotland’.

Number Seven – Banks and the misleading headline
On Saturday March 10th the SNP held its Spring conference in Glasgow.  That morning BBC Scotland broadcast, online, an interview with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The independence debate was still in its infancy and both sides had yet to mobilise their respective campaigns.  However one of the early issues being promoted by those who opposed independence was an idea that an independent Scotland could not have withstood the financial crisis.

The Saturday morning interview was a typical format with viewer’s questions being read out by BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor and Ms Sturgeon answering them.

Mr Taylor asked a question on the banking crisis and how an independent Scotland would have coped.  Nicola Sturgeon replied that an independent Scotland would have worked with the rest of the UK in order to ensure the difficulties experienced by RBS and HBOS were addressed.

Here, for those unfamiliar with the exchange is what was said:

The answer, whether you agree with it or not, was clear, Scotland could have coped with the banking crisis and would have worked with the rest of the UK to avert catastrophe, the same way as other countries had cooperated with one another when banks that crossed their jurisdictions.

There was another point contained in Ms Sturgeon’s answer, the fact that America, Australia and Europe all contributed to the saving of RBS.  Indeed as revealed by Newsnet Scotland as far back as July 2011, the US Federal Reserve contributed a total of $600 billion to the bailout of both RBS and HBOS.

However, here is how BBC Scotland reported Nicola Sturgeon’s answer.

Relied on? – It was a blatant example of misrepresentation at the hands of BBC Scotland.  Within hours of the story taking its spot at the top of the corporation’s Scottish online news, staff were fielding complaints.  Newsnet Scotland were alerted by several readers and we watched to see if the article would be corrected.

For two full days nothing was done, until Monday when by then the story had disappeared from the main news page.  BBC Scotland quietly removed the offending headline and edited the article beneath to more accurately reflect the words of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

But it didn’t stop there, for eagle eyed observers will notice a peculiarity on the amended version of the article – the date/time stamp.  Look closely at the bottom image and you will see that BBC Scotland have given as the latest update to the article the afternoon of the interview – 11:49 on 10th March.

The BBC use the 24 hour clock, so anyone looking at this item will be forgiven for thinking that BBC Scotland corrected their online news story within hours of the 09:30 interview.  In fact the actual date/time of correction was two days later on Monday 12th March at around 21:00.  News media monitoring site NewsSniffer showed clearly the change was made fully two days later than the BBC suggested.

So, not content with passing off misrepresentation as factual news, BBC Scotland tried to cover their tracks by showing a wholly inaccurate date/time for the last update.

At the time of the furore, Newsnet Scotland invited three senior figures at BBC Scotland to explain how the article came to be published and why the corrections were carried out surreptitiously.  Our emails were sent to Nicola Sturgeon’s interviewer Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland online editor Tom Connor and their boss John Boothman.

We requested a read receipt and one duly arrived from Mr Connor, so he clearly received and almost certainly read our email.  Neither Mr Taylor nor Mr Boothman responded.

We asked four questions of the online article:

  • Was the interviewer, Mr Taylor, aware of the wording in the original article prior to it being published and did he agree with it?
  • Did BBC Scotland online editor Mr Tom Connor sanction publication of the original article?
  • Who decided that the original headline and wording needed to be corrected and why did it take two days to correct it?
  • Why has no apology or correction been published by the BBC?

Nobody responded to our questions.

 

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.