The evolution of a story – a BBC masterpiece

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It started with this:     Scots ‘not asked by English for spare flu jabs’

And ended with this:     English health officials hit back in flu jabs row

A story that started with the English NHS running short on flu vaccine has ended with an attack on the Scottish government and what looks like a clumsy attempt at stirring up resentment and a cross border row between Scotland and England.

The story first broke around lunchtime Friday with the revelation that the English NHS had been scouring Europe looking for supplies of the flu vaccine after it emerged that stocks south of the border were dangerously low and some areas had run out.

The BBC reported that Scotland had “plenty” left “after ordering an emergency supply in case its own GPs ran out.”  The amount of doses was described as “tens of thousands”.

According to the BBC a spokeswoman for the Scottish government said: “We would always consider helping England in any way appropriate should a request be made, while our priority has to be public health in Scotland which is what we have planned for.”

Bonus points for the Scottish government then.  Especially good news given that the BBC in Scotland had earlier that week run with a Labour inspired attack suggesting that the SNP had been “complacent” and had taken funds away from the flu contingency in order to spend on Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games.

Within three hours though the BBC narrative has begun to change.  Appended to the original article appeared the following paragraph:

Even though there was no request, the BBC understands the issue of vaccines was mentioned in discussions between civil servants.   The Department of Health said its understanding was that there was only a “nominal” amount that could be made available and even this would not be freed up straight-away.”

Hmm, the tone is changing, subtle but changing nonetheless and “plenty” is now “nominal”.  The implication is that somehow the Scottish government is being less than honest.  But wait a moment, the article still contains the sentence “Scotland (sic) says it was never asked by England (sic) for some of its spare flu vaccines, despite the shortfall south of the border.”

Why did ‘Scotland’ say this?  It presupposes that ‘Scotland’ was asked by a journalist if the English NHS had requested help.  Given such a question then the original reply is as accurate and diplomatic as one would expect, here it is again:

We would always consider helping England in any way appropriate should a request be made, while our priority has to be public health in Scotland which is what we have planned for.”

What else is a Scottish government spokesperson supposed to say?  And if the Dept of Health in England had an ‘understanding’ then a simple phone call would have confirmed their ‘understanding’.  Heck, they might even have been able to persuade the Scots to free up the “nominal” amounts a bit quicker.

At 16:30, less than one hour later, the BBC article changes again and the “nominal” amount is now quantified, it is apparently 40,000 doses.

Some 40 minutes later, it is now 17:10, the BBC is asking for comments from GPs. 

However at 17:50 the subtle changes in tone are replaced with a quite stark metamorphosis.  The article now has the feel of the Scottish government being under attack with their original polite quote sandwiched between accusatory and suggestive sentences.

This one now features near the front of the article: “But England’s Department of Health said there were talks even though a formal approach was not made.”

Since the original article was published all additions have appeared to increasingly undermine the Scottish government.  The counter statements and claims by the English NHS have risen up the article and now sit above the quote from the Scottish government, they do not lead the article ….. yet.

At 19:10 the change is complete, the original headline of Scots ‘not asked by English for spare flu jabs’ has been replaced with English health officials hit back in flu jabs row. Flu jabs row, they either requested assistance or they didn’t?

The article lead which was originally: “Scotland says it was never asked by England for some of its spare flu vaccines, despite the shortfall south of the border.“ is now “Health officials in England have hit back at Scottish accusations that they never asked for its spare flu vaccines to plug the shortfall.”

Other subtle changes are made, the original “Even though there was no request” has changed to “but even though there was no formal request”.

Also “England’s Department of Health scoured Europe for jabs after some areas ran out “ becomes in the ‘revised’ version “English health officials have also spent time this week asking suppliers whether there are any available vaccines in Europe.”

At the time of writing on Saturday evening the finished version now sits pride of place as the main story on the BBC Scotland political news page.  Shortcomings in the English NHS have resulted in a prominent article attacking the Scottish government. 

See how it was achieved here: http://www.newssniffer.co.uk/articles/375101/diff/0/1