Trust refuses to ask BBC Scotland to apologise for misleading viewers over key EU issue

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  By G.A.Ponsonby

The BBC Trust has said it will not ask BBC Scotland chiefs to apologise after it ruled the Glasgow based broadcaster had misled viewers over one of the key issues of the independence debate.

Newsnet Scotland has learned that a request from the individual whose complaint led to BBC Scotland to be found guilty of breaking guidelines, that an apology be issued, was rejected by the Trust.

In a response passed to Newsnet Scotland, a Trust spokesman wrote:

“I have discussed your further point of enquiry with Alison Hastings, Chairman of the ESC, and she has agreed this reply.

“The Committee found that the Reporting Scotland item had not been duly accurate and that a breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines had occurred.  The Committee expressed regret for this breach in its published finding, which is linked on the BBC’s Corrections & Clarifications website.  The Committee considers these actions to be a sufficient remedy to this complaint and will not be instructing BBC Scotland to issue an apology.”

The refusal to seek an apology from BBC Scotland chiefs follows a ruling by the Trust in November last year in which it found BBC Scotland guilty of breaking editorial guidelines on accuracy after an item was broadcast on Reporting Scotland.

The broadcast heard then BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan tell viewers that Ireland’s European Minister Lucinda Creighton agreed with UK Minister Michael Moore that an independent Scotland would be outside of the EU trying to negotiate its way back in.

Following the broadcast, Ms Creighton issued statements in which she complained her words had been misconstrued and spun.  Despite denying the thrust of the BBC broadcast, the corporation refused to acknowledge it had erred and employed a news blackout of Ms Creighton’s complaints.

The broadcast by BBC Scotland led to attacks on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by pro-Union politicians and commentators who claimed the BBC interview undermined SNP claims that EU membership could be negotiated from within the EU following a Yes vote.

Complaints by some SNP members that the BBC broadcast had been misleading led to attacks on nationalists by Unionists claiming the SNP was trying to intimidate the BBC.

However, following a near year-long complaint from a member of the public, the BBC Trust ruled that BBC Scotland had indeed misled viewers.

Commenting on the refusal of the Trust to seek an apology from BBC Scotland, the individual who made the complaint told Newsnet Scotland he was “very disappointed”.

He added: “The broadcast centred on one of the key issues of the independence debate and has influenced comment and views from members of the public and politicians alike.

“Lucinda Creighton’s BBC interview has been used by opponents of independence in order to back their claim that a newly independent Scotland will be thrown out of the EU.

“For eleven months BBC Scotland has denied any wrongdoing.   The BBC has a responsibility to apologise for this broadcast and must do so on the very programme that started off the Lucinda Creighton myth.”

November’s ruling by the BBC Trust was the second guilty verdict against BBC Scotland in six months.  In May BBC Scotland Head of News, John Boothman faced questions after senior management at the Scottish broadcaster were found guilty of having distorted the news on Radio Scotland.

Following a complaint from a member of the public, an investigation by the BBC Trust found senior management at Pacific Quay in Glasgow had issued false information after it was alleged they had interfered in the editorial decision making of a morning news programme.

The Trust also found that decisions taken by senior management at Pacific Quay had broken guidelines on conflict of interest and that statements issued on behalf of BBC Scotland had “misled” the complainant who had to endure an “extremely long time” before his complaints were addressed.

[Newsnet comment: The Lucinda Creighton episode is now over and the BBC has been found guilty.  Given the ruling came from the BBC’s own watchdog then BBC Scotland must accept they made a mistake.

Whether deliberate or not, the broadcast, as the complainant says, has fed pro-Union arguments on EU membership for almost a full year.  Lucinda Creighton was cited by Ruth Davidson a matter of weeks ago in the Holyrood chamber.

Hundreds of thousands will have seen the original Reporting Scotland broadcast but few will be aware that it was misleading.

The only mention of the guilty verdict appeared in the Herald newspaper and even then the paper misled readers by claiming it was the SNP who complained – it wasn’t.  The person who complained has never been a member of the SNP.

This is the second time in six months that BBC Scotland news has been found guilty by the Trust. BBC Scotland, if it had any integrity, would broadcast an apology on the very programme the misleading item first appeared.]