Trust to probe BBC Scotland over Creighton EU ‘News Blackout’ claims


  By a Newsnet reporter
BBC Scotland chiefs are to be investigated by the corporation’s Trust following complaints that the broadcaster imposed a news blackout of comments from a Foreign Minister.

The complaints followed comments from Irish Minister Lucinda Creighton which challenged widely reported news reports relating to her views on the EU status of an independent Scotland.

Newsnet Scotland has learned that the BBC Trust is to consider an appeal after the broadcaster dismissed claims that it failed to report, fully, the views of the Irish Minister. 

The decision by the Trust follows a refusal by the BBC’s own Editorial Complaints Unit to investigate complaints surrounding a BBC Scotland interview given by Ms Creighton, and subsequent statements the Irish Minister released in which she complained her views had been “misconstrued” and her words may have been “manipulated”.

In the January interview, the Irish politician told BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan that she believed a newly independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership and that the process could well be lengthy.

The interview, which was broadcast on Reporting Scotland also contained comments from Scottish Secretary Michael Moore who was heard to say that a newly independent Scotland would find itself out of the EU having to negotiate its way back in.

There then followed what many viewed as misreporting of Ms Creighton’s remarks by the BBC reporter who said that both Ms Creighton and Mr Moore “shared” the same view and that these views “chimed”.

The broadcast, which featured on BBC Radio and TV, led to attacks on the SNP and Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by Unionist politicians who claimed the Irish politician’s comments undermined SNP claims on the EU membership of an independent Scotland.

However in a surprise move, responding to calls for clarification, the Irish European Minister issued a number of statements in which she made it clear her views on the EU membership of a newly independent Scotland were not as claimed, in agreement with Mr Moore, but were in fact in line with those of the Scottish government.

Dismissing claims that she shared the views of Michael Moore, she said: “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.”

The Irish Minister said that she believed that the SNP’s position, that EU negotiations would take place and be concluded whilst Scotland remained a continuing member, “summed up the situation quite well”.

“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.”

She added: “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.” She added.

More controversially, Ms Creighton complained that her original comments had been “taken out of context” and “perhaps manipulated”.

In an official statement to Newsnet Scotland, she said: “I think my comments have been misconstrued or perhaps manipulated by some quarters.  I sincerely regret this.”
She added: “I regret that my words seem to have been spun or taken out of context.”

In agreeing with the Scottish government’s official timetable for post-referendum EU negotiations, Ms Creighton became the first foreign European Minister to publicly back the SNP’s EU stance.  Despite this, and her claims that her views had been misrepresented, the BBC refused to report them.

Responding to complaints that they had employed a news blackout which breached their own standards of impartiality, the BBC refused to accept any wrongdoing.  Bizarrely, the corporation insisted the statements from the Irish Minister were not newsworthy, and that there were “no good journalistic reasons” to report them.

The broadcaster also refused to accept that anyone had been broadcast saying an independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU, despite Scottish Secretary Michael Moore clearly being heard to say that a newly independent “would be outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in”

The Trust will also consider whether Raymond Buchanan misled viewers by claiming that both Ms Creighton and Mr Moore shared the same view on the EU status of an independent Scotland.  This weekend it emerged that Buchanan is to leave the BBC to join the Weir Group.

Newsnet Scotland understands that the appeal will be considered by the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee at its 7th November 2013 meeting.  Their decision is likely to be ratified at their December meeting and a decision will be announced shortly afterwards.

If upheld, the decision could seriously harm the BBC franchise and will call into question the ability of BBC Scotland to present referendum issues in an objective and impartial manner.

Newsnet Scotland understands that the process will have taken almost ten months from initial complaint to appeal decision.  It means that the BBC will, short of an overhaul of the complaint process, be free from external censure from early next year as the independence debate reaches its most critical stage – a situation that will cause concern to many.

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