What the papers say … BBC Scotland will repeat

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Newspaper sales in Scotland are tumbling.  The Daily Record, Scottish Sun, the Scotsman and Herald are all suffering as readers move to the internet in their droves.
 
The new web based medium is fast replacing newsprint as the place to go for comment, analysis and news.  The web is playing a critical role in the independence referendum as a recent poll for online site Wings Over Scotland found.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Newspaper sales in Scotland are tumbling.  The Daily Record, Scottish Sun, the Scotsman and Herald are all suffering as readers move to the internet in their droves.
 
The new web based medium is fast replacing newsprint as the place to go for comment, analysis and news.  The web is playing a critical role in the independence referendum as a recent poll for online site Wings Over Scotland found.

According to a survey carried out on behalf of the site, of all the news mediums where coverage of the referendum was available, the internet came top for those people actively seeking information.  26% said they relied on the internet for their information against a combined total of 21% for TV, radio and newspapers.

However there’s still one organisation that seems impervious to the advent of the internet – the BBC.  In Scotland the broadcaster appears blissfully unaware of the explosion of online news and comment and its becoming a noticeable problem as the referendum campaign enters the last 160 days.

Yes, the day of the referendum really is that close.

It’s all the more reason BBC Scotland should be monitoring its output.  The official purdah period may not start until May 30th, but that doesn’t mean the broadcaster should be blasé when it comes to impartiality and balance.

On Wednesday evening, the host of Newsnight Scotland Gordon Brewer previewed the front pages of two newspapers.  One was the Scotsman and the other was the Telegraph.

It wasn’t unexpected as it’s a regular feature of the programme.  But what is also a regular feature is the political headline that each paper sported, for they were both anti-independence.

The pro-Union nature of both front pages was not surprising as the Scotsman and Telegraph both operate a pro-union editorial line – the Telegraph rabidly so.

It’s the same with most newspapers that are sold in Scotland.  Indeed, save for the Sunday Herald which appears to be applying the kind of scrutiny to the No campaign that is normally reserved for the independence movement, there is no newspaper operating a policy that could be described as sympathetic to independence.

Of course headlines such as those previewed by Gordon Brewer do not always appear on front pages, but when independence dominates the news then it’s almost always the Yes campaign that finds itself attacked by newspaper headlines.

In extreme examples, as evidenced by the following review broadcast on an edition of Good Morning Scotland, the issue becomes obvious.

And it isn’t just restricted to Good Morning Scotland as can be heard from this episode of Call Kaye (Now rebranded ‘Morning Call’) from October 2012.

So why has BBC Scotland refused to address this glaring anomaly?

Newsnet Scotland has attempted to elicit an explanation from BBC Scotland, but time after time sensible questions are rebuffed.  We have also asked why there is no attempt at balancing the very clearly politically loaded headlines by including reviews of Newsnet Scotland.

One official at the BBC responds to queries by emailing a link to the BBC guidelines.  The irony is that the most recent guidelines contain the following sentence.

“In reporting, for instance, on newspaper coverage, they should also take account of any relevant partisan editorial stance.”

I’ve already acknowledged that these guidelines, drafted by the BBC Trust after its consultation on the referendum, are not officially active until May 30th.  But if the Trust felt compelled to add such a guideline then it must have had good reason.  In other words, concerns will undoubtedly have been expressed at the almost exclusively anti-independence stance of the Scottish newspaper industry – if it can be called Scottish at all – and the BBC’s habit of promiting it and it alone.

BBC Scotland doesn’t restrict this free advertising, for that is what these previews/reviews are, to radio and TV.  BBC Online sees further free advertising for newspapers.

Indeed there is also an online page dedicated to promoting newspapers, including the ultra-right wing ‘Scottish’ Daily Mail, which as you see below [click to enlarge] contained not one but two stories attacking independence and Alex Salmond.  ‘Salmond in Games cover-up’ and ‘Scots face threat of blackout’ can be seen on the front page of Thursday’s editon.

The page also contained a reference to the Telegraph headline that had been previewed by Gordon Brewer the evening before and also, as can be seen, had an image of the Scotsman.  In an ironic twist, the same day saw the Scotsman publish an apology and correction after it had been caught out days previously misrepresenting a Panelbase poll that had been commissioned by online site Wings Over Scotland.

This wasn’t the first time the Scotsman had been forced to issue a correction.  In December 2012, the newspaper was caught out when it rather embarrassingly jumped the gun and reported that the European Commission had sent a letter to the House of Lords that cast doubt on the continued EU membership of a newly independent Scotland.

Within hours of the story being printed, Newsnet Scotland had contacted the offices of Jose Manuel Barroso to determine whether such a letter had indeed been sent.  An official told us the story was incorrect and that the EC had not yet decided how to respond.

But few people are aware that on the morning the Scotsman reported the story, the BBC rather foolishly took the newspaper at its word.  Just after 6 am that same day, as Good Morning Scotland got underway, one Raymond Buchanan had risen early and hot-footed it into the studio at Pacific Quay to present the following report:

The Scotsman duly altered its earlier article wording and issued a correction.  BBC Scotland never did, and the reporter who was just a tad too eager to push an anti-independence story purloined straight from the pages of a notoriously anti-SNP newspaper was to resign from the BBC days before an investigation into another one of his broadcasts, also on the issue of EU membership.

Scotland doesn’t have a plurality within its newspaper industry.  There is no newspaper that advocates independence.  Indeed there wasn’t even an advocate for the legendary Devo-Max when the Scottish Government held out the prospect of a third option on the ballot paper.

BBC Scotland must end this practice that sees licence payers money used in order to promote outlets that have adopted a policy of backing only one side in the constitutional debate, the Unionist side.

Newsnet Scotland stands alone as the only daily news outlet with an editorial policy in favour of independence.  Other outlets support Yes and, whilst not offering daily news, offer excellent commentary on the referendum and its coverage.  Wings Over Scotland (WoS) and Bella Caledonia stand out.

BBC Scotland allows mention of Newsnet Scotland, Bella Caledonia and WoS headlines on the Sunday morning Headlines show on Radio Scotland, thus it must be assumed this is in keeping with BBC guidelines.

Why then are these same titles ignored on the other six days?  BBC Scotland appears to be operating two different set of guidelines in relation to reporting of the independence referendum.

It begs two questions; Why the inconsistency?  And if someone deigned to challenge the broadcaster over the very clear double standard, what would a court say?

 
[Newsnet Scotland would ask visitors to the site to lend support to an appeal we believe has merit and is worthy of backing. The aim is to provide 10,000 large Saltire flags, each emblazoned with the the word YES, for purchase at a fraction of their normal cost.  To visit the appeal click HERE.]