BROADCAST NEWS 10: Labour dictates RepScot agenda, amidst Murphy clangers

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Professor John Robertson’s Armchair View Pt 10

My summary of the broadcasting news might be summarised best by suggesting that Labour call for surplus teachers transfer to work in A&E departments, whilst supporting calls for a new higher drink driving limit to be imposed, especially for people heading home from a Scottish football match.

February 15 & 16: Don’t know much about arithmetic? There were too many teachers in your school, that’s why…

Here’s Jim Murphy MP: “It’s a long time since that riot in 1980 and yet this generation of football supporters are being punished for the crimes of their grandparents.”

viewfromthearmchair_02Well said Jim, we are not to blame for those criminals dressed like the Bay City Rollers but, wait a minute, were they our grandparents? Hang on Jim, are you calling my papa a criminal? He just wanted a laugh until that horse broke his leg. Most of them looked about 16, so well done to them for being grandparents by 51 especially after that spell in the Bar-L that will have limited the fathering opportunities.

What’s that Jim, you want to change it to “the crimes of their parents?” Want to try that answer? Oh, so now you’re saying my dad was a criminal, just like my papa. What about me then? How could I avoid becoming a criminal just like them? You’re asking for it and not just an egg this time.

OK OK, I’ll let it go. I’ve just heard you were at university for nine years so perhaps I’m being unfair. Let’s look forward and try to reduce crime. Where can we start? We can start In the home, of course; in the school, yes? OK, How can we improve the schools? More teachers? What, less teachers? Who told you that? COSLA?

Right, so Jim’s pal at COSLA has found research that shows student attainment going up as teacher numbers go down. It’s an inverse correlation? Brilliant, who wrote it? The COSLA guy mentioned it on STV and Reporting Scotland on February 16, the day after you went to see Hamilton Accies to encourage alcohol at football games. Did you just mean Accies games? No, all of them?

I’m getting lost now. You want drink at Scottish football games because our fans today have learned from the sins of their papas and their dads too. Today’s fans will show the older ones how to behave by sharing a few cans of beer with them? Did you forget when you started this wheeze that you were also going to persuade your pal at COSLA to attack the Scottish Government the day before and the day after and that he was going to choose reducing teacher numbers as the basis for that attack? You forgot that?

It might work. Fewer teachers mean more attainment, in all areas, including screwing the nut? You’re sure? You’ve got the full reference for the research paper? OK, less teachers better weans and the spare teachers can steward at football grounds giving lines to bad supporters and picking up empty cans and other litter? Wait till the 17th and there’s an even better job opportunity for those surplus teachers.

I think I’m getting this. On the 14th, BBC Reporting Scotland, but not STV‘s news, led with a story that the leader of Scotland’s largest authority, Glasgow’s Gordon Matheson, is calling for wholesale reform of local government funding. We get eight statements from his position followed by five from a Scottish Government “spokesperson”. So, a bit imbalanced and putting the government on the back foot, but not as horribly biased as last week’s “A&E crisis” coverage.

Of course, it’s almost certainly the product of the Labour Party General Election campaign strategy to try to undermine SG/SNP at every opportunity. It does this in part by feeding a compliant/enthusiastic BBC with stories that – judging by other media’s neglect of them – are not really such certain elements of the news agenda as the BBC seems to believe.

(Numerophiles, keep that 8:5 ratio in mind for later adding up. Calm yourself, now!)

On Feb 15, both STV and BBC do the alcohol-at-football story. We’ve done Jim’s arithmetical challenge above and have to assume this was just the next in the daily “stick it to the SNP via our pals at the BBC” wheeze. I predict the next one is: “Today’s generation of drivers is being punished for the crimes of their grandparents. The new limit for drinking and driving will go up to four cans of Stella or equivalent, if you vote Labour.”

What about the numbers for the above then? Well blow me down, officer, what a surprise. Reporting Scotland favoured Jim over the Scottish Government by only 15:11 and so fail the significant bias test. STV, top of the class for weeks now, favour Jim over the Scottish Government by 19:5!! That’s BIAS, viewers, and on a Sunday night too! Does this mean they like Jim more than I’d thought? Does it just mean they like booze? Remember these ratios, fellow anoraks – 15:11 and 19:5.

Back to the 6-7 slot, on Monday 16th, after a day of Radio Scotland battering the Scottish Government over their cruel treatment of lovable COSLA (according to my radio monitor, Jim Kerr) I feared the worst for the evening TV news. What a damp squib! Leaving aside the question of why Labour is allowed to keep setting the agenda and some other points to follow, the coverage was balanced, if not favouring the Scottish Government, reserved, fair in terms of the content and sequencing. Perhaps there was a change of producer shift at Reporting Scotland tonight ?

STV included 20 statements to 13, favouring the SG while Reporting Scotland was comparably balanced at 12:8. Reporting Scotland made the story a headline while STV did not and both failed to tell us how many councils were involved in the complaint or how many of the councils are still members of COSLA.

The editor of Reporting Scotland poses for a photo
The editor of Reporting Scotland poses for a photo

Some Facebook contacts suggest that the complaint emerged from East Renfrewshire, Jim Murphy’s constituency. Neither channel gave us the details of the COSLA research so we could follow up as good citizens do, and STV completely confused us with what their expert was saying about teacher numbers.

They started with: “One expert says COSLA is correct”, then we heard her say no such thing as she lists the factors that can reduce the quality of teaching – including “having too many kids to deal with”. Throughout both reports we hear the quality of teaching, levels of attainment and the learning environment talked about by COSLA, reporters and a professor as if they were the same thing. Good teachers and good resources are important but if you’ve got 33 weans with one teacher then that teacher will have less impact on learning than if she has 20 pupils.

One-to-one contact is critical, especially where learners need help. Private schools have small classes. An STV reporter says there is “no formula for success in the classroom” – excrement of the male bovine! I spent 25 years in schools and in teacher education. Here’s the formula: trained enthusiastic teacher + good staff/pupil ratio + good physical environment + well-written curriculum + supportive parents + fed and slept weans = success in terms of that child’s potential. I’m biased of course so can’t be trusted but the Scottish Government is absolutely correct on this one and the Labour Party should be ashamed of themselves playing politics with this kind of thing. Then again, we saw the Scottish Labour leadership’s commitment to the state system in the recent depute leader’s choice of school for his son.

February 17: Jim fails arithmetic re-sit and tries to eat the paper. Eleanor has an epiphany.

Labour leader Jim Murphy planned to announce outside the new Glasgow Hospital that the rate of cancellations in Greater Glasgow & Clyde was four times that of England. Errors are spotted and a Youtube video is deleted. A promotional tweet is also pulled at the last minute

The announcement was intended to argue: “In the case of NHSGGC, Labour cited 292 cancellations and claimed these worked out at 1.5 per 100,000 population per day. This compared to 19,471 cancelled in England, which Labour said worked out at 0.39 per 100,000 of population per day.”

Assuming the above data is accurate, these are my correct answers:
England – 19471/52.6 m =             3.7 per 100 000
Greater Glasgow – 292/1.2 m  =     2.26 per 100 000

So cancellations are actually at the lowest rate for the UK in Scotland. The press did give this some attention but Reporting Scotland opted to find something more important, to their minds. Health Correspondent Eleanor Bradford was called in to forensically examine the data and find that: “The Scottish Government has given in to pressure to publish regular figures of the performance of the NHS.”

That will help if only because Jim Murphy’s team won’t be exposed as arithmetical numpties. As Eleanor pointed out, this will bring the Scottish system up to the standard of  the English system which is better despite all the dissatisfaction there. To be fair, Labour weren’t able to claim the credit this time as Eleanor claimed a key role for the BBC webpages in drawing attention to the information deficit in Scotland.

Then Eleanor has a veritable epiphany, a blinding insight into the value of more information which certainly caught me off guard. Read carefully. She said: “Personally, I think the more information, the better. The public pays for the NHS. It owns it in a way.”

Eleanor Bradford: Epiphany
Eleanor Bradford: Epiphany

Brilliant! She’s right you know – we do pay for it. So we own it in a way. Wholly, in fact.

Then it was my turn for an epiphany. What Eleanor said about the NHS, could that apply to the police perhaps? Schools? Universities? Libraries? and even …the BBC??

Yes! We pay the licence fee and the taxes it gets re-directed to it, so we own the BBC in a way? Have I gone too far?

So, following the Bradford logic, we could ask for weekly reports on, for example, how many complaints there are by viewers under headings agreed with a sample of their viewers. BBC Scotland flatly refused to do this back in March 2014, at Holyrood, but they clearly didn’t realise then that we actually own them.

Well, I live in hope.

What about the numbers though, Prof? OK, STV had 20 statements that I could fairly attribute to either side. Twelve favoured the opposition parties and eight favoured the SG/SNP. So this is an insignificant 12:8 ratio.  Reporting Scotland gave it more attention and the ratio was 19:9 in favour of the Opposition.

February 19: Scottish nursery charges down 2.1%!  English nursery charges up 5.2%! Bad news for Scottish parents, says Reporting Scotland’s Lucy Adams.

Does Reporting Scotland scan the horizon daily for bad news to throw at the Scottish Government and hopefully in the process allow the Labour Party to claim credit for the exposure in the first place?

It usually takes me minutes to catch them out. On February 19, they pounce on a report from the Family & Childcare Trust revealing that, in Scotland: “Fewer than one in five councils have enough child care to meet the needs of working parents”, and that there have been “significant hikes in cost”.

That the costs in Scotland are below the UK average for all types of provision gets no positive comment. We hear, rather, that costs in the North-East of Scotland have gone up 27%! I search more than once and cannot find any reference to this increase in the report. We could, however, have had from the report, better news about Scotland (page 10) about increases, decreases even:
Country            Nursery 25 hours    Nursery 25 hours
                                    Under 2s        2 and over
England average         5.7%             5.2%
Scotland average         3.7%             -2.1%
Table: Change in Childcare Costs 2014-2015

So, there were actually lower increases for the under-twos in Scotland and there was a real bonus of reduced costs here for working parents with two year-olds and over. What a headline that would have made.
Interesting, but not for Reporting Scotland clearly, was the information on page five of the report that “larger proportions of Scottish parents also turn to grandparents to provide informal childcare than do so in England”.

What does this mean? Does it mean that families in much of Scotland are more cohesive and supportive than in, perhaps, the over-heated, less family-friendly economy in parts of England? Does it mean, alternatively, that poor Scots grandparents are being dragged protesting about having to forego the golf course to support their adult children because of the failures of the Scottish Government?

Who knows without some thorough research ? But this could just as easily be a cheering piece of evidence about the kind of society we still have in the face of the brutality of 21st century consumerism as evidence of anything else. Come on Lucy Adams, it’s not all doom and gloom, no matter what your boss insists.

Oh yes, almost forgot, two days earlier on the Third Sector website: “Charity Commission warns Family and Childcare Trust to maintain political independence. The regulator acts after MP Rob Wilson complains that the charity used Twitter to endorse the Labour Party.”

STV ignored this story altogether, and gave us an almost perfectly balanced piece on Glasgow Council budget cuts without Jim or Kezia getting a word in – quality!

As for the numbers, I haven’t forgotten. For the Reporting Scotland piece:
Pro-opposition:     18
Pro-SNP/SG:        7
In the STV piece on Glasgow Council’s budget, most of the text could not be reasonably allocated to either side so only four statements are relevant giving:
Pro-opposition:     2
Pro-SNP/SG:        2

February 20: The Scottish Conservative Party conference is given fair representation but there is little sign of Reporting Scotland’s campaign against the Scottish Government today.

So here are the numbers for the week:
Reporting Scotland:    Pro-opposition: 72        
Pro-SNP/SG: 40

STV:    Pro-opposition: 53        
Pro-SNP/SG: 28

There’s not much to be taken from these ratios, at least at this early stage of the pre-election period. Clearly, though, we have a tendency already for more statements to favour the opposition on both channels.

It should be said that the STV gap is mostly due to one story; that of alcohol at football grounds.

More important, I’d say, was the higher frequency of reports containing criticism of the Scottish Government, raised by Reporting Scotland (two more in only seven days), more often presented by them as a headline story and twice with seriously misleading, in some ways comedic, or simply wrong, interpretation of data.

That Labour regularly screw-up their evidence does not, regrettably, weaken the impact as news moves on before they can be properly exposed, and as Reporting Scotland, shows little interest in revealing their complicit ignorance after the event. The damage to the Scottish Government’s reputation is done by then. There will be no review and no apologies for misleading audiences.

So, for the first time we have examined a whole week of Scottish broadcast news. With some way to go in this campaign, this is not an encouraging picture.

Professor John Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, 20th February 2015