BROADCAST NEWS 17: Methadone madness and absent statistics

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Professor John Robertson continues his review of TV News, covering March 20- 24.

I’m going to start at the end of this period because in my view it’s the most nauseating example of the extent of BBC Reporting Scotland’s disregard for the people of Scotland.

March 24:

The Prof: Not very happy
The Prof: Not very happy

The story of the day was clearly the apology by David Cameron on behalf of the UK Government and the NHS for one of the biggest and most upsetting health disasters ever – the contamination of the blood of haemophiliacs, many children, with Hepatitis C and AIDS viruses in the 1980s UK NHS. 478 died, many after shortened lives of extreme pain and sadness.

STV News covered this as the headline story it clearly was and it was tough viewing indeed. STV also mentioned that the SNP had called for the inquiry in 2009.

BBC Reporting Scotland ignored the story, despite its Westminster source. They went for the ‘Scottish controversial methadone programme is out of control according to a drugs expert. No one knows how long each addict is using it and what the overall treatment strategy is. There are 22,000 addicts costing tens of millions of pounds a year’.

Did anyone, other than a Reporting Scotland reporter, actually say these words in the report? No.

imagesLeaving aside the frankly upsetting decision to prioritise the latter over the former, the methadone story isn’t really a story; like earlier examples such as the GP shortage it relies on flawed arithmetic (See also Broadcast News 16). There isn’t a research report here, just the impressions of two supposed experts, so it’s not actually evidence of anything. One of Reporting Scotland’s experts admits his evidence is ‘anecdotal’. Here’s an idea, go and find out. You’re an expert! Do you need some advice on research methods? Come on guys!

We saw one addict who shared his concerns that it was the ‘most addicted he’d ever been, daily, constant, pharmaceutical, unadulterated substance… so I was very aware it was the biggest habit I’d had as far as being hooked on drugs.’ Isn’t that awful? Well no, if it stopped him dying from adulterated drugs or committing crimes because he desperately needed a fix because it wasn’t  ‘daily’ and ‘constant’. That’s the whole idea, to keep him safe and reduce crime. How on earth is this bad news?

The reporter mentions some positives but not the critical crime reduction. Isn’t there a report showing the fall in crime since the introduction of methadone? I don’t know but it’d be worth looking for (Readers?).

LARGE PHOTOS_methodone_0Remember Reporting Scotland said it costs ‘tens of millions of pounds a year?’ It’s actually £22.8 million so it is ‘tens of millions’, barely. They weren’t lying, but I expected a bit more – £60 million maybe? £17.85 million goes to the pharmacies and presumably the drug companies. One expert says ‘less than half are on it for a long time’. He offers no supporting figures.

The other expert says ‘we have a methadone programme which remains of gargantuan proportions… It’s like an ocean liner, it just trundles (sic) on’. In the context of a population of more than 5m, can around 10,000 on a single medication really be ‘gargantuan’? There are about 1m people on anti-depressants. Now that’s worthy of an ocean liner metaphor.

This same expert points out that the ‘government’ (presumably Scottish) haven’t managed to stop it. There has been a 19% drop in the last three years but this is clearly not enough for him.

The BBC had stated ‘the programme is out of control’, but neither contributor actually says this. In the absence of a source, Reporting Scotland made it up. Why would they do that? Could it be the same reason they don’t mention the steadily improving waiting times for A&E at 6.30 ?

Here’s the data:
NHS data Prof

In 18 billion parallel universes, Reporting Scotland might have had this headline, before the methadone story: ‘Scotland’s A&E centres improve waiting times for the fourth week running. 92.2% are seen within 4 hours. In several regions it’s 100%.’

However in this universe it was, ever so briefly:
‘The number of people waiting for long periods in Scottish A&E departments has gone down. The latest weekly waiting times suggest 92% are now being treated within four hours compared with 90% last week. The figures are still short of the government’s target for 95% of people to be treated and discharged within 4 hours.’

Look again at the figures. The improvement is not due to falling numbers attending A&E so it’s a real improvement worthy of credit. It’s a reduction of nearly 50% waiting over four hours. The percentage improvement kind of hides this achievement.

I could get angry about this shunting of good news for SG/SNP to late in the evening, if it wasn’t for the methadone distraction. The data was released at 10am so it could easily have made the 6.30pm report. About 500,000 watch at 6.30pm. Presumably it’s fewer at 10.25pm. but I can’t find the figures. After their Labour-induced ranting about crises in A&E only weeks ago, to do this was simply very poor quality journalism.

March 20:
‘MSPs have clashed on the budget at First Minister’s Question Time after claims that revised oil figures would leave a black hole in an independent Scotland’s finances’.

Reporting Scotland’s or STV’s headline, above? Go on, guess. Yes it was Reporting Scotland. How did you know? Was it the choice of the term ‘black hole’? So, reduced income from oil would produce a black hole in an otherwise functioning economy? Later in the piece the declining oil figures ‘blew a hole in the Scottish economy’. Can you blow a black hole? Wouldn’t it suck the blower in? Lovely thought, isn’t it.

Here’s what NASA say: ‘A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space.’ That’s pretty dramatic eh? So it destroys all around it? Most of England, too? Bit of an exaggeration perhaps, Reporting Scotland?

Anyone would think you were trying to scare us. The BBC reported elsewhere that oil accounts for 10% to 20% of Scottish national income. If it all disappeared, we might only have 80% to 90% of the economy left. So a hole, quite a big hole, but a black hole, really, BBC?

Further, the above only works if we think the rest of the economy is healthy enough to be damaged by this black hole. What if the economy itself is the black hole?

Did you spot that this was a Reporting Scotland headline because of the implied reminder at the end to bless the ‘No’ voters for their wisdom. It was a ‘No’ vote wasn’t it? Why go on about an Independent Scotland now after such a victory? Is that because six months of Murphy and NHS Scotland crises haven’t weakened the SNP? So every opportunity to hole the Scottish spirit must be grabbed?

What’s the clearest evidence this is propaganda with a single purpose to scare us back to obedience and not news we really need to hear? STV, perhaps? STV News reported in simpler terms that oil predictions were down ‘sharply’ and sourced the Office for Budget Responsibility as if it were independent and not, as we know, an adjunct of the Treasury, therefore politically aligned to the UK Government. STV did not, however, sense the black hole, nor for that matter the sucking void or the gaping maw.

Look my name is NOT JENNY and I'm getting very very cross,
Look my name is NOT JENNY and I’m getting very very cross,

Reporting Scotland then went on to show us the SNP guffawing at Kezia Dugdale’s attack on the UK budget. She’d forgotten that her party’s Shadowy Chancellor had said he wouldn’t change anything in it as he desperately hung on to Middle England’s votes, forgetting Kezia’s even more desperate need to hang on to Middle Lothian’s Labour votes.

Maddened to despair as she is caught in a double bind by her own colleagues in England, Kezia develops a face like fizz and urges the viewer to, instead, ‘look at them laughing at cuts to the disabled!’ ‘Look at them laughing at cuts to….well everything’. Poor, poor Kezia, she’s going to go, Alice-like , straight into another black hole. Still the SNP benches guffaw… heartless bastards!

Reporting Scotland give us a long look at them yet forget to mention the Ed Balls factor. Just a mistake, eh?
Then it’s Douglas Fraser on the future of oil. Fraser once likened Alex Salmond to a dictator. He’ll know all about dictators working at Pacific Quay and being a former pupil of Watson’s College. He may know less about economics. I can find no evidence of any relevant qualification and many online doubts expressed that he has any. I await correction and will acknowledge it if I am wrong. Nevertheless, Fraser gives us the benefit of his insights plus Institute for fiscal Studies ‘evidence’ of which, 34 statements are gloomy and only 4 are optimistic for the future of Scotland’s oil. That’s a bias ratio against the SG/SNP of 43:4 or 8.5 to 1.

I won’t use space here to have a go at the reliability or the impartiality of the OBR. I’ve done it before. If you want more examples, just Google them along the lines of ‘OBR reliability’.

March 21:
The LibDem conference was all that was notable today. Both STV and BBC covered it. Both let Willie Rennie have his say and neither allowed any criticism of the LibDems to spoil the special day. You might be tiring of the STV/RS comparison game but it’s always popping up. Both sides let Willie say good things about his party’s electoral prospects despite the opportunities and the temptation to advise him to look at the polls.  One side, only, selected from his responses a block of 7 negative comments about the ‘NHS Scotland crises under the stewardship of SNP ministers’. The BBC.

March 22:
There was virtually nothing of note at all on Reporting Scotland, while STV were typically biased in favour of their sweetheart, the First Minister. They let her walk around Govanhill, empathising with protestors against cutbacks and seeming a normal, likeable woman. You could see the locals liked her. Haven’t they seen Steve Bell’s cartoon? They don’t buy The Guardian after it supported the Iraq invasion in which some of their sons died or were injured? Maybe.

The interviewers let her speak. I hope the SNP paid STV for this shameless, clearly set-up piece of propaganda designed to make her look popular when clearly it’s Jim Murphy they all love round there.

March 23:

Ed Miliband’s visit to Clydebank and the Tories’ Tim Burton-style video featuring a Dark Lord Salmond pulling Ed’s puppet strings are the main topics for both STV and BBC. However, it’s STV’s Claire Stewart getting ‘stuck in’ that impresses most.

Claire Stewart: a reporter who does her job
Claire Stewart: a reporter who does her job

She interrupts Ed twice to insist he answers the questions Scottish voters deserve to hear rather than just give the usual spiel. The STV report is another good piece in quite a long run since January. The piece finishes with SNP’s Humza Yousef delivering a direct hit on the contradiction in Labour’s strategy that if they will not talk to the SNP, it might lead to there being a Tory government, followed by a soft wee piece from Jackson Carlaw.  Overall it’s  24: 21 in favour of SNP.

By contrast Reporting Scotland struggle on with the opinion polls taxing them beyond their wits. They open with a strange attempt to use the Tory video and the former FM Alex Salmond’s alleged Marmite quality for some voters, along with Ed’s denial of the video’s message that Salmond would make a Labour Government ‘dance to his jig’. Of course, Salmond isn’t the SNP leader, despite the Tory video.

Even if you think it’s appropriate to have a serious debate on a partisan video’s message, wouldn’t we need to hear what might be in the jig? What if it’s a fine uplifting tune full of ideas like protecting the disabled, taxing the rich or doing away with WMD, might the viewers across the UK say actually that’s a good tune. Play it again Sam…ond?

The way it’s offered by the Tories and transmitted by the BBC, you’d think it was a tune based on taxing the disabled, protecting the rich and building more WMDs. So it’s seven statements unfriendly to the SNP, plus the video, for starters.

To be fair, it’s then over to FM Sturgeon opening a new sleeper service and given the chance to make 12 positive statements about SNP preferences. However, that is instantly followed by Ed with 15, Rory Stewart (English Tory) with 8 and the Lib Dems with another 8. There’s no opportunity for SNP to respond and no challenging questioning, in the STV manner. So, it’s 38:12 plus the video excerpts in favour of the Opposition parties.

Phew!

Professor John Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, March 16th 2015.