BROADCAST NEWS 18: SNP Government seen in two parallel dimensions


Professor John Robertson reviews Scotland’s TV news from March 25-29

Recommendation: No.17 Methadone Madness has been massively enhanced by a number of really informative responses, some from GPs and former GPs including Dr Stephen McCabe interviewed by Derek Bateman. I’m not digging up trade, honest, but many of the earlier Broadcast News articles have attracted some ‘quality’ contributions which add a lot of weight to the debate there. I’ve long been a big enthusiast for the ideas of Jurgen Habermas, on democracy. What we’re getting across is a wonderful example of a ‘Habermasian public spheroid!’ There’s a line for the pub. Feel free to use it.

Friday, March 27: The SNP Conference in Two Parallel Dimensions

It’s that old STV News vs BBC Reporting Scotland game again, if you’ll bear with me. I’d love to end the series but I can’t see BBC cancelling their part of the show.

The Prof: He watches TV news so we don't have to...
The Prof: He watches TV news so we don’t have to…

STV headline the SNP conference.  The coverage is quite long, varied and dominated almost entirely by the party manifesto promises, just as with the Lib Dem conference the previous week. There’s a wee critical insertion on research into the gender quality agenda and the suggestion that it’s a bit strange to start a disagreement with some of your own supporters at this time but also the recognition that it will have little effect amidst all the confidence in the party.

Numerically, it’s about 40:4 in favour of the SNP but in reporting a conference as opposed to reporting a debate you wouldn’t expect anything else….unless you’re Reporting Scotland, which was less generous.

Here's Danny Alexander (the big guy second right) who claims he had nothing to do with the last five Tory budgets. In this picture he is interrupted delivering hamburgers to No 11 by an accidental photocall with his boss, who's the guy holding up the red briefcase. Poor Danny, spent the last five years not knowing where he was. Ed
Here’s Danny Alexander (the big guy third right) who claims he had nothing to do with the last five Tory budgets. In this picture he is interrupted delivering hamburgers to No 11 by an accidental photocall with his boss, who’s the guy NEXT TO HIM holding up the red briefcase. Poor Danny, spent the last five years not knowing where he was. Ed

RS starts on Friday 27th on the forthcoming election campaign due to start the following Monday 30th with only a passing reference to the SNP conference that day – ‘current’ affairs eh? First it’s the Lib Dems with Danny Alexander striding into the camera. We do get five negative points about their weakness in the polls before Danny is allowed to make 8 statements attacking the SNP and repeating the ‘black hole’ in the economy line (see No. 17, March 20th) and introducing the new ‘racking up taxes’ line.

Then Nicola starts to say something but Brian Taylor decides he can say it better and she is faded out after one sentence. He does give us 9 positive statements but rounds them off with 2 statements contradicting the SNP claim that the Treasury had interfered in the Referendum campaign. Note that Danny’s piece was left with no contradiction at the end but Nicola’s was? Why did Brian paraphrase Nicola and not Danny?

Nicola at the Conference gets to say 12 positives with no contradiction but is quickly replaced, on-screen, by Jim Murphy holding a big bag of bread rolls in a food bank. Brian says ‘In giving mode. Jim Murphy helps out at a food bank.’ Several thousand viewers join him in giving mode…giving up their dinners all over their carpets, I imagine. I know. I have no research evidence.

Nearby there is a woman with the cutest of bairns in her arms. Jim asks for a Hi 5 with the wee boy and grins the biggest sharkish smile you’ve ever seen. The bairn looks away into his mum’s arms. We hear Jim call to the cameraman, and the wean, presumably, ‘try one more’. The wean hides deeper and I hear him mutter ‘Nae chance creepy big guy.’ I did hear that. It was very quiet. Worse follows, Jim puts on that creepy, Lectorish soft voice and gives us 15 statements of compassionate ‘leftiness’ of the kind last heard in the Labour Party around 1964. He finishes with the ‘abolish the bedroom tax’ cry as if it’s always been at the heart of his politics. Brian forgets to contradict, surely?

Note: ‘Gordon Brown, Anas Sarwar, Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy were among 10 of the Labour Party’s Scots MPs who did not vote against the Bedroom Tax.’

And now the Tories get 14 statements and another no contradict from Brian.

The Enunciator turrns Paraphraser
The Great Enunciator turns Paraphraser

Finally, with Sally, Brian pontificates with that big well enunciated  (‘sss’ for the ‘c’) vocabulary of his – ‘There’s going to be plenty of politics over the weekend as it’s the SNP Conference’ (Really, it is?) but (laughs with Sally) ‘hard as it may be to believe, the election campaign proper is starting on Monday’. Oh my, that’s not long away. Just as well we started before it gets too much for us. What else could we have discussed?  Cover the SNP Conference? No, I think not.

Finally, Brian paraphrases 12 positive statements for the SNP, the poor inarticulate dears, then gives 6 negatives finishing with the wise caution that SNP policies would, to perhaps quote the Opposition,  ‘weaken the UK but particularly weaken Scotland.’ Just in time with that, Brian. I was nearly gonnae vote SNP there. Phew! 50:36 in favour of the Opposition parties.

March 28: Labour Forget Nothing.
STV repeat the act with a completely uncritical coverage of the SNP Conference. RS find something to bash the SNP with in the General Election….1979 that is.

In 1979, 36 years ago, the 11 SNP MPs failed to support the Labour Government in a vote of confidence. The defeat led to the election in which Thatcher came to power. Thus the SNP MPs still to be elected in 2015 cannot be trusted to support Labour, goes the reasoning. In 1979, there were many other factors, not least the extra two million people who voted Tory.

March 29: All quiet. Both channels give entirely uncritical accounts of the conference.
Back to the beginning of this survey: Wednesday March 25th: Blood Transfusion Horror and Bad Blood in Westminster

Both STV News and Reporting Scotland spent time on the Blood Transfusion scandal. RS got round to it, a day late, after prioritising the non-existent Methadone scandal (See No.17 Methadone Madness, especially the comments after my piece, from people who really know about this issue). The latter allowed the maintenance of the alleged ongoing health crises under the SNP administration, strategy, using commonly flawed or non-existent research evidence. I’ve vented my spleen (healthy as far as I know) on RS’s unethical, methodologically flawed practice in No.17 so I’ll move on quickly.

The two reports were very similar and informative. Only STV gave credit to the initial SNP call for the inquiry in 2007. Neither reminded us that this disaster was one of the benefits of sharing the load across the shoulders of the UK NHS. It would have been tasteless to do so, I suppose, though I doubt RS would be so forgiving if there was to be a similar mistake that could be attributed only to the current Scottish Government’s management of the SNHS. Remember the dramatising of the A&E waiting times and the direction of blame only at the SG/SNP?

Both covered the possible SNP balance of power in the UK Parliament after the election. There wasn’t much to choose between the two reports but only RS made much of ‘threats to democracy’ resulting from Alex Salmond’s behaviour and reminded us again of how the SNP had been blamed for bringing down the Labour government in 1979.

For me, the bigger question, for both STV and RS is why so much attention was given to London and so little to informing us about trends in the Scottish constituencies which are expected to have such an impact on the resulting situation in Westminster.

In the light of more dramatic bias in previous days and weeks, this is nothing much.

March 26: Keeping the oil pressure on the SNP.

Both STV and RS start with the serious bus crash near ‘The Rest and Be Thankful’. Also, both look again at the blood transfusion scandal. RS, to be fair, give some credit for the Scottish Government’s quick decision to promise additional support for the victims and families regardless of any delay in the UK programme. STV, however, are more fulsome in giving credit where it is due by reminding us that, as Nicola Sturgeon talks, ‘We are listening to the politician who ordered that inquiry’, and in using phrases such as ‘Scotland will go it alone’ and ‘a huge step forward.’

As further job losses in the North Sea Oil economy are announced by both sides, it is Reporting Scotland, only, which goes on to use quite unreliable evidence and imbalanced presentation to make one of its regular ‘undercover’ forays against the SG/SNP via a callous undermining of popular morale regarding the economy.

The evidence comes from ‘Labour’ as in ‘at best, say Labour, that’s a net loss of £4.1 billion.’ ‘Labour?’ That must be an independent research institute then, is it? ‘LABOUR – Largely All Blunders Of Undergraduate Researchers?’  ‘

Ah, it’s that ‘Labour Party’s figures? Is that enough for you Brian Taylor – ‘say Labour?’ Remember Jim Murphy  on February 17th (No.10) pulling out of his arithmetic exam resit after he got the question on hospital operation cancellations wrong? So, it was not just unreliable figures but also, when I count the statements, it was a 30:15 bias against the SG/SNP.

Professor John Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, Monday 30th March 2015