BROADCAST NEWS 19: Are the propagandists losing their nerve in election run-up?


Professor John Robertson reviews the daily TV news for March 30 – April 2

Here’s a thought. It’s only that, so far. Is it likely that establishment media, would become LESS biased against political groups threatening that establishment, as an election approaches? My initial reaction, based on the experience of the last few days before the Referendum in September 2014, is NO it wouldn’t.

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

Why, then does it seem that BBC Scotland has taken its collective foot off the pedal after weeks of the most disgraceful scares based on lies and errors, as we enter the formal campaign period this week? Remember, the continuous run of NHS Scotland crises, the conflict with local authorities (Reports No.10 to No.16) and most recently the Methadone non-story (No.17)?

The European Convention on Human Rights legislation, Ofcom and BBC Trust, codes and regulations, insist on high standards especially during election periods such as this. The broadcasters do have to be more careful at this time. They can, of course, often find ways round rules as we saw too often in September.

Since Monday 31st, the beginning of the formal campaign, project fear is nowhere to be seen. It’s early days, I know. Let’s see what happens (you clearly wrote this before the Telegraph “story”. Ed)

March 30: Green day
The Greens are first with a manifesto and both sides give them time and respect. There’s little else to comment on.

March 31: Ponsonby pulls no punches
STV concentrate on their latest poll and don’t pull Bernard Ponsonby’s punches in assessing the news for Labour. We get: ‘SNP set for landslide victory in Labour-held seats’, ‘more bad news for Labour… poor on voting intentions…bad on seat projections’, ‘a feeling the party doesn’t represent their traditional base and a feeling of betrayal regarding Referendum promises’. It’s not easy on the ear for the Labour-supporter. STV even has its own, expert, Dr Rob John.

Then rising star Claire Stewart risks Labour wrath when Jim Murphy pops up pouring hot water onto food boxes – ‘Jim Murphy has swapped his Irn Bru crates for Ready Meals.’

Contrast this with the properly deferential if vomit-inducing ‘In giving mode’ Brian Taylor used the day before as Jim flegged his umpteenth wean/bairn. My next research project will be on this – ‘The longer term psychological effects on bairns of flegging by Scottish politicians.’ They’ll thank Claire not to be so cheeky next time, the wee besom!

The above entertainment is followed as might be expected by each of the four parties getting a say, preceded by Claire saying something for them in her words, like Brian does. It adds up to 44:20 against the SNP if we lump the others together). If the Greens and the SSP had each got a bit of time, it might have been more balanced in terms of Unionist vs Independence favouring parties.

Never use a short word when a long one will do. Sorry, 'when an elongated piece of verbiage might suffice...'
Never use a short word when a long one will do. Sorry, ‘when an elongated piece of verbiage might suffice…’

Reporting Scotland has less time (none?) for the STV survey, and a bit more respect for Creepy Jim. In full Ofcom mode, It’s over to Kirkcaldy as Stuart Hosie has a go at making a bairn smile. He’s not any more successful than Jim, it has to be said as the bairn adopts the instinctive defocusing and stillness and waits for the big thing to go away.

No harm to Stuart, he’s no Jim Murphy, but he can be quite stern.

I’ve got 1 bairn and 3 weans after moving from Falkirk to Ayr after the bairn was born, so here’s what you do, lads: Put your head down a wee bit (not up and back like a predator), look up briefly, say ‘hiya’ then look away quick as if you’re the shy one. Look back and away again quickly. Speak to the adult holding them and say something mischievous. It’s easy for us non-politicians. I bet Claire Stewart can do it.

Brian Taylor lets Stuart Hosie speak for himself: ‘It’s a stark warning for Ed Miliband. He cannot take the voters for granted. He can’t take SNP votes for granted and now he can’t take even the votes of his own people for granted!’ Quick as you like though it’s ‘cut to’ a community café with Jim and some adults (Good choice – smile when a tell ye! Don’t look away, I won’t bite!). Brain ‘Burns’ Taylor tells us that Jim ‘disdains’ such talk (For a’ that and a’ that?).

Jim disnae say ‘disdains’ as far as we can hear. Brian’s vocabulary is big as I’ve said before.  Jim gets the same chance as Stuart – ‘Only Labour is big enough and strong enough to defeat the Conservatives and bring about the kind of change that our country needs. And you know, in this election, we face a really big choice don’t we? [Yes Mr Murphy] Do we want to end austerity? [Yes Mr Murphy] Do we want to end food-banks? [Yes Mr Murphy] Do we want to end the scourge of families going hungry? [Yes Mr Murphy] If we want to do that then only Labour is big enough and strong enough. [Yes Mr Murphy] It’s a rerun of his earlier catchphrase – ‘I’m big enough and ugly enough.’ He’s no that big.

Ruth and Alistair get a wee go once the viewers have probably gone to get a tissue to wipe their eyes after Brain’s Burnsian eulogy to Giving Jim Murphy. What are the numbers then? It adds up to 43:8  against the SNP if we lump the others together.

To finish, we get Douglas Fraser with lots of fancy schematics and to be fair a lot of clear information about the mechanics of the whole thing. Afterthought, if you reduce Brain Taylor to ‘BT’ it reminds you of something. What is it? Help me out. Jackie Bird – Jubilant Britannia, John Boothman upstairs in the office … hey there’s something in this. Glenn Campbell, GC, Greater…Caledonia? OK, not so good then. Sally Magnusson, SM…OK, that’s enough. I’ll stop.

April 1: Full fiscal autonomy, anyone?
STV News take the night off pretty much with only a little, balanced coverage of the election campaign. Reporting Scotland use the Jim McColl ‘call’ for full fiscal autonomy but not full independence as a reason to get back into the ‘will we won’t we survive’ without the Barnett Formula, game?

Recognising the complexity of such a transition, McColl and Prof Brad Mackay of Edinburgh University’s Centre on Constitutional Change suggest that there would have to be a transition period. All calm and collected then? No, ‘boring’ say BBC Scotland and give us a good though clearly diminishing dose of North Sea Oil income crisis. Glen Campbell speaks the SNP argument for 4 followed by oil fears for 6. Jim Murphy gets in with 8 on borrowing fears in the transition period.

Jim (Murphy) then applauds the appearance of Labour heavyweight, Ed (Balls), with only 4, but 4 good ones including ‘far too risky’ and ‘impossible for the SNP to end austerity’. I’m confused. Does Ed want to end austerity or not? Could he do it if he wanted to but he doesn’t want George Osborne to know about it  in case George tells the South-East voters?

Luckily, here comes Nice Nick, (Clegg), brother of the EastEnders villain, for 8 including ‘a step too far’ that fiscal autonomy. He wants us to be safe, nice, nice Nick. Not so nice yet making the same points as Nick, for 8, there’s a Conservative-led debate at Holyrood.

Who’s missing? Oh yes, the SNP so John Swinney gets 5 to reassure us that a growing economy will be the solution. So, 34:9 in favour of the Unionist parties.

I’m confused again. I need a real economist! Right back to Professor Jackie Bird to clarify it all for us: ‘The Nationalists, as we heard, say those powers would give a boost to the Scottish economy BUT (snappily said) their opponents claim scrapping Scotland’s current funding system would mean spending cuts or tax rises of billions of pounds each year.’

‘Shit Jackie, that is freakin scary, man.’ (Freak, FF, 1969)

A younger, dare-we-say-it better-looking prof? Newsnet editors sense danger...
A younger, dare-we-say-it better-looking prof? Newsnet editors sense danger…

Look at the language. So that’s scrapping not changing or replacing and billions of pounds and not an actual figure from any independent expert? Surely Prof Mackay could have made a guess? He did? It wasn’t big enough? Ah, I see. That would be each year? Really? So that’s until forever then? Says who? Professor Bird  just did? OK.

Next, David Henderson, at the projector screen explains fiscal autonomy to the class. Professionally done in the main but with a very short section on what the Scottish cheque to Westminster would cover. David suggests defence and foreign affairs. What about the Royal Family, or attendance fees at the House of Lords, or the embassies that charge extra to host events for Scottish companies? Where’s my cheque book?

This is where Prof McKay comes in to disappoint with a restrained performance and the mild suggestion of the need for a transition to full autonomy. He won’t be back. Back to the screen now for a resounding display of scary words in big red block capitals – SCRAPPED, FUNDING GAP! I read those words but my wee brain says ‘Be afraid little one, behave, conform, vote Labour or Tory or Lib Dem, if you must. OK UKIP will do then.’

At last it’s over, breath slowly, here’s Nurse Bradford with a big needle. Aaaaaaaah! It’s ‘Torbay’s Triumph’, joined up health-care (enabling old folk to be moved from care homes back into the community) being copied by Scotland after 10 years of success in Torbay. I’m not kidding. They really do have ‘Torbay’s Triumph’ at the top of the screen. Is that Fawlty Towers in the background? It’s an old folk’s home now? Who’s that creepy big guy beating an old ambulance in the driveway? It looks like Jim Murphy with a moustache.

Torbay’s Triumph, you say, Ms Bradford? You’re asking for it.

A quick Google and I’ve found ‘Mental Health Services in South Devon are in crisis nine months after the closure of Torquay’s mental health unit’ (Herald Express, 28.3.13) and ‘Dementia patients moved on as fee crisis closes Torquay care home’ (Western Morning News, 16.2.13). Then, every researcher’s dream, the 72 page ‘Care Home Residents in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay: Health Needs Assessment: April 2014’ (Devon CC) where we find ‘patients in the community (having ‘joined up care’) were experiencing recurrences of infection which can lead to re-admission’ (P40).

Eleanor Bradford and the Miracle of Torbay
Eleanor Bradford and the Miracle of Torbay

Note that part of the rationale for ‘joined up care in the community’ as opposed to care homes, is the reduced risk of cross-infection away from the care homes. The cause of infection, of course, is poor care home hygiene and not being in a care home, per se, if it is clean. So, could the level of cleaning and the contracting-out of cleaning services be a factor in this? Not in Eleanor Bradford’s Torbay Triumph Report!

I’m an aging prof, not a prof of the aging, so I make no claim to having exposed much, above, other than the fact, which does matter to the viewers of RS, Torbay’s health care has problems. No doubt there are successes too but it is wrong for a Scottish news broadcaster (as she has done) to repeatedly present health-care initiatives from England as somehow a lesson for the Scottish NHS when there are widespread concerns about the more privatised NHS in England and, by contrast, some good news stories in Scotland. I don’t know what the latter are because, Eleanor, you never tell me!

April 2: The Big Debate dominates but don’t forget the economy, stupid!
STV and RepScot covered the build-up to the leaders’ debate with little difference between them and no real sign of imbalance. Reporting Scotland kept their eye on the bouncing ball of the Scottish economy though, lest we forget the risks from SNP. Off we go with Kezia warning us of the many risks in Full Fiscal Autonomy, risks to all of us, the weans, the auld folk, the tattie harvest….doom, doom, doooom! Nicola gets a chance to remind Labour that the Scottish people can see right through them. Then it’s Coalition Time, a call for steady on the tiller and don’t risk the many achievements of Nicameron.

Professor John Robertson, University of the Best of Scotland, 3rd March 2014

Footer: Many ongoing thanks to my good friend and helper, George Kerr, and to the numerous responders of quality. The comments after Methadone Madness were frankly inspirational for me.