BROADCAST NEWS 21: Happy doctors and gaping black holes in economy


Professor John Robertson reviews the TV news

Scotland’s Happy GPs and It’s not a black hole, BBC! Show some restraint…like STV!

Foreword: Increasingly, the comments below my starter piece are very interesting indeed, adding evidence I didn’t know about. I’m finding this a really stimulating and satisfying experience. I strongly recommend returning to earlier reports to see if you’ve missed anything you might wish you’d seen. No 20, recently, had comments on analysing language to see what lies behind the surface of politician’s and reporter’s choices of vocabulary. No.17 attracted a quite intense set of comments about Methadone, black holes and media coverage.

April 10:

Reporting Scotland’s ‘black hole in the budget’ and STV News’s just ‘worse off’.

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

Off we go, weary of heart, with Sally’s headline announcement that: ‘Ed Miliband says the SNP’s plans would leave a black hole in the Scottish budget.’

Sally repeats it minutes later then Ed gets to say ‘BLACK HOLE! RUN FOR YOUR FNNN LIFE SCOTSPERSONS! He does say black hole again so that’s three black holes and then, worse still, we get ‘pensioners would lose out’ and, from Creepy Jim, ‘pensions would fall by £940 per year’. Blair McDougall’s scare-a-granny strategy is alive and well.

Before I forget, black holes are devastating, obliterating, sucking voids, technically speaking. You can’t have a disaster comparable to what a real black hole does to its surroundings, in an economy without the whole fnnnn thing disappearing up its….well….black hole! It’s a ridiculous exaggeration which I had a real go at in No. 17, March 20th.

STV tell the same story in similar way with similar emphasis. Ed Miliband mentions the black hole again. How many times does an STV reporter feel personally obliged to scare the living daylights out of older viewers? Not once because, presumably, they know that’s not their job! Gordon Bennett, BBC, have you no shame. Think of your own sanity if not of mine. Keep doing this kind of thing and you’ll be in need of help.

STV go on to the issue of tactical voting using a Channel 4 poll suggesting that Labour might save a few seats if Tories and LibDems vote for them to keep SNP out. Bernard then thoroughly ponsonbies the idea and notes the lack of hard evidence. See that last bit, Reporting Scotland? Eh vi dens, eh vi dens, now repeat after me, eh vi dens.

The Herald today had a big, big front-page lead on tactical voting, to alert us that it may happen or, perhaps, to promote the idea, who can say? Seriously, as a respondent to No.20, suggested, aren’t media or political explanations of tactical voting disallowed during the period of Purdah?

April 11: Andy’s Wedding
On-air before the couple emerge from Dunblane Cathedral, STV content themselves with the four party leaders and a fairly equal say for each. There’s nothing new, certainly nothing to get hung-up about.

Reporting Scotland is full of Andy’s Wedding. The report is full of cheery, unpretentious Dunblane folk enjoying the day. RS make a fine job of this kind of thing. Well done, the light news section. Then, as with STV, it’s a wee bit from the four party campaigns.

Sturgeon: pressed on full fiscal autonomy. Trips off the tongue, doesn't it?
Sturgeon: pressed on full fiscal autonomy. Trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?

April 12: Holes and more bigger holes: We’re doomed I tell ee!
‘Labour leader, Jim Murphy, pressed Nicola Sturgeon on full fiscal Autonomy, saying it would create a multi-billion hole’ Reporting Scotland tell us.

Only two days after the repeated threats of black holes in the Scottish economy, we have the new threat of a ‘multi-billion pounds hole’. Later, ‘Labour says full fiscal autonomy would leave a black hole of 7.6 billion pounds in the nations finances.’

Two things occur. Is 7.6 billion ‘multi-billion’ in scale? Wouldn’t multi-billion be more like 100 billlion? Is that the size of ‘black hole’ in finances? Look back to the 10th April, above or to BN No.17 where there’s more on black holes and how big they are. The Scottish GDP without oil and gas is £135 billion or with oil and gas, £150 billion ( So, 7.6 billion as a percentage, is 5.6% or 5.1%. Whew, that’s a relief I thought black or multi-billion holes were sucking voids that would lead to the end of civilisation as they know it in Pacific Quay’s department of economic statistics. Seriously, scare-mongering of the most despicable yet all-too-familiar form from RS, shame!

Aside from the above, we get the Labour scare first followed by the SNP defence as often before. Why isn’t the story, ever, something like: ‘Labour caught out exaggerating economic worries’?

Much of the report features the 4 leaders’ morning debate with Gordon Brewer. This debate was no better handled by Gordon Brewer than had been the previous evening show, hosted by James Cook. Murphy is allowed to interrupt repeatedly and host Brewer only manages to interrupt the mild-mannered Willie Rennie. I suspect Murphy has miscalculated in thinking that shouting down a clearly intelligent woman will help his satisfaction levels.

On January 21st IpsosMORI put Sturgeon at 69% with Murphy at 34%. In February, YouGov put Sturgeon at plus 42 and Murphy at minus 10! When Murphy, clearly angered, falls into a bear-trap and makes Sturgeon’s point for her, she laughs like a drain and RS have little choice but to leave it in. To have taken his embarrassing moment out would have created another Robinson moment for the BBC.

STV cover the debate in similar way but their reporters make no mention of holes of any kind.
Monday 13th April: Was Jim ‘slapped down’ or was it just a ‘presentational problem?’

The minute Brian Taylor opens his mouth, I’m alert, like a predatory professor. But first, STV kick off with Chuka Umunna, on behalf of Shadow Chancellor Balls, saying: ‘The leader of the Scottish Labour Party will not be in charge of the UK budget. The leader of our country, Prime Minister Ed Miliband, will be in charge of the UK budget and has just answered the question…there will be a need for further consolidation and cuts.’

Chuka: Oops, he couldn't have been clearer...
Chuka: Oops, he couldn’t have been clearer…

He could not have been clearer. Reporting Scotland gave us the same piece from Umunna, so we’re on the same wavelength, you’d think? It’s a slap-down of particular force…a slam dunk? It suggests to me a casting-off of the Scottish Branch of Labour – ‘The leader of our country, Prime Minister Ed Miliband ‘. London Labour has decided the battleground is in England (‘our country’) and they must win votes from potential Tory voters in England. They know they’ve lost the Scottish seats and cannot save them without a complete and impossible turnaround in England.

How does Brains Taylor read it? Take a deep breath. He says: ‘I think it’s a presentational problem in the contrast with north and south of the border.’ If they were saying the same thing differently, it might be a presentational problem but when they’re saying the direct opposite of each other, at least one politician is lying to the electorate. For media to present this policy contradiction as a contrast and Murphy’s lying to the electorate as only a presentational problem is utterly dishonest on the part of the reporter. The following morning on Good Morning Scotland (Radio), George Kerr tells me that Brian Taylor was trying the same trick, referring to: ‘a slight difference of words between them’ and ‘a difference, as I was trying to argue yesterday of interpretation and presentation.’ And James Cook tweeted that I was losing my marbles!

This is classic propaganda of the kind that can work – subtle, sleekit, momentary, over so quickly, only the already sceptical are likely to spot it.

Tuesday 14th April: Labour man speaks with forked tongue? Brain Taylor goes missing.
Are STV starting to plan for life after Labour in Scotland? Are they thinking that Holyrood and the Scottish SNP squad in Westminster will be having their say on media regulation in Scotland, quite soon? Have they gone beyond the professional, intelligent and balanced approach that I’ve been commenting on for weeks now? Are STV now pro-SNP?

‘Back-pedalling Jim Murphy…..under fire as opponents accuse him of dishonesty over Labour’s spending plans….less than honest…..slapped down….pulled back’

As Jim pushes the umpteenth wean of the campaign round in circles on a wee bike, STV seem to be laughing at him. We see again the video recording of Chuka Umunna, on behalf of Shadow Chancellor Balls, telling us who is in charge and that it’s not the Scottish Labour Leader. On second viewing, I can’t help but detect a kind of superior tone in his voice. Then we get the voice of Balls himself, on radio, repeating the determination to cut, whatever Jim might think. And that’s not all, as another female reporter (not clear whom) interviews Jim, after pushing that wean around and makes clear he won’t be pushing her around. She interrupts him 8 times in the space of only 8 or so sentences. It’s a gaping black mega-hole of mediated destruction!

Now it’s not all SNP, STV do give a lot of time to Cameron, Miliband, Ruth and Willie with only a wee dig at Jim again from Nicola. Leave him Nicola, he’s had enough!

OMG, I think as I get ready for Reporting Scotland and wonder, how on Earth are they going to save Jim this time? What form of words will the Great Brainy Circumlocutor (look it up lazy….) bring forth to bamboozle the viewers? What is this? Brian Taylor is noticeably absent as we get 5 headlines without Jim Murphy in even one of them! I get it now. They’re going to pretend nothing’s happened just as Brian pretended the previous day. Then, well into the show, Jim does appear to accuse the Tories of betrayal over their manifesto promise, to English MPs, of a veto on income tax decisions. Better still, forgetting the hurt, he says the SNP demand for Full Fiscal Autonomy ‘goes alongside’ the aforementioned Tory promise – ‘two extremes but both bad for Scotland.’ Two extremes go together, they do? Like, what, cuts and not cuts? Brains finishes it off in agreement with Jim and describes the Tory promise as ‘a blunt betrayal of the Smith Commission.’ OMG again.

Wednesday 15th April: Alex, Nigel or nice me? BMA get the sums wrong again.
Me, Nigel Farage or Alex Salmond – who do you prefer? Nick Clegg confidently assumes most in the UK will prefer him in coalition with either Tories or Labour. He’s probably a bit delusional on that but, more important for us media monitors, he has played a wee trick. Alex Salmond is neither the SNP leader nor the leader of the SNP group at Westminster. The latter is Angus Robertson. He’s relying on Alex’s alleged Marmite quality and Nigel’s ‘Nigelness’ to make his cheating heart seem more acceptable. The important thing is STV’s failure to correct that. All the big four parties get a fair go, although the Lib Dems get a bit more time as it’s their manifesto launch. That reminds, when will the Labour in Scotland manifesto finally appear? It’s been delayed or is that derailed by, as Brian Taylor put it, a presentational problem. Neither STV nor RS comment.

Both sides also discuss a BMA report on GP shortages and for RS it’s another SNHS crisis under SNP rule. Regular readers might remember BN No.16, when I had to correct the BMA’s arithmetic in their press release and, in so doing, I suggested that it was less of a crisis than Jackie Bird had announced it to be. Also, STV, please pay attention in the next Research Methods class, with me. If 80% report stress, you can say only that – ‘report stress’. You can’t say 80% ‘are suffering’ stress without getting them all checked out by other GPs who, presumably, are too busy.

The BMA study had responses from 15 560 GPs. The response rate features in none of the releases or summaries. In the previous survey, reported in BN No.16, they had made quite a big error in their favour. In this case, it was a 45% response, they said. So, for example if 80% of 45% are reporting stress we would be able to say 36% not 80% of all UK GPs have reported stress.

However, logically, we can only assume the 55% who did not reply did not feel stressed. Maybe they did, but it would be a most unreliable assumption to say otherwise as a researcher. Now working with the figures in the full-report, here’s my take. Stay with me the numberphobic!
The BMA sent the postal survey form to 34 773 members and the electronic version to 31 310 members, 66 083 in total.  15 560 GPs responded so the response rate was only 23.5% not 45%. According to the General Medical Council, there are 234 529 GPs in the UK. The survey went to 66 083 out of 234 529 which is 28% of all GPs. So, 23.5% of 28% of the total number of GPs, or about 7% of all UK GPs actually responded.

Keeping the above in mind here’s the report summarising (with highlighted additions by me to keep it honest) on stress amongst GPs: ‘The majority of GPs responding (68% out of 7% of all GPs)  state that they experience a significant but manageable amount of work-related stress. A further 16% (out of 7% of all GPs) reported experiencing a significant and unmanageable amount of work-related stress.’ 16% of 7% is around 1% of all doctors really feeling stressed and not the 80% reported on Scottish news.

You’d think I would be finished getting the problem down from 80% to only 1%, reporting being, definitely, really stressed. In figure 2.5.2 on page 14 of the full report, the above 16% of really stressed GPs is the UK average. In the English Midlands, it is 19% and in Scotland? Completely missed or ignored, it’s the lowest in the UK at 11%. All the other English regions are at least at 16%. So the Scottish calculation could be 11% of 7% or 0.7% of all Scottish GPs reported being significantly stressed.

Even more interesting, on workload (p13), we see between 37% and 40% of English GPs reporting an ‘unmanageable’ workload. The Scottish figure is 25%, not good I know, but still better especially if you remember that this is only 25% of only 7% or at best 2% of all GPs. Is this really another crisis in Scotland’s NHS? How about these headlines:
‘Scottish GPs the least stressed in the UK’ or ‘Less than 1% of Scottish GPs report being significantly stressed.’

For comparison (always a good thing, Reporting Scotland), a study by the Educational Institute of Scotland, in 2014, of Scottish schoolteachers’ workload and stress levels found only 3% ‘satisfied’ with workload and 23% ‘not at all satisfied’. On stress, 45% were stressed ‘all the time’ and only 5% were never stressed.

Now, I’m not against GPs (I have one) and I note respectfully ‘Older GP’s comments in BN 16 but the BMA is a trades union charged with the protection of its members. It’s not any more to be trusted than Unison or the EIS. Most important at this time, Reporting Scotland, in particular, has been scurrilously using such flawed research in an attempt to undermine the SG/SNP.
Running out of space, I’ll do Thursday 16th April in the next one.

Professor John Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, 15th April 2015