BROADCAST NEWS 22: The view from the Great Dictator


Professor John Robertson continues his regular review of the TV news

April 16 – 23: Are Reporting Scotland beginning to give up?

Important Note: I’m not well. Really I’m not. This is a production by the ‘Robertsons’, transcribed by Mrs Prof, typed-up by Mrs Prof after sick-bed dictation (the first dictation I’ve ever done) and by the others ‘keeping it down in there.’ We’re not giving up after this time.

The Prof: This man is sick, as some have always suspected
The Prof: This man is sick, as some have always suspected

I expect to produce another of these for April 30 and May 6.  Some weeks ago, I suggested STV News were at the very least fair and, more recently, I reported examples that I thought were maybe biased in favour of the Scottish Government/SNP. Quite a few disagreed with me.

I’m either delusional or one of those clever trend-spotters. For a much longer time (See BN 1-21), I’ve demonstrated with hard evidence, BBC Reporting Scotland’s hard-wired preference for Labour and its shameless attempts to undermine the Scottish Government with endless tales of NHS and other crises. Recently, I may have detected a change. Reporting Scotland has – maybe – ceased the full attack and seems to be waiting sullenly for the inevitable (Did this coincide with the start of the official “pending period”? Ed)

One of the first criticisms that will be made of the this assessment of BBC Reporting Scotland and STV News, on Scottish political issues, is that unlike newspapers, they are subject to Ofcom regulations and the BBC even has a Royal Charter and Agreement which at first sight suggests very strict principles including an almost spiritual claim to impartiality.

Reporting Scotland’s behaviour in the run-up to the Referendum, from 2012 to 2014, was the subject of many critiques undermining those claims. Readers may remember that my own research in 2014, exposing a lack of impartiality, led to the BBC accusing me of bringing it and my employer into ‘corporate disrepute’. I can find no equivalent to the BBC Charter for STV. Indeed one of the top five principles of STV’s Business Ethics Code is that anything they do: ‘makes good business sense.’ – nuff said?

I now have a second theory. Because of a lack of material to attack the SNP with or because they’ve just given up, Reporting Scotland has rarely had a real go, recently, at undermining them with bad news. I mean by this the “crises” in the Scottish NHS, from A&E waiting times to GP shortages, failures in managing Police Scotland or bullying the local authorities with extra funds for teachers. Of course they might actually have a good one they’re saving till the night before.

Thursday April 16: The Tory Manifesto and Jackie Bird’s Hesitation.

The Tories launched their manifesto so there was lots of it, fair enough.

‘Tim (Reid), Nicola Sturgeon was perceived to have donnn…..…very well in the last UK debate but… Tim: Yes she did perform very well in that 7-way debate…’

Jackie Bird, in the evening broadcast (6.30pm) of Reporting Scotland, hesitated noticeably before being able to say ‘very well’ about Nicola. Tim is more gracious, moving unhesitatingly through his sentence and probably reflects more accurately the wider reaction from all sides that she actually did perform well.

Maybe it was nothing more than a typical pause in speech as you think of the best adjective. Coming up with ‘very’ clearly takes effort. Alternatively, could something have been sticking in her throat? Was it the remains of an Imperial Mint made in the UK, some other biled sweet or just bile? Tim seemed to have no trouble being complimentary about Nicola. Am I imagining something here? Do tell me (Yes, it’s your painkillers. Ed)

Ponsonby: Having a fun-filled election
Ponsonby: Having a fun-filled election

Friday April 17: The Labour Manifesto and the Ponsonby Piss-take?

Scottish Labour released their delayed manifesto and it’s kind of like the UK version. STV News  and Reporting Scotland both give Jim Murphy a fair go at explaining it to appreciative audiences but STV seem to inject a little cruel humour (see below) which further reinforces my ‘STV is adapting to a changing business environment’ theory.

The RS report contained no contradictions or sly pokes at Jim Murphy, though Brian Taylor did mention the latest bad news poll as containing ‘grim reading’ for Labour. He then went on to elaborate by telling us that both Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander were in danger of losing their seats.

Now, I probably need a second opinion here, as with Jackie’s hesitation above, but the STV report on the Scottish Labour manifesto is less respectful. It starts with Bernard Ponsonby reminding us of ‘predictions of meltdown’ as we see Jim Murphy enter the hall where he is to speak. In the middle, we are re-directed to Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Miliband at the Leaders’ Debate in London with the words: ’The SNP taunt Labour.’ Finally, as Bernard reflects on the Labour Party’s situation as a ‘mix of excitement and horror’ the camera closes in on of those staring, wide-eyed faces Jim does so well…the horror, the horror?

Now I like Bernard. He’s a bonnie fechter as Oor Wullie would have it but who is he, really? Does he have an agenda. Here’s what the occasionally reliable Wikipedia says: Ponsonby stood for the Liberal Democrats – in the 1988 Glasgow Govan by-election, losing his deposit with a 4.1% share of the vote….the party had only recently formed after a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. Nothing there, then is there?

Saturday April 18: Another Poll gives it to the SNP

STV report on Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll saying Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander will lose their seats. Jim says he won’t. Reporting Scotland can’t seem to be bothered. Are they beginning to lose hope now?

Sunday April 19: Vote tactically, hint, hint.

Emperor Ming: Talking high falutin hopeful nonsense about 'tactical voting'
Emperor Ming: Talking high falutin hopeful nonsense about ‘tactical voting’

‘Emperor’ Ming Campbell sitting in a bijoux palace study, with a great big self-portrait on the walls and shelves of awards beside him (Lib Dem PR person – are you sure about that image?) giving the common people a hint, tells us: ‘the public will decide’. What can he mean? Malcolm Bruce, his young(er) assistant, clarifies: ‘people will vote tactically to prevent that (SNP winning).’ Was Reporting Scotland, attempt desperately to organise a bit of tactical voting? Why didn’t they get their regular Professor John Curtice on to check how feasible this might be? He was reported in the National newspaper on Tuesday 21st saying:

‘The SNP are so far ahead, tactical voting is not going to have a significant impact. It may make a difference in the odd constituency, but the problem as far as the Unionists are concerned is that there aren’t very many places where the ideal situation is clear for tactical voting.’

Professor Curtice suggested that only three seats might be open to the tactic. Professor Cairney of Stirling University suggested it would not work at all because it could not be co-ordinated.

Monday April 20: Jackie and Brian report the SNP Manifesto launch, fairly….grudgingly?

‘Scaling new heights!’

STV present the SNP manifesto launch, brightly and warmly, like you would a sporting success. Not a word of doubt or criticism until well-in when the other parties get their say. It was like Reporting Scotland covering a Labour event. For an SNP supporter, there was really nothing to complain about.

When Reporting Scotland covered it, an SNP supporter might have complained of Jackie Bird’s soor face and flat tone, but in fact she says nothing you could really criticise. Brian Taylor, in a sunny Princes Street, gave a completely fair and quite thorough account of the event, in a tone veering toward actual interest. Now I can tell he’s not one the hard men at Pacific Quay so is this the first sign he might try to save himself at the post-election ‘committees’? The other parties have their say but it’s nothing special.

Tuesday April 21: A clear and present danger? Former PM John Major teams up with George Robertson?

‘The Scots are a clear and present danger’ John Major quoted in the Guardian

‘The Scots are a real and present danger’ John Major quoted Sky News

Keep talking John, the SNP love you
Keep talking John, the SNP love you

He did kind of mumble it, so it’s not really clear. At least, Lord George was consistent back before the Referendum when he warned ‘the forces of darkness’ would gather if Scotland left NATO. Did George mean ‘like IS’? Did John Major take Frankie Boyle literally when Frankie suggested IS: Independent Scotland?

Is it, maybe a reference to: ‘a doctrine adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States to determine under what circumstances limits can be placed on First Amendment freedoms of speech, press or assembly (Wikipedia)?’ That would make sense. First there’s John Major with his pants outside his trousers, Trident, and now this. Are we really another US State?

Now then what else did Reporting Scotland cover? Oh yes, the Lib Dem Manifesto. Actually, they top-billed and Brian Taylor was kind to it. The other parties ignored it. Jim Murphy was filmed, sleeves-up, jacketless, chanting something with the crowd. He’s a real working-class guy that Murphy – football playing, Scotland top-wearing, alcohol at games supporting, glue-sniffing (Did I just make that up or was it him who made it up?) Then, just before you go, Jackie remembers to ask Brian about that IFS report. Was he trying to leave it out? See Monday 20th paragraph 2, last 2 sentences. Oh tell us then, Brian. Eh well, the Scottish deficit is down… ….but not as down as the rest of the UK. Thanks Brian, helpful indeed.

STV, remember them? Well they launched with John Major. Told you they were getting pro-SNP! Quickly, they let Nicola respond to John Major by pulling one of those faces we know so well. No words were required though she did let him have a few. Then the other leaders of the UK parties got to say something from their manifestos.

Wednesday April 22: Who IS writing the Labour budget then?

David Cameron’s team tweets a video of Alex Salmond joking at a private meeting that he’s writing the Labour budget to try and balance things out after Cameron is caught out on national TV suggesting a pickpocket looks like Alex Salmond. That’s the gist of it.

Salmond’s joke comes from the comments on the 13th by London Labour’s 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.’

Cameron’s joke is along the lines of ‘Oh there’s a pickpocket on film, who can I undermine by suggesting a similarity?’

I won’t go on. One’s a wind-up of an equal, the other is an Eton sneer. ‘Ew luke, thet dahty little pickpocket looks jest laik thet ohful little feg semmon….haw, haw, haw.’

STV made more of the story than Reporting Scotland, giving Salmond the chance to cast doubt on Cameron’s sense of humour. After it, I thought, is David Cameron now resigned to closing his Scottish Conservative Branch too? That’s two closures for the Scottish political ‘high street’, or ‘vennel’, in quick succession.

Reporting Scotland launched with and emphasised a more serious story in a report on the latest IFS report but carefully applied to their favourite topic – ‘Get your grannies out before the Scottish NHS fails them again.’ They used the latest IFS report as the evidence that we won’t be able to afford NHS Scotland. The report is a typical example of the idea that if we assume ‘this’ to be true about the economy, then the four party plans can be assessed against ‘this’.

Surprise, surprise, the IFS find none of the four manifesto plans had enough detailed planning for ‘this’. Maybe that’s because the IFS didn’t tell the parties they were planning for ‘this’ and thought they were planning to win the election. Anyhow, the Lib Dems were top of the class. None of that mattered to RS because the SNP had failed the test they didn’t know they were sitting and that the others had failed too. They’re the Government, stupid!

Then Glenn Campbell slips, or does he? He says: ‘but the cash available on Scottish public services including health is directly linked to what is spent on those services in England.’ Remember this for later. So, then we get Nicola with weans again and more lightweight campaign stories from all the others. Danny Alexander invents nationalistic black holes. Aren’t they the opposite, consuming all forms of difference into…. black holes? Margaret Curran reminds of the ‘sweet thing’ we have using those resources we get from across the UK? Does she mean money which they don’t need and just give to us?

Meanwhile, I imagine, Glenn’s wee slip which some might think favours the SNP, has been spotted. Getting a call almost instantly from Labour HQ, The Beast has descended from the office and had a word. As the piece closes, Jackie Bird, turns to the camera: ‘Well it might have been the subject of much discussion today [young man!] but MPs being elected next month won’t have much to say on the HS here because it’s controlled by the Scottish Government.’ Glenn –‘ I know Ms Bird, but that was the point of what I said.’

‘Glenn! Go to your room this minute.’

(We think the Prof made up this last bit. Ed)

Thursday 23rd April:

RS and STV get to the IFS report more fully tonight and with multiple interviews with IFS staffers, it’s one of the least watchable shows possible. You know how they tease Ed Miliband about his goofiness, check out the IFS lot.

Starting on STV, they are credited with forensic examination. Remember IFS can’t/won’t criticise economic policy without agreeing a number of assumptions with us all? So forensic, I think not Dr Holmes. It’s like doing a post-mortem on a body without considering all the massed array of possible factors. It’s a game you might say.

All four parties get a critique, none does very well and then Bernard Ponsonby makes an unexpected error in trying to explain it all:

‘The job of the IFS in a sense is not to make hard and fast judgements. They’re happy to leave political judgements to the voters. But what they try to do is influence the terms of the debate.’

Hold on you can’t separate political debate from its terms. The terms are as political as everything else, more so, because they define the terms? So, the fact that the IFS has a shared culture based on staffing from elite English private schools and universities and an long-term acceptance of market-oriented economic theory as a given, the environment, means the ‘terms’ are the products of a very special cultural milieu. Or to be clearer, it’s all political. Treat the IFS for what it is. It’s the Murphotaur!

Dugdale: Planning to demand an inquiry into why her picture doesn't appear almost the end of the article. "A clear disgrace by this SNP government that shows they don't relaly care about the people of Scotlin'," says Our Kez.
Dugdale: Planning to demand an inquiry into why her picture doesn’t appear almost the end of the article. “A clear disgrace by this SNP government that shows they don’t relaly care about the people of Scotlin’,” says Our Kez.

RS have little different to say about the IFS, but they do nearly give me a heart-attack. Suddenly he fills the screen, towering above as we seem to be looking up at him from the gutter and he’s roaring like an angry bull (skinny bull).

Luckily it’s on to a quite tedious account of the IFS non-report on the parties’ economic plans with no particular evidence of favouritism other than maybe a bit too much Kezia Dugdale especially after the Murphy thing.

And finally…

Not relevant but I just have to mention it. Sir Alex Ferguson of Govan formally signs away £5 000 contributing toward the purchase of a statue of Mary Barbour, 1915 rent strike organiser. He, Alex recognises one of the buildings and says he is much moved by it all. I was moved too. Sir Alex has personal wealth of around £34 000 000. Did Leonard Cohen know of the evil of rent hikes during a war while the men are away, when he wrote: ‘And the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor’?

Professor and Mrs Robertson, April 24th 2015.