BROADCAST NEWS 24: Are we sure that’s it? Please?


Professor John Robertson delivers his final review of TV News general election coverage for 2015. Unless of course, we manage to squeeze in another election later this year, before the Scottish elections…

May 1- 6: View from the Armchair:

In preparation for election night, the Professor puts on the protective Man in Black shirt and listens to the prediction from the lucky bull-frog. The bull-frog answers by singing, mysteriously, from the Johnny Cash songbook:

‘Come leaders, come you men of great
Let us hear you pontificate
Your many virtues laid to waste
And we aren’t listening.’

Prof John Robertson has reviewed Scottish TV news coverage of the General Election campaign
Prof John Robertson: Lucky man to have a caricature as good as this, and proud of it too.

What does the frog mean? Is it something to do with Murphy, the Alexander Brothers, Broon and the other Acolytes of Doom? Are they gonna get it?

What, I’m acting weird? Me? How? I’ve written 24 (actually 28 if you count everything) commentaries, in 12 weeks, part-time, with about 100 000 words plus as many more in comments from you. Mrs Prof did help quite a bit during the period MI5 poisoned me.

In awards-style even though there’s no prize, thanks to Mum, to the Wife, to the Editor, M, to the antibiotics and to all you lovely people, too many to mention, who responded and made it all so worthwhile….sniff.

Friday May 1: Sally does it better, again:

What is going on at Reporting Scotland? Sally Magnusson has just breezed in and appears to be in charge. She does the big interview, with Nicola and gives her a thorough interrogation. However, it’s fair and polite. More than that, though, she introduces the show and makes many of the key points between analysis by Brian and statements by the politicians. It seems really quite balanced, professional in language and tone. I can’t really find anything wrong in what she, Brain or Tim says. Am I in love? I blame the Editor for that photo last week.

Sally Magnusson: It's her Twitter picture, Prof! Stop swooning!
Sally Magnusson: It’s her Twitter picture, Prof! Stop swooning!

Where are Jackie, Eleanor and Glenn? Are they in the office looking for Bootman? He’s on the Clyde Ferry with McQuarrel? It’s like the Marie Celeste in there. Sally, untainted by Labour connections, is in charge. Brian and Tim are kind of relieved. They were always a bit feart before and like Sally better than the old bosses.

Alternatively, it’s a trick. Maybe it’s one of those fake retreats to draw your enemy in? Jackie and Eleanor are girding their loins with armour ready for a last charge on the 6th! I’ve just checked the telly pages for Thursday night and see Jackie, Brian and Glenn are back on. If the SNP do win them all, will Brian describe it as a problem of interpretation?

The extra half-hour is filled with two genuinely interesting pieces. First it’s Brian in the Borders meeting the locals then it’s Douglas Fraser with a really good piece on how governments are formed. He uses a white-board interactively with some panache. I might rip it off for one of my classes. Educate and inform? It’ll never catch on.

STV continue as they were and Big John alliterates nicely at the beginning – ‘No deal in Downing Street!’ We hear again that Ed ‘has lost the plot’ (Nicola) and that ‘he’s all over the place’ (Ruth). Jim reminds us that the SNP brought a Labour Government down in 1979. Was that the Labour Government that wouldn’t give Scotland devolution?

There was a lot of Willie Rennie with retrievers. I’ve got one. They’re nice but not that bright so good choice then?

‘Can’t I just lie here a bit longer? I had a walk yesterday. I don’t know who Willie Rennie is.’

STV finish with Bernard explaining it all (forming a government) but without Douglas Fraser’s fancy graphics and touchscreen dexterity.

Saturday May 2: Royal Family cancel the STV News

I couldn’t find any Scottish news, anywhere. They just cancelled it because of the baby. Remember your place, Scottish peasants! Well, it’s not as if it’s a democracy is it? There was endless ‘news’ about the royal bairn and interviews with frankly mind-boggling people. Some had been waiting for weeks!

Reporting Scotland survived because, I think, they were on too late for the baby story. So we got a wee bit of positivity from the five leaders culminating in Jim Murphy ‘singing’, kind of like I imagine a pterodactyl would sign.

An interesting research report was missed by both. The researchers from TNS said: ‘Voters aren’t listening to arguments about policy, they’re filtering it out as white noise……They’re going with their heart. It’s about who they want to be a voice for Scotland.’ I’m sure this is correct in the purdah/election period but it misses the point about more subtle forms of influence, throughout the year, which might affect who they ‘want’.

Chomsky: He said all this would happen
Chomsky: He said all this would happen

I’m thinking of Reporting Scotland’s endless reports over many days and weeks, of crises in the NHS, policing, immigration and education which, they suggest, the Scottish Government cannot manage properly. It looks like these have failed to shift SNP popularity down or to raise Labour up. Credit must go to the members of the public for their instinctive canniness, reinforced by learning about politics, via social media, in the Yes campaign?

As Chomsky says, it’s not the general public who are most susceptible to the effects of propaganda, it’s the formally educated middle-classes with their vested interests in the establishment.

Sunday May 3: James Cook’s Other Scotland?

It was clearly ‘Sport Sunday’ for Labour. Jim danced about determined to impress the coach with his efforts but didn’t touch the ball. Kezia Dugdale half-heartedly swung at a tennis ball. She looked utterly fed-up. Everybody else got a wee go at saying one or two lines of the kind the TNS researchers say nobody’s listening to.

However, just by chance, I caught the end of BBC 1 News where Cook did a piece on the wild enthusiasm for Nicola in Scotland but reassuringly reminded rUK viewers that: ‘There is another Scotland which worries where all this is heading.’

It is worrying, people liking a politician, I agree. Now, maybe I’m wrong, but I know of no credible or even incredible research to prove the existence of this other Scotland. He doesn’t share his source and we move quickly on to Jim Murphy’s legs. Jim’s playing football, again, and says he’s looking forward to the election. James, this other Scotland, is it just Jim Murphy? Now, seriously, I’m not saying that there are no Scots worrying about: ‘where this is all going’, but judging by recent elections in Scotland and in the UK, the Scottish electorate is not daft nor are they worrying.

The ones who are going to vote SNP this time, yet don’t want independence, know damn fine they can vote No again or, even quicker, if they don’t like what the SNP is doing in London, they can vote them out of Holyrood in 2006.

I did a wee bit of searching for the Other Scotland. This is all I could find:

‘People who voted no [to Scottish independence] are really scared…There is a real anxiety amongst people who may not like the current direction of government but don’t want to see the country broken up and don’t know what to do about it.’

Wow, that sounds serious. Adam Tomkins, professor of public law at the University of Glasgow and one of the Tory representatives to the Smith Commission said it. They’re always reading the latest research, these professors. There isn’t a reference there, just the phrase ‘Activists believe that they are reflecting widespread concern.’ This is really depressing, Professor. Would you let a student get away with this kind of assertion in an essay? I wouldn’t. Don’t you think that as they’re ‘activists’ they might be exaggerating this for their own political purposes? Could that be it? Don’t we need a proper survey?

There’s a guy called Professor Curtice who might help you.

Was that your source James? Was it just a newspaper article? Serendipitously though, I also found this:

‘Scots Who Unsettled U.K. Markets Seen Calming EU Anxiety

Less than a year after their failed bid to leave the U.K. rippled through financial markets, Scotland’s nationalists may emerge as pacifiers….polls show the Scottish National Party is on course to take the most seats in Scotland. Leader Nicola Sturgeon said she would potentially support a minority Labour government in London. She ruled out any deal with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, who want to hold a referendum on the U.K.’s European Union membership.’

See? Big Business isn’t worried about us. They’re worried about the Tory right and UKIP and the DUP. Where is all this going? How about the transfer of London HQs to Edinburgh instead of Dublin?

Wait a minute, I’ve got it. James went round Pacific Quay with his questionnaire and, up near the top of the building, he found that ‘other’ Scotland – Little Scotland-shire!

Monday May 4: ‘Captain’ James Cook discovers other Scotland again but it’s de-populated

What might have been another night of all four parties getting around and repeating those sound-bites we don’t listen to was enlivened by a ‘small group’ of protesters following Jim Murphy and the former comedian Eddie Izzard. They shouted at Jim – ‘Justify Iraq’ and ‘Red Tories’ – the insensitive swine.

Murphy meets Clerkin. There’s two guys who deserve each other. Lock ’em up! Together!

That’s right they shouted at a politician campaigning in the street. Now, I’d like to see people like him, Blair, Brown and Reid, brought to account for their actions in 2003 and for their corruption of what was my favoured political party, as a young man. So, I guess I’m too biased to see how awful the shouting was because I thought it was little to write home about.

They clearly weren’t SNP despite Jim’s attempts to say so and they were far from threatening in appearance or voice. As for Eddie, what on earth does he think his presence will do for Labour in Scotland? I haven’t laughed at anything he’s said since about 1990.

The best bit was when I caught the tail-end of BBC 1 News and there was James Cook, again, telling us that the protestors and the proper politicians put two very different ‘Scotlands’ on display. I dealt with this silly idea yesterday, above, so there’s little point in repeating the fact that you can just find new Scotland’s because somebody claims they exist. You need evidence, just like the first Captain Cook did. James described them as a ‘small group’ as they clearly were, so even if we accept that they represent another place surely it’d have to be Pitcairn Island?

Gary Robertson
Gary Robertson

I’m reminded regularly by my spy on the wireless George Kerr that things on Good Morning Scotland remain far more biased than on TV. For example this:

Gary Robertson questions to Stewart Hosie ended on another Referendum…”there was discussion last night on TV of another referendum. Your leader says it’s up to the people to decide but who decides if it’s in your manifesto?”…..”And, won’t your members want to see it in your manifesto? will they have to prepare themselves for disappointment if it’s not in your manifesto?”….”You would have to offer it. How can people demand it if it’s not there? You would have to offer it so that people can demand it”…”Nicola Sturgeon says one thing this election is not about is Independence but then we have your candidates saying on the doorsteps, saying we can twist Westminster’s arms for another referendum…so the outcome of this election could be the driving force for another referendum”…”Alright if labour say they will not talk to you that you’ll just have to vote for their policies or reject them. That potentially could be the change in circumstances that allows you to call for another referendum.”

The above is a fine example of the form of propaganda known as the ‘straw man.’ Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on false representation of an opponent’s argument. To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument. The so-called typical “attacking a straw man” argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition and then to refute or defeat that false argument instead of the original proposition. This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged emotional issues where a fiery, entertaining “battle” and the defeat of an “enemy” may be more valued than critical thinking or understanding both sides of the issue.

So the SNP’s opponents cannot defeat them on substantive issues like the NHS, welfare or the economy so they find something, not in the SNP’s manifesto, which they hope may be unpopular with voters and keep going on about it and attacking it, even though it’s not in the manifesto. The mainstream media then jump on the bandwagon repeating the same criticisms of something not actually there and create, as a consequence, propaganda in its fullest form. Luckily, I think, the audience is not ‘ignorant or uninformed of the original argument’ and so the straw man argument fails.

Tuesday May 5: Labour / Conservative Coalition? It works in Stirling

No last minute strike by Reporting Scotland has appeared, yet. On both sides it was pretty much the same ‘white noise’ that we’re told by TNS, no one is really listening to. Reporting Scotland had a glitch of some kind but luckily Brian was in the studio to fill with some pretty academic reflections. He said it was a philosophical question about legitimacy if Scotland had a lot of influence with Labour or, alternatively, if Scotland had no influence on a Tory government. At the end of the show, he predicted ‘frenzy aplenty’ and lots of ‘traversing’ and ‘positing.’ The presenter thanked him profusely for his ‘great insights.’

Earlier we saw a RS trip to Yorkshire, a very apologetic manner by the presenter and the admission it was far from scientific. It was indeed. Yet, they keep doing these amateurish jaunts. Why not speak to the TNS researchers about ‘white noise?’ That would worth doing.

Finally, in Dunblane Cathedral, four local candidates were given time to say the same things again. The only highlight was when the SNP candidate noted that the Labour candidate, the leader of Stirling council, was in a coalition of Labour and Conservative to keep SNP out.

Wednesday May 6: Mr Greenwood of Bristol called for more street-fighting and insisted that ‘eggs never killed anybody!’

Well, actually, there have been some deaths from Salmonella in under-cooked eggs, Mr Greenwood. No ‘Salmonella’ not ‘Salmondella.’ You couldn’t make it up. On BBC 1, we’ve had James Cook fussing over the Nationalist hit squads drowning out Jim Murphy. Now we’ve got Mr Greenwood clearly wishing for more of that in England:

‘Less stage management more street-fighting – Do you ever see any party leader on his own, or very rarely, within a public domain taking flak, taking questions. You don’t. It’s all choreographed and that gets me. Eggs never killed anybody.’

Isn’t that just wonderful? If Jim Murphy had known that, he’d have kept going. There was no need for him to worry unless he ate the eggs thrown at him. Just as well for them, that James Cook didn’t get a chance to put the Greenwoods right on this important issue for democracy. The rest of STV and Reporting Scotland was the same fair share of chances to repeat the soundbites again. I spotted nothing unbalanced though a Facebook comment bounced into my phone during Reporting Scotland saying Jackie Bird had encouraged tactical voting. Alex Massie clearly did but I missed Jackie doing it.

Reporting Scotland struggled to fill the extra 30 minutes and largely just gave it to Brain Taylor to pontificate into. As before he gave some well-pronounced ‘posit’s and one ‘evince’ but neither he nor Jackie missed a step in the game of balance.

So there was, from Reporting Scotland, no last-minute, exposure of SNP malevolence, corruption or greed. There’s always election day. They wouldn’t would they? (No, they wouldn’t. Too obvious. Ed)

Right, I’m done, in more ways than one.

Professor john Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, Ayr, 7th May, 2015