Professor John Robertson’s Armchair View Pt 9
I’m at the point of declaring myself redundant. You don’t need a professor for this stuff. It’s right in front of your eyes, in plain sight and unashamed in all its bias.
The Beeb could save a fortune. Recruit Jim Murphy officially. Get a parrot, or just put one of Jim’s female assistants (Watch him make their political careers disappear!) in a parrot-suit, sit her on Jim Murphy’s shoulder and have her read out Labour press releases all night. He’d waive the licence-fee I’m sure.
Ponsonby, for example is writing stuff of such breadth, depth and intellect, it’s suspicious, if you ask me. Like Wullie Shakespeare, it’s not plausible for one man or woman to do so much and so well. So, I’ve done a bit of investigative journalism myself and can report that there is no GA Ponsonby. The Ponsonby reference is ironic and GAP actually stands for Girls Aloud Pitlochry. Nevertheless, there’s clearly nothing much I can add to his/her piece on the BBC and the NHS, or is there?
You will know already, by your own observations or from GAP, that the BBC is helping Labour attack the Scottish Government by exaggerating claims of problems in hospitals and schools. So Reporting Scotland and STV, on 11th February, at 6.30 and 6pm respectively, open with:
A. “Is emergency care in Scottish hospitals in crisis? A government health hit squad is sent in to sort out A&E in this Paisley hospital.”
B “The Scottish Government sends in a support team to relieve pressure on Paisley’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.”
The contrast is so marked, I could ask a school pupil to comment on the differences: Which headline is written to make you anxious? How does it use vocabulary choice to achieve this? I highlighted key words and phrases to make it easier. Don’t think I would need to do so in a school. Let’s see…
Teacher: OK class, you have 5 minutes with these two quotes. Deconstruct!
Johnny: This is too easy! We don’t believe anyone would be so obvious. The first quote uses ‘crisis’ even though it’s only one hospital and ‘sort out’ while second only says ‘relieve pressure’. The first quote mentions a ‘hit squad’ but the second says a ‘support team’. If people are waiting too long don’t the staff need help? Wouldn’t a ‘hit squad’ be for a hostage situation or drug barons? Does ‘sorting out’ mean the Paisley hospital staff were bad or lazy?
Teacher: Good, anything else, more subtle?
Jane: Well the first quote didn’t make it clear that the Scottish Government sent in the team and not the UK Government. If it had been the UK government, that would have been embarrassing for the Scottish Government.
Teacher: Well done class. Now one of these quotes was from the Sun and other was from the BBC. Hands up everyone who thinks the first was from the Sun? (All the hands go up). Wrong it was the BBC.
Class: Check the answer, sir. That must be wrong. My mum and dad say you can trust the BBC to tell the truth. They have to anyway, it’s the law.
They’re correct of course, it must be wrong but…..it isn’t. It’s only a few words but they are soaked in shame.
That’s just the headlines. What about the rest? I got my bean-counter out again. Everyone likes a good numerical ratio to really prove something. It worked last January even though I did agree it was a blunt instrument with my critics. Lots of people clearly like blunt instruments to hammer home the argument.
So, as piloted in Number 8, for the 11th February at 6-7pm:
Categories: STV BBC Ratios
Pro-SG or SNP / Anti-Opposition 10 8 5:4
Pro-Opposition / Anti-SG or SNP 17 25 >3:5
Ratios: <2:3 <1:3
Most, important BBC Reporting Scotland broadcast three statements (single-clause sentences or clauses within compound sentences) favouring the Opposition (Labour in nearly every case) for each one that they broadcast in favour of the Scottish Government or the SNP.
That’s significant and suggests a clear agenda. The STV ratio is not significant. The ratios between STV and BBC suggest greater balance in the former.
Put these numerical differences, which I argue are revealing of underlying political agendas and the perhaps semi-conscious preferences of some staff, with the quite openly dramatic and accusatory headline vocabulary and you have a very unsatisfactory performance by our public service provider.
Add in the earlier performances in support of the Labour campaign to recuperate from poll-damage and you have a damning indictment. Compare with STV using the evidence I have offered in earlier columns and you have clear evidence that it cannot be put down to the mysteries of journalistic routines as some apologist will do. Time and again, STV are clearly more professional.
Footnote: Our resident radiohead George has been monitoring, to his cost, Good Morning Scotland. On the 11th he sent me this storm warning for A&E. Ten hours before Reporting Scotland went for the jugular, GMS were stoking up the argument.
Says George: “Something similar to the new ‘alerting system’ launched by NHS England, when hospitals under-perform, was also launched by the Scottish Government, we learned last night (10th) on MSM. This was triggered by warnings coming out of Paisley Royal Alexandria Hospital. A specialist management team is on its way (before the crisis was announced) to help with the process of making things right.
“This morning on GMS the headlines and quotations that carried on, through bulletins on the hour and half hour, were: ‘The Crisis in Scotland A&E Units…Everything is under so much strain….the system isn’t able to cope with the demands put upon it.’. They don’t say that it is only in one hospital.”
On the 12th, STV again provided an extended and thorough piece on the budget, with numerous critics include COSLA and the TUC given time to speak, but very intelligently done, evidence-based and free of the Labour/SNP parrying which can reduce the information value of the broadcast quite badly. Reporting Scotland’s piece on the 12th was OK but less informative.
What will next week bring, I wonder?
Professor John Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, Friday 13th February 2015