Media Watch: Lies, damned lies and the Ballater insurance question..?


Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Number 8. Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign.

Thursday 25th February to Wednesday 2nd March 2016

A thought

Thursday 25th February 2016:

‘Spending reductions and job cuts on the table as a number of councils across Scotland set their annual budgets.’ RS

The report on council budgets was reasonably balanced giving Swinney time to dispute the council threats of job losses as exaggeration and to refer to an English comparison where the UK Government’s austerity strategy is more damaging. However, as before, the initial perspective adopted by RS, is that of the councils, implicitly accepting their figures as factual when they are mostly propaganda. This obliges the Scottish Government to defend itself. Done repeatedly, this makes the council viewpoint appear the reasonable one and the SG actions seem an unfair or bullying attack. Further, RS seem to be hanging on to this negative thread longer than is seemly. STV have no doubt detected a grand ennui in their viewers on this topic. This really is Council TV.  STV were national politics-free thus perfectly balanced.

Friday 26th February:

The Lib Dem conference was the big political story of the day for both RS and STV. STV had a bit of wicked fun with Willie Rennie and remembered to mention their U-turn on fracking, now being in favour of it. The RS report was much less fractious and forgot to mention the fracking thing.

Monday 29th:

‘Younger people with neurological conditions are being cared for in old peoples’ homes according to one charity.’ RS

‘The plight of younger people being cared for in homes for the elderly because of a lack of suitable places to go.’ STV

The report from Sue Ryder covered by both STV and RS suggests serious problems for these sufferers. The report’s methodology is broadly valid and sort of reliable though with quite a high level of estimation, rather than actual collection, of data where figures are not provided. The situation in the other three UK NHs regions, judging by a recent House of Commons report (see below) seems equally if not more disappointing. However, the issue for politics, in Scotland, remains why are such negative stories disproportionately dominating news broadcasts when there are positive reports being regularly ignored? Why, for example, was the very positive report from the Royal College of Emergency Care not reported while numerous bad news stories of a less reliable form from the BMA and other charities, with limited research competence, were headlined? Taken over an extended period, which I will provide data for in late March, a determined strategy to cast doubt on the competence of the Scottish Government’s management of the SNHS, becomes obvious. The piece on the need for a charitable venture led figure-headed by a fine wee lad with only one leg, to buy a big new microscope for the Scottish NHS, can only have contributed to the negative climate. STV seem to miss a lot of these personalised and rarely contextualised stories of suffering and need. I doubt their compassion.

Both STV and RS gave considerable time to the EU referendum and to Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in London. Both reports were balanced and fair.

The return by RS to Ballater, however, was worthy only of the ‘Deeside Piper’. Some flooded residents who had clearly lied about their proximity to a river, to one insurer, were being rejected by the latter company. The Deeside Piper, local newspaper, missed this scoop right under their noses! Reporting Scotland tops Deeside Piper in Deeside Journalism Awards!  I feel sure local readers will have wanted to know which neighbours were daft enough to lie about proximity to a river. The extra water though may have helped the local ‘Ballater Beavers’ ASC in winning 28 medals, recently. If ever there was evidence the current BBC Scotland News team is not fit to run a Scottish 6, this was it. Further, no mention was made of the guaranteed £1 500 from the Scottish Government. This an old and titchy wee story that’s only purpose can be keeping the folk of Scotland thinking things have been bad ever since the SNP took control. Have ye noticed there have been mair slaters aboot the hoos since then, Agnes?

1st March 2017:

‘Balancing the benefits bill. With more powers coming to Holyrood, will it be a better deal for claimants?’

‘The political row over a new agency that will handle the benefits that will be devolved to Scotland.’

Go on guess which is the Reporting Scotland headline. It’s not a trick. It’s the second one of course. Propaganda students (more like graduates of the dark science these days after Ref1), note the problematizing of Scotland always so pleasing to RS. The full reports were similar at first but RS were to go on to add extended niggling by ‘opposition’ parties and explanation by Brains Taylor. So the RS piece ended up quite imbalanced in terms of the time allocated to the Scottish Government and in a lack of critique of the opposition parties’ lack of costed alternatives. The vocal tones were also, quite heavy, pessimistic and seemed at times contemptuous of the SG. That’s not scientific I know but other viewers will let me know what they think. STV’s reporter was, by contrast, non-judgemental, even slightly jocular, and did remind the viewer of the lack of alternatives from the opposition.

STV were to go on and spoil things with a too short and not well-evidenced or contextualised piece on cancelled SNHS operations, allowing ‘opposition MPs’ to be predictably ‘shocked’ at figures which might be bad or might be normal. Tell us please which it is STV. RS were to shock me with a short (too) piece, well after the headlines (bias by waiting and slipping in?) telling us the: ‘Scottish Government’s policies have helped to cut the amount of alcohol people in Scotland are drinking.’ Why didn’t Eleanor Bradford report this one?

2nd March:

‘The SNP is breaking a promise to scrap it!’

Both headliner reports on the plans to change the Council Tax were full of Kezia Dugdale bemoaning, again, the dastardly SNP. An Edinburgh prof called it ‘Council Tax with a few bells and whistles’ (Who amongst us could have come up with such forensic thinking and articulation?) and said people would protest. On STV, an estate agent said it would make no difference to people who can afford big houses anyway. The prof needs to gather some real evidence before predicting protest by people with AGAs, using their Range Rovers to block streets. Mind you, at Edinburgh schools, they already do block the streets twice a day. STV were, as before, to correctly remind viewers that the opposition have no developed plans.

Extra Extra:

I don’t do the newspapers but couldn’t help seeing the scandalous piece on mental health nursing by the Herald’s Helen Puttick. Here is my take on the alleged research she based her report on. I’ve already written to the Editor, to IPSO and to the research journal in question. It’s in full at:

Dr John, the Nightdribbler


House of Commons Report on Services to people with neurological conditions