Media watch: Unionist case tailored for TV rather than online news?

Nicola Sturgeon MSP

Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Number 6. 

Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign.

Thursday 11th to Wednesday 17th February

‘New Shetland gas fields ‘could supply whole of Scotland’ BBC Scotland………website only.

Dr John Robertson
Dr John Robertson

I don’t know if Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland repeated the above but it wasn’t on Reporting Scotland on Saturday 14th or Sunday 15th. We’ve seen this in the past. It’s a kind of deflection of news which is unwelcome to the Unionist position but which it would be dangerous for the BBC to suppress entirely.

Now, I’m not in possession of hard evidence on this but I think the online audience is already lost to the Unionist position while the 6.30 TV audience is older and still worth conserving for Unionism. Even on the website, you’ll have to search  for ‘gas’ to find it..

Thursday 11th February 2016:

STV News headlined with:

‘A group of abuse survivors is considering taking legal action against the Scottish Government.’1

Reporting Scotland had covered the same story the previous day (10th) and headlined it:

‘People who have suffered child abuse accuse the Education Secretary of becoming complicit in the cover up of offences by failing to widen a government inquiry.’

The RS piece was a disgraceful example of dishonesty in that the above accusation was not made by any identifiable person in the report. One had actually said:

‘Are they complicit? I couldn’t offer an opinion either way.’

I have written to complain about this case of deliberate lying, to Police Scotland, Ofcom, BBC Trust and others. Police Scotland told me instantly that it wasn’t a crime and refused to pass my complaint to an identifiable senior officer.

The STV report was, in sharp contrast, professional, clear, informative, balanced and truthful.

Both covered First Minister’s Questions in a fair and balanced way. Then RS went on to report three really positive pieces, about Cornton Vale women’s prison closing (Reevel Alderson, mature and empathetic), refugee doctor training and the progress at Dundee’s Waterfront. I don’t think I’ve seen a more positive edition.

Friday 12th:

New hardship fund for farmers hit by delays to farm payments.’ RS

‘Too little too late!’ STV

Both covered the story of delays in the payment of EU farm subsidies to Scottish farmers. Note the different tone of the headlines. With Sally Magnusson in the chair, the RS report was restrained. The STV report, by contrast, was full of dramatic lines like the headline and indignant farmers baying for blood – ‘We’ve been conned into a system.’ and ‘Someone’s got to take the rap for that!’ Now wait a minute, these are businessmen receiving a subsidy much criticised by many on the left. See this from ‘The Land is Ours’ in 2014, for example:

‘In recent years, the system of subsidies changed to one based on how much land is owned or cultivated, rather than the amount of crops produced. Under this change to a system called Single-Farm Payments, though effective in reducing over production, landowners now get paid for owning land. Landowners get between £60 & £90 per acre, with the only provision to maintain the land appropriately which currently amounts to occasional maintenance. Whereas the bulk of subsidies have always gone to those who own the most land, the reforms have intensified this situation. The CAP has also been monopolised by wealthy, landed interests, particularly in Britain where 2/3rds of its 60m acres are, rather amazingly, owned by only 0.26% of the population. Of that, the vast majority is owned by the even more astonishingly small number of just 1200 individuals. Some of the biggest recipients are able to use the money received to buy more land year-on-year and so get ever larger subsidies. Between 2005 and 2011 the number of landholdings in England fell by 10%, while the average size of holding rose by 12%. Landowning benefits of using land as an increasing store of wealth are obvious – farmland is exempt from inheritance tax so it pays to buy up farms to avoid tax.’

I appreciate there are small-scale farmers but the SG has arranged a £20m emergency fund. We must hope that delays or changes in paying welfare benefits are allowed such generous and uncritical coverage of self-righteous anger.

‘Accusations of children facing a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing qualified teachers in nurseries!’ STV

‘The number of qualified teachers working in nurseries has dropped substantially. That’s according to the EIS union.’ RS


The RS report was very short but the STV one allowed considerable opportunities for the EIS teachers’ union to frame the story. Remember the RCN and RCGP and the RCEM? Like them, despite the names, the EIS is a trades union committed to fulfilling its members’ aspirations. Its purpose and often its evidence will be partisan and perhaps not scientific. After more than 20 years in schools and in teacher education, I’m aware that nearly all of the staff in nurseries are ‘qualified.’ Many will have only the one –year HNC qualification but it is a very pre-school focused training. The BEd (Primary) held by the so-described and in short supply, ‘Qualified teachers’, is not a pre-school specialisation. Indeed, to my knowledge, BEd graduates may have only spent a few weeks in a pre-school setting, during only one term, with quite tokenistic assessment due to the quite distinct nature of pre-school and primary school settings. Some BEd graduates will have acquired the PGC in Early Education but they are very few in number, I’m sure, in the system.

Finally, for more than 10 years now, teacher education has offered a BA Childhood Studies which includes a great deal more experience and theorising of pre-school education than the BEd held by most ‘qualified teachers.’ Now, I’m fairly sure BA Childhood Studies graduates are not ‘qualified teachers’ with GTC registration and thus EIS membership. Were they counted as ‘unqualified’ in the EIS ‘research?’

Monday 15th:

STV’s broadcast had only one report relevant to the forthcoming election. That was a report on steel production which allowed Nicola Sturgeon to appear supportive and gave no opportunity for critics to suggest under-achievement by the SG.

RS reported sympathetically on the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee’s criticism of UK government policy on overseas graduates being obliged to leave Scotland after graduation thus depriving us of their talents. SNP MP Pete Wishart was given time to at least associate the sentiments with the SNP, primarily.

This was followed by an extended piece with Glenn Campbell on the Scottish budget settlement discussions. Glenn offered us a real insight saying: ‘The big dispute in all of this is about money!’ I’m glad that’s clear. So it’s not about the size of Nicola’s heels then? That’s what’s worrying me most at the moment. He also said that the Barnett formula was best explained by a visit to the barber’s, so he did. To be fair it was a self-deprecating piece where he and Magnus Gardham made right eejits of themselves for our pleasure. My pleasure was quite considerable I’m not ashamed to say. You need to watch it for its magnificent, Benny Hill-like, awfulness. It was so absurd, I completely missed the point.

Jackie Bird finished the story, compassionately, with ‘Nice one Glenn.’  There was a wee sting in the tail as we heard a preview of that night’s Scotland2016: ‘So does Scotland’s health service provide them (people with mental health problems) with good quality care?’ I didn’t watch it but hopefully it started with the news of the complete failure in the English system as a context for the debate in Scotland and as reported on BBC1.

The embarrassment of Glenn’s close shave was not to be the last such. Right at the close, Jackie was to flash her eyes suggestively sideways and cock her head coquettishly (?) at the young weather guy who has a bouffant non-receding barnet that Glenn could only dream of.

Tuesday 16th:

It was another quiet day on the pre-election front. Even Jackie Bird seemed to have controlled her fondness for the weather-guy. STV actually broadcast a very positive story for the image of the SNP/SG. This was a piece on two new and much improved ferries with SNP minister Derek McKay filmed ‘cutting’ the first piece of steel. Did RS miss this good news story because they couldn’t make up an ‘ah but’ tail for the story in time? Ah but: ‘Somebody has told the BBC that they’ve seen the full plans and they include ‘bathroom furniture’ made in China which will be too wee for some Scottish bums!’

Both reported on the planned extension of the working life of Torness nuclear power station, to 2030. Both were pretty uncritical pieces on alleged decisions to keep Torness open. Both missed the critical point made earlier by a prof on BBC 1, that actually it will the regulator who will decide if this can be done. On RS, we had Prof Paul Younger making a case for nuclear being required, the plant boss told us they would never do anything that wasn’t safe and a green representative got a wee chance to criticise. There was no mention of reports in for, example, the BBC website, the Herald and the Scotsman newspapers of leaks, accidents and investigations at Torness in 2005, 2011 and 2015, or of the 2010 incident at Hunterston B, reported in the Daily Record. To mention the Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents would have been, of course, evidence of tree-hugging, extremist propaganda.

Wednesday 17th:

 ‘We know that some people (mental health sufferers) wait a long time in Scotland.’ 

Go on guess who said that? I know it was easy – Eleanor Bradford, Health Correspondent, BBC Scotland.  Was it true? Yes it probably was as far as it vaguely goes – ‘some people’, ‘a long time’ –  but she then went on to state evidence-free that things were either better or usefully, unknown, about the rest of the UK .

The bad bits were attached like a bee-sting to an otherwise good news story about an apparently very-effective online, CBT-based, support package for mental health sufferers. The one user reporting loved it and had been transformed by it.

The slideshow opened accurately and sadly with: ‘More than 1 in 5 adults wait longer than 18 weeks’ and ‘more than 1 in 4 adolescents wait longer than 18 weeks’. This slide was sourced as ‘ISD Scotland.’ The url for the full report is below.

 ‘Northern Ireland is doing better with nearly everyone seen in 9 weeks.’


This slide was unsourced. I looked and looked and could only find intentions and no actual results like those suggested by Bradford – nearly everyone? Does she mean 99%? I found this: ‘In Northern Ireland, at least 80% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, and no patient waiting longer than 15 weeks.’ in a House of Commons Briefing Paper for September 2015 and this in the Guardian: ‘Northern Ireland: Mental health services are woefully inadequate.’

I give up. Somebody ask Eleanor where she got it from. Either way it should be sourced in the presentation!

‘In Wales adults wait much longer but children are seen more quickly.’

Again there was no source so I had to dig around and again I couldn’t find anything like that.

‘In England they’re only just starting to measure waits and haven’t published any data yet.’

Ah, so we can’t compare the Scottish system with the English one then? Wait, though, hasn’t there been some interesting media comment we could use as context for the Scottish figures? I’m thinking of the report on BBC 1, from the King’s Fund think tank:

The average maximum wait for a community mental health team appointment is 30 weeks.’ 

And this from the English NHS Mental Health Taskforce:

‘Three quarters of people with mental health problems receive no support at all. Among those who are helped, too few have access to the full range of interventions recommended by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), including properly prescribed medication and psychological therapy.’

So that was one reference/source for several slides. I’ve only recently finished marking 3rd and 4th Year BA (Hons) Journalism students’ presentations. Only one source, instant fail! Does Eleanor have a degree? If so was it a Geoff Hurst, an Attila the Hun, a Desmond Tutu or a Jackie Bird?

Jamie McIvor: council cuts
Jamie McIvor: council cuts


We then had a special, again, on council cuts to services. This piece was classic scaremongering aimed at the elderly and young parents. We had prolonged maudlin images of the infirm and elderly and their special bus service, which at the beginning of the report was under threat (maybe) and a few minutes later would probably get a reprieve. It’s a miracle! Well done St Jamie McIvor and the BBC. Then we heard of cuts to 170 jobs, to school librarians and school dinner prices going up (maybe) 5%. These were non-stories dug up to try and save the Labour Party in May.

STV had a piece about the funding of the Scottish NHS but it was fairly balanced if a little deferential to the BMA as a source of evidence.


The Land Is Ours (2014) at:

New Shetland gas fields ‘could supply whole of Scotland’


Accidents at Torness and Hunterston:

A recent overview at Bella Caledonia: