TV campaign: Contrary use of language by news channels


Dr John Robertson delivers part 4 of his analysis of TV News coverage of the Scottish election campaign. This report covers the period from thursday January 28 to Wednesday February 3.

I don’t usually do bias by omission because it’s too hard to demonstrate anything scientifically. They can always say, ‘Oh we had bigger stories to cover’ or ‘We didn’t receive that’ and you can’t easily prove they’re lying. However look at this:

‘The UK has the best A&E performance in the world (measured by process indicators). Scotland has the best A&E performance among the UK nations.’


Dr John Robertson
Dr John Robertson

This was released on 27th January as: ‘PRESS STATEMENT – For immediate release RCEM Scotland launches Essential Facts regarding A&E services in Scotland’ with the above quote clearly stated on page two. Now this is from one of the royal colleges. Reporting Scotland and STV have regularly headlined bad news from the Royal College of Nurses and the Royal College of General Practitioners in the last few weeks and consistently, in the case of RS, in the run-up to the last election. Neither STV nor RS gave this any attention yet it’s clearly big news. What’s wrong with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine then? Just telling a story the MSM don’t want you to hear, I think. For Unionist party sympathisers in the mainstream media, the Scottish NHS is an issue they will go for, regardless of the evidence.

Thursday 28th January: 

‘Leader of Glasgow City Council accuses Finance Secretary of using ‘mafia-style’ tactics to push through his budget.’

This is going to be fun. Consiglio Comunale Capo, Francesco Machiavelli (can I say this Ed?) compares Minister di Finanza, Giovanni Porco with the Scotia Nostra. Machiavelli goes on to compare the Finance Minister to Don Corleone making ‘offers you can’t refuse’ to the innocents of COSLA. The actual report is quite balanced and fair though of no interest whatsoever to Reporting Scotland.

Older readers will be chuckling at the suggestion of West of Scotland Labour calling other folk ‘mafia-like’. A quick Google of ‘Glasgow Labour Party Mafia’ and you’ll be rewarded with endless tales of alleged corruption.

RS stewarded by Magnusson was a pretty balanced and quite sunny show with nothing to get worried about really. The only thing was, and I know it’s probably nothing, but STV referred to: ‘Scottish and Westminster governments’ funding the oil industry while RS said: ‘UK and Scottish governments.’

Friday 29th January:

‘It’s also my view that most of the austerity is caused by George Osborne’s cuts. I don’t see how you can cut the Scottish Block Grant, year-on-year since 2008 and that doesn’t have an impact on what’s happening in Scotland.’ (A SNP COSLA member in an STV interview).

‘The Scottish Government claims it has protected councils from the worst of what it calls ‘the Westminster cuts.’ (A Reporting Scotland reporter in a studio interview.)

Both STV and RS featured this story on the negotiations between the Scottish government and the local councils over budget allocations for next year. Note the differences. STV allow, for balance, an SNP council leader to remind the viewers of the underlying cause of austerity in Scotland. RS, in contrast, refer to the same issue in terms designed to question the SG position – ‘claims it has’ and ‘what it calls.’ Don’t we all call them ‘the Westminster cuts?’ Isn’t that objectively what they are? Isn’t there real evidence of the SG government protecting councils against the full effects of the austerity cuts as felt in England? Bedroom tax is surely one area. Similarly, RS headlined with ‘The bitter row…’ while STV opened with ‘COSLA voted to reject…’. Which version do you find the more professional?

Now I know these, on their own, might mean little but when they’re recurring phenomena as I have demonstrated repeatedly over two years now, then they add up to propaganda, conscious or subconscious, in its production.

Monday 1st February:

Scottish police advise US officers on alternatives to shooting unarmed people.’

Is that a headline or is that a headline? It’s from the Independent, last night (1st Feb) US cops killing civilians at a disgraceful level has been all over the BBC this last year or two. Sky News had a feature on it repeated throughout the day (1st Feb). The training had finished with a conference on Friday 29th January. Virtually every major UK and Scottish newspaper reported. It was all over international media and alternative media. Police Scotland generally receives a lot of attention from Reporting Scotland and the Labour Party and had it all over their websites. You just need to Google ‘Scots cops train US cops’ and you’ll see it’s a global story. Try inserting BBC or STV in the search terms and see what difference it makes. It was in the New York Times and the Washington Post, for goodness sake. Reporting Scotland and STV News missed it. It’s not even on their websites as far as I can see. For more than a year we’ve had endless bad news stories about Police Scotland, so why was this not a story? Good news about Police Scotland and by association the Scottish Government; why might that be low on the BBC/STV agenda?

OK, enough bias by omission. They’ll have an excuse. What they did broadcast of particular interest to the forthcoming election was mainly around the negotiations over the Scottish budget. The STV report was balanced and clear with, even, you might argue a little empathy for the SG case in phrases like:

‘A transfer of powers that we hope to see.’

‘It (Treasury offer) could be compared with sale of a highly polished car but if there’s no engine it’s useless.’

‘The negotiations were led by John Swinney.’

Brian Taylor: conversion to neddo?
Brian Taylor: conversion to neddo?

Reporting Scotland’s Brain Taylor, he of uszuallee precissse dixsceon, had mutated into a ned:

‘The Treasury tabled a new offer. The Scottish Government said, naa, no thanks, not good enough!’

Was that a ‘good enough’ explanation of what the SG didn’t like in the offer, or was it none at all? Then:

‘In response,  the Scottish Government tabled an offer that revised their position as well, that said if the Westminster Government increases the tax level for England alone, then has (unclear) no impact upon Scotland, no cross-border impact. The SG said naaa, no thanks, still not good enough!’

I’m confused, the SG said ‘naa’ to its own offer? Can anyone imagine John Swinney saying ‘naa’ in the Treasury offices? Brains, this is far from ‘good enough’.

STV also allowed us to see Nicola walking confidently (kind of) into a foyer and announced: ‘A new £12 million fund to help people who face losing their jobs in oil and gas, to gain new skills, is being set up by the Scottish Government.’ I can hear Kezia saying ssssssssssssshhhh! I hate those big heels Nicola. Arthritis beckons. Certainly did for me.

Tuesday 2nd:

‘New figures suggest emergency departments in Scottish hospitals recorded their best December performance in recent years. 95% of people were dealt within the Scottish Government target of 4 hours. It’s the best performance in Scotland since 2009. Figures for the rest of the UK are released at different times but overall, Scot emergency departments are treating people more quickly than in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.’

SC_2colThe above announcement came seven minutes into the Reporting Scotland edition starting at 6.30pm. It was made by Jackie Bird and not Health Correspondent, Eleanor Bradford, who commonly reports on more negative performances in Scotland’s A&E departments. Bird’s presentation was odd, her face fixed and sort of clenched between a smile and a frown, her eyes staring distantly in the way you might do when speaking to someone important you really don’t like but daren’t offend. Her tone, too, was almost cheerful but just short of it. Surely it was good news and worth one of Jackie’s quite frequent grins, at other times? Maybe readers with more insight into psychology and body language can enlighten me, if they saw it. More objectively, where was the health correspondent? This is her core ground and she has faithfully informed us of poor A&E performance over a long time. Most striking, why wasn’t this one of the three headline stories? Further, and I really don’t know what to think of this, why was it ‘Emergency Departments’ and not the usual ‘A&E’? I haven’t checked back but don’t they usually talk about a crisis in A&E? ‘Emergency Department’ is a strange and incomplete label. Finally, where is the obvious link between the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s assertions that Scottish A&E is the ‘best in the world?’

‘The UK has the best A&E performance in the world (measured by process indicators). Scotland has the best A&E performance among the UK nations.’

RS announced: ‘Labour call for a 1% income tax to avoid cuts to services.’ The story was covered in a fairly balanced way by both STV and RS. Only one thing triggered my senses, ever so gently. RS announced that the increase would be: ‘to avoid cuts to services.’ Shouldn’t it have been ‘to avoid, they say, cuts to services’ or something like that?

Finally, RS headlined with yet another North Sea Oil in crisis story: ‘Can we learn from what happened 30 years ago?’ What was the reason for this report? STV missed it. What was its news value? Was there any?

In the main report we heard: ‘BP says it’s shedding up to 3 000 more jobs from its operations across the world.’ This led to an extended piece on the negative aspects only of lower fuel prices. There was no connection made, despite it being the very next story, with the rather obvious economic benefits of low fuel prices for consumers, especially the fuel poor, or for other sectors in the economy. Remember this by Alex Russell, professor of petroleum accounting at Robert Gordon University: ‘Scottish independence: Low oil prices would have been of benefit to an independent Scotland.’

And today, from George Monbiot: ‘We’re drowning in cheap oil – yet still taxpayers prop up this toxic industry.’ Is it too dangerous politically for the SNP to reduce its support for NS Oil and to make much more of the other benefits of low fuel prices for the majority of Scots?

Wednesday 3rd:

The Scottish Government is forced to suspend downgrading the ambulance response times to people reporting heart attack symptoms.’ STV at 6pm

The Scottish Ambulance Service is forced to postpone plans to downgrade certain kinds of 999 calls.’ Reporting Scotland at 6.30pm

No, I’m not being pedantic! The first quote is wrong and potentially damaging of the SG’s reputation in a key area for voters. Both reports were of really quite poor information value.

The STV report gave a early opportunity for the Labour spokesman to say: ‘This could cause lives. The ambulance service is under pressure, has failed to recruit paramedics….the government have failed to develop the ambulance service in the way it should be developed.’ Then a representative of Heart and Stroke Association further flegged this 64 year-old and perhaps his 85 year-old mum, if she was watching. We then hear that: ‘The Chief Medical Officer stepped in after hearing of the plans. Plans have come to the attention of Scotland’s top doctor.’ She then says calmly: ‘I just need to have further time to discuss with the ambulance service about the detail.’ Are STV suggesting she might not have been consulted? Really?

Interestingly, Reporting Scotland’s Bradford describes the response categories as ‘A, B, C’ while STV had them as ‘Red and Orange.’ Let’s hope the ambulance drivers know what it is. Again, the Chief Medical Officer seems pretty relaxed and saying that she doesn’t mind them being reviewed as both treatment and response times have improved. Bradford of course contradicts this by suggesting the 75% in 8 minutes target had been failed last year before going on to tell us, smiling, of the new Welsh system. Yes, the Welsh system.

Neither STV nor RS think to mention the contextual fact of Scotland’s A&E system being reported as the best in the world, by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. The reference is below.

Remember the world-wide reporting on Police Scotland training US cops to kill less often? The reference to the Sky TV report is below. Reporting Scotland had a big piece on Police Scotland. Was it that? Of course it wasn’t. Good news about Police Scotland is good news for the Scottish Government. It was this:

‘The police are there to help us when we’re wronged but what happens when police are at fault?  One of the country’s most experienced lawyers in personal injury claims has accused Police Scotland of doing anything to avoid paying compensation after incidents where its officers are to blame.’

This was part of a very badly evidenced story. One lawyer and one case provided the only  bases for these accusations. Lawyer Patrick McGuire repeatedly reminded us that this was based entirely on this own experience. He may well be: ‘one of the country’s most experienced lawyers in personal injury claims’ but so could another hundred of them be ‘one of them’ for all we know. This is not evidence of any reliability and we have to wonder why on earth the editor approved it. Further the case study used to exemplify Police Scotland’s alleged tendency was of a driver in Bo’ness who had pulled out, turning right, in front of an allegedly speeding police pursuit car, leading to a collision. The young driver had been charged by the police and the case found ‘not proven.’ Despite the ‘not proven’ verdict, RS then allowed the driver to claim: ‘It’s been proven in court. It wasn’t my fault.’ This too is shoddy. Finally, the reporter tells us that:

‘In last three years, Police Scotland has paid out £633 035, in compensation. But that’s dwarfed if you look at the London Metropolitan Police; in just one year over they paid out 1.8million’.

I’m running out of steam so perhaps a kindly reader will have a go at these statistics. At first sight it seems to me that Police Scotland’s territory is so dramatically different from that of the London Met that comparisons would not be valid.

OK another five evenings and still regular wee incidents of bias and imbalance showing. I’m off to the pub in two hours and I still have to walk the dog.

Dr John, 4th February, 2016

Footnote: I’m getting some really useful comments below my recent reports. Of course, all the responses are great – informative, funny, warm, cheeky, passionate or angry – it’s just that some are kind-of reports in themselves, packed with evidence and links. So, you can obviously read them all by staying within and looking back down the list but if you’re in a hurry to see the bigger pieces, they’re in shorter form at my blog –


Monbiot G (2016) We’re drowning in cheap oil – yet still taxpayers prop up this toxic industry,  at:

Royal College of Emergency Medicine (2016) PRESS STATEMENT – For immediate release RCEM Scotland launches Essential Facts regarding A&E services in Scotland  at:

Russell, A. (2015) Scottish independence: Low oil prices would have been of benefit to an independent Scotland at:

skyNEWS (2016) Scots Police Teach US Cops How To Avoid Gun Use at: