Reporting the Run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in 2016: STV and BBC Scotland News: Number 7. Dr John Robertson continues his analysis of TV news coverage of the Scottish election campaign.
Thursday 18th to Wednesday 24th February 2016
A thought has just occurred to me. Why does BBC Scotland delete Reporting Scotland recordings from their website after only 24 hours? Last year you could access up to seven days of reports. Say you were trying to do research, legitimately, you’d have to record them on a digital box or transcribe every day. Odd isn’t it? What’s the hurry? Are they trying to get away with something? I’ve got two digital boxes! Is that a knock at the door? Two ‘bobbies’ ask if I’ve been illegally recording ‘news porn’ featuring ‘stars’ Jackie, Eleanor and Glenn? This could be the end of my career. Oh no, wait a minute, it already has ended, phew!
Thursday 18th February:
‘Health professionals are warning the funding gap in the NHS must be addressed.’ STV
As so often before in scare stories about the Scottish NHS, the ‘evidence’ comes from the BMA, a trades union biased strongly in favour of its members’ interests and thus a completely unreliable source. All we heard was one health professionals’ representative announce the crisis, entirely unchallenged by the STV reporter. The report was, despite this, balanced.
Reporting Scotland’s only politically relevant piece was a very fair piece on TATA Steel’s buyout which, indeed, gave the Scottish government (SG) credit for its financial role in keeping the plant in a condition fit to be taken over.
Again, with Sally Magnusson in the chair, as on the previous evening, the reporting was fair and balanced. There were two entirely balanced pieces on the Forth Road Bridge re-opening and on the Fiscal Settlement with Westminster. Jackie Bird, Glenn Campbell and Eleanor Bradford were missing. Am I imagining this? Does their presence bring Unionist/Labour sympathies, conscious or unconscious to the reporting? I have no empirical evidence.
STV did only a similarly balanced piece on the Forth Road Bridge.
STV’s report on the EU and a possible second independence referendum was fair and balanced. Their report on the re-opening of the Lamington viaduct was likewise untainted by unnecessary hyperbolic constructed drama:
‘A key rail service between England and Scotland has fully re-opened following the completion of repairs to the flood damaged line. West coast mainline services were disrupted when Storm Frank left the Lamington viaduct in Dumfries and Galloway close to collapse on Hogmanay.’
In sharp contrast, the RS report was overdone and exaggerated. The headline, ignoring the fact of early re-opening, ahead of schedule, was: ‘After two months of disruption the west coast railway line fully re-opens after repairs to a storm-damaged viaduct are completed.’ This was followed by an extended piece replete with bad vibes in terms such as: ‘almost two months!’, ‘close to collapse’, ‘first time in seven weeks’, ‘never got back to the Wednesday’. This allowed the story to make a mountain out of an embankment. This story is so old and so over-done. STV’s short update was quite enough thank you. The best comment of the report was the doom-filled-balloon-busting remark from one true gentleman who said with a twinkle in his eye: ‘I did enjoy the travel on the other route.’
While I remember who said: ‘close to collapse’? Is this another wee fib inserted to make you think, subliminally perhaps, that things in SNP Scotland are going to hell in a handbasket, so to speak? You might remember RS earlier suggesting with a form of words that someone had ‘allowed’ a train to cross, knowing (implied) that it was unsafe when they could not have known anything at all.
On the EU debate, RS was to give more time to Cameron, to UKIP and to an unconvincingly ‘excited’ Kezia Dugdale with less time to the SNP in Westminster, than did STV. The local pundits in the street were especially fun. One young man admitted knowing little about the EU and then, bordering on indignation, said ‘it needs to be addressed.’ I agree. Away and read about it yourself! I suppose if I were for leaving, I might find RS biased against that. I’m not, so I leave that task to someone else.
To be fair, as I must, there was a nice very wee piece, near the end mind you, about the success of the Scottish Government’s Island’s Area Ministerial Working Group. Why wasn’t this report a headline story, I wonder? Given Reporting Scotland’s demographic, many will have dozed off before hearing this.
The STV report on the Fiscal framework deal report was fair and balanced. Reporting Scotland called it a ‘last-minute deal’, Jackie said hammily and wearily: ‘but it’s taken sooohme time’ and Brian sneaked in a wee ‘reliant on the rest of the UK.’
‘The North Sea is at the edge of a chasm with nearly half of all fields facing unprofitability and exploration at an all-time low. The industry body Oil and Gas UK said that after the collapse in oil price less than a billion pounds will be spent on new projects this year.’
This was the STV headline and RS were to repeat the chasm metaphor. Neither STV nor RS accurately quoted the two linked sentences finishing the report on an optimistic note:
‘We are an industry at the edge of a chasm. This report can provide the insights to help bridge to an enduring future.’
The full report which is, of course, much more positive than these two lightweight broadcasts, can be read in full at the link below. As often before, these were very one-sided reports based on the unspoken assumption that low oil prices are somehow bad for the whole economy when they are demonstrably not. RS were to add length and melodrama to the imbalance.
‘The troubles besieging Scotland’s oil and gas industry have been well-documented recently well now a key report confirms that exploration is at an all-time low and investment is facing collapse.’
Then we heard ‘crisis’, ‘difficult days still lie ahead’, ‘having to scramble to save money’, ‘plummeting oil prices’ yet a chief executive seemed quite calm and he showed no sign of scrambling at all. We had Ian Wood again but not his calming words about the future that STV seemed to catch. The report went on and on, for eight minutes (!), digging out and dwelling on individual stories, to somehow suggest these were evidence of wider patterns. Where are the statistics? Were these examples in what Jackie Bird described as a ‘key report’? No. The reference is below.
Most striking in these reports, was the failure of both STV and RS to remind us of the very recent discovery by Total: ‘New Shetland gas fields ‘could supply whole of Scotland’ BBC Scotland……… website only.
Here’s what Kevin McKenna said in January 2016 about how dependent the Scottish economy is (not) on oil and gas:
‘Thankfully, it does not. Even without oil, Scotland’s GDP per head is less than 1% lower than the rest of the UK’s. Scotland is simply fortunate that it is one of only a favoured few countries that possess oil wealth, which has, at various points over the last 40-odd years, been, by turn, gargantuan, merely massive or disappointingly plentiful, as it is now.‘
Finally, what if we were to wait four or five years, patiently? See this in The Week from January 2016:
‘Looking further ahead, Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Italian oil group Eni, said retrenchment in the oil industry would create shortages of supply in the longer term. This in turn might cause sharp price rises in four or five years’ time. Between 2010 and 2014 the price was relatively stable, at $110 per barrel – but Brent crude has now fallen to around $48. Descalzi said if Opec did not cut supplies, the next spike in prices might see oil top $200 a barrel.’
So, BBC, this was overlong and very heavily imbalanced.
‘No ifs, no buts, no SNP cuts! Protests outside but inside Holyrood the budget passes with an extra £80 million pounds for education.’ RS
‘Swinney, Swinney, out out!’ STV
RS and STV opened with this, dutifully filming quite a small flash-mob of trades unionists, councillors and Labour MSPs, outside Holyrood, and repeating; ‘No ifs no buts no SNP cuts!‘ Leaving aside the undue prominence of the protest in these reports they were balanced and with no sneaky digs slipped in. I gather from the Evening Times, that there were ‘more than a hundred!’ Wow! Thousands of jobs are at risk from ‘SNP cuts’ and that many turned up? The term ‘SNP cuts’, I think, reveals the narrow range of the support.
RS followed this by yet another extended story on mental health waiting times with only one sufferer making up bulk of the story and then we heard that NHS 24 was dysfunctional, again. Here’s what I think. The RS team don’t give a damn for any of these people. They’ll use any story they can in their desperate attempts to undermine the Scottish Government. They ran an extended series of Health crises and concocted a dangerously provocative survey of racism in Scotland before the last General Election and, this time around, will present alleged crisis after crisis in the Scottish NHS despite the latter’s objective superiority over the rest of the UK. It’s shameful. STV seem to be missing a lot of these stories. Why would that be? Maybe they’re not on Labour’s early warning system?
McKenna, K (2016) Guardian: Scots shouldn’t be fooled by the oil-price naysayers at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/16/scotland-oil-price-slump-snp-forecasts-critics
Oil & Gas UK Activity Survey 2016 at: https://cld.bz/ZeawJCe#2/z