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  By a Newsnet reporter

The Observer newspaper has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown after publishing an article based on what the paper claimed was a "recent" interview with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy.

Entitled "EU tells Alex Salmond to think again in Scottish independence row", the article claimed that Mr Van Rompuy had intervened in the Scottish independence debate and had "poured scorn" on the Scottish referendum.

Following complaints, the newspaper has been forced to amend the article and publish an explanation admitting mistakes in the original piece.

The article, by the paper's political editor Daniel Boffey, was written in such as way as to leave the reader with the clear impression that Mr Van Rompuy's comments represented a new intervention in the debate on Scottish independence and was an EU policy stance.  The article described the EU President's remarks as "a blow to Scotland's first minister".

However, Mr Van Rompuy's remarks were made in a personal capacity in response to a bizarre question that spoke of the "evil" of ending the United Kingdom.  The EC official was responding to a question from "Keith from Edinburgh" who asked: "What is your view on separatism in Europe, do you agree with Scottish nationalism and the evil work it portrays (sic) to end the United Kingdom?"

Worse for the newspaper, it also emerged that the video was not a "recent intervention", as claimed by Mr Boffey, but rather was 18 months old and had been made long before the Edinburgh Agreement between Holyrood and Westminster which established the legal basis to the referendum.

The article went on to assert that First Minister Alex Salmond had "erroneously claimed to have EU legal advice on the issue" of Scottish EU membership, despite the First Minister strenuously asserting he had done no such thing.

This paper's claims were further undermined last week when Scotland's top legal officer, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, sent a letter to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson saying that he backed the Scottish Governement over the issue of legal advice.  Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish also went on the record to state that he did not believe Mr Salmond had acted improperly.

The paper went on to say that "a former Whitehall mandarin has been asked to conduct an independent inquiry into whether Salmond misled Holyrood", implying that this investigation had been ordered by a third party.  However it was Mr Salmond himself who had asked for an investigation into whether he had indeed breached the ministerial code.  Mr Boffey's article made no mention of this fact.

A large number of reader comments were left in response to the article, several announcing their intention to make formal complaints to the Press Complaints Commission.  The paper has now published a revised version of the article, with the new headline "European chief pours scorn on Scottish independence".

Comparing a cached version of the article as originally published with the new version, shows the changes made.  

Old version:

"The comments will be a blow to Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, and emerge after the UK government reiterated that an independent Scotland would have to apply to the EU to become a new member state."

New version:

"The comments, which until now have not been widely publicised, emerge after the UK government reiterated that an independent Scotland would have to apply to the EU to become a new member state."

Old version:

"Salmond has claimed that Scotland would not have to leave the EU and even erroneously claimed to have had EU legal advice on the issue. However, it has since emerged that no such advice had been sought and a former Whitehall mandarin has been asked to conduct an independent inquiry into whether Salmond misled Holyrood and so breached the ministerial code."

New version:

"Salmond has faced accusations of lying on national television after appearing to tell the BBC in March this year that his law officers had provided legal advice that supported his claims about Scotland's EU status.  Salmond has asked an independent inquiry to investigate whether he misled Holyrood and so breached the ministerial code.  Salmond denies making the claim."

The Observer has published no apology for the misleading claims made in the original article, and has not given the altered version the same prominence as the original piece.  The newspaper has appended a statement to the altered article saying:

"This article was amended on 8 November 2012 to make it clear that the YouTube video featuring Herman Van Rompuy was made in June 2011. The original described it as 'recent'. It has also been changed to include First Minister Alex Salmond's denial of accusations that he made misleading remarks concerning legal advice on Scotland's EU membership and has asked an independent inquiry to investigate whether he misled Holyrood and so breached the ministerial code."

The changes to the article were made after readers' comments on the piece had been closed.

 

[Newsnet Comment - Criticisms have already been made of the coverage of the Scottish independence debate in the Observer and its sister paper the Guardian, with many complaining that editorials, opinion pieces and news reporting in the paper routinely misrepresent the independence case.

Another example of misleading reporting in the paper was an article from the Guardian series Reality Check - which bills itself as an objective analysis - that dealt with oil revenues.  The article, published in March this year, repeats the anti-independence claim that oil and gas revenues may be apportioned on a per capita basis, and presents this argument as equally likely an outcome as oil revenues being divided on a geographical basis.  

The paper says that on a geographic share, approximately 90% of North Sea oil revenues would accrue to an independent Scotland, however, the article adds: "If the calculation is done on the basis of population then that figure will be reduced to 9%."

The "per capita" argument is presented as equally plausible despite its being without any credible legal foundation.  Oil and gas, like any mineral deposits, are territorially determined.  A state accrues the revenues from all the mineral deposits lying within its territory.  For this purpose the territory of a state includes the continental shelf lying under the seabed off the country's coasts.]

This is all well established and non-controversial in international law, and in fact there is no other legally recognised basis for determining the apportioning of mineral reserves between states.  The Guardian's citing of the "per capita argument" as an equally possibly outcome is misleading, and creates doubt and uncertainty around an issue which ought to be transparent and obvious.]

Comments  

 
# dadsarmy 2012-11-11 07:21
Great analysis.

I posted the following under Daniel Boffey's latest article at 6.53, I wonder how long it'll be before it's moderated out:

---- part 1 ----------------------------
Is this article as accurate as the one last week? The one about Scottish Independence which the Observer has published a (inadequate) retraction?

guardian.co.uk/.../...

"EU chief tells Scotland to drop separatist agenda" (News last week, page 1, Scotland, later editions, page 4 and page 10) referred to a video made by EU president Herman Van Rompuy on the Scottish independence debate. During editing, it was described as "recent" but it was in fact made in June 2011 – hardly the "dramatic intervention" which we described. Apologies. Additionally, we failed to include First Minister Alex Salmond's denial of accusations that he made misleading remarks concerning legal advice on Scotland's EU membership.
 
 
# clootie 2012-11-11 07:27
The "per capita" argument is presented as equally plausible despite its being without any credible legal foundation.

As the old saying goes - "I'll see you in court"

International laws are long established. This type of threat is an insight into the unionist mindset. Does this mean we only own 9% of the water in Scotland. We only own 9% of the renewable energy sun, wind and tide.

What nonsense will they come up with next - we only own 9% of the air we breathe?
 
 
# dadsarmy 2012-11-11 07:40
---- part 2 ---------------------------
He has asked an independent inquiry to investigate whether he misled Holyrood and so breached the ministerial code."

The differences - and links - between the original and updated article are detailed at:

(link here)

Perhaps Daniel Boffey would publish a full apology in the Scottish Independence section of the Guardian where the article appeared, and make it open for comments to allow readers the chance to accept - or otherwise - his humble apology?

In the interests of fair, unbiased, impartial and open journalism of course
----------------------------------------
 
 
# fred56 2012-11-11 07:53
All the no campaign are doing is digging such a big hole for themselves, they wont have a problem hiding when the people realize the lies and deceit that is being told by the papers, the b.b.c, and our R.T honourable MPS.
 
 
# Marian 2012-11-11 08:30
The more I see the unionists and their acolytes at the BBC and in the so-called press rely on lying in order to defend the union the more I am convinced that independence is the right thing to do.

The problem with lying is that you have only to be caught doing it once for people to disbelieve everything you say after that.

In the unionists case their lying is on such a systematic and endemic scale that it can only be because they have nothing else in their cupboard to defend the union with.
 
 
# robert de brus 2012-11-11 08:31
Oil in the Scottish sector is Scottish because of two Continental Shelf Jurisdiction Acts signed in Geneva in 1964 and London in 1968. Those Acts clearly defined the boundaries of Scottish and English waters to determine which legal system would operate in the event of a dispute i.e. Scots Law or English Law.
 
 
# Angry_Weegie 2012-11-11 08:42
The Observer has published no apology for the misleading claims made in the original article, and has not given the altered version the same prominence as the original piece.

Surely this is the most important sentence. The Observer will not be bothered that the original article was wrong as they got the misinformation out. And even the revised version, though more factually correct, is certainly strongly biased in favour of unionist claims.
 
 
# colin8652 2012-11-11 09:34
I feel sorry for her Majesty. She will be so busy at the 2015 new years honors ceremony dishing out knighthoods and peerages that Cameron has no doubt promised to the news paper editors TV bosses and retail outlet executives who print rubbish, broadcast lies and who have flooded TV ads and programes with union flags
 
 
# weegie38 2012-11-11 11:35
I'm sure the Observer article originally credited Severin Carrell, too.
Given that very few journalists are actually employed as "Observer journalists" these days, I doubt Boffey would have done this on his own, anyway.
 
 
# Gogoh 2012-11-11 12:14
The damage has been done. We will be much wiser in the future about this so-called democracy, its mainstream media and freedom of speech etc, including "leftish" newspapers the Guardian and Observer, the latter, of course, a supporter of Blair's illegal war.
 
 
# Leswil 2012-11-11 12:57
ref the appropriation of gas and oil reserves in the waters of an Independent Scotland.

The Internationally recognised case is well known. Also this should cover the "annexed 6,000sq miles illegally ceded to England in order to cheat us out of some of our heritage.

This was done behind closed doors with Tony Blair, certain "Scottish" politicians and others. No act of parliament, no democracy, and was hidden from public view.

The Tory government who actioned the McCrone report was terrified the truth about oil and gas would come out, buried the report for 30 years.
Would they have been terrified if they had thought they could cheat with a population claim.

Er NO, they would have been smiling but they were close to crying. It tells me there is NO legal basis for a by population solution, for them.
 
 
# Marga B 2012-11-11 13:59
OT, but I regret to report that in a speech to Berliners, Ms Reding has again been giving her apparently unauthorised opinion that Catalonia and Scotland and any other new state would not have automatic entry to the EU but would have to apply for entry.

The fact that she did this the day after sensitive elections were called in Catalonia with the right to decide as the central issue is pretty poor behaviour.
 
 
# nationalcollective 2012-11-11 15:59
The full story about how The Observer was caught misreporting #IndyRef facts can be found here:

nationalcollective.com/.../...

nationalcollective.com/.../...

nationalcollective.com/.../...
 
 
# Boris Broon 2012-11-11 19:28
I've given up on the Graun/Observer being objective about matters Scottish. It's a sad state of affairs when Kevin McKenna, formerly a complete buffoon but lately verging on sanity, is starting to sound like the voice of reason.
 
 
# Rafiki 2012-11-11 20:32
OT I was in a Tesco's in EDinburgh yesterday and my wife bought a small bag of "British potatoes" There was a Union Jack on the pack.
On looking closer at it I discovered "grown in Morayshire" in the label.
Accidental?
 
 
# Silverytay 2012-11-11 20:58
Rafiki
I dont think it is accidental , everywhere you go these days you find discreet and some not so discreet union jacks .
It is the same with t.v programmes .
I think we are going to be subjected to this type of subliminal propaganda for the next 2 years .
 
 
# Angus 2012-11-12 07:48
Quoting Rafiki:
OT I was in a Tesco's in EDinburgh yesterday and my wife bought a small bag of "British potatoes" There was a Union Jack on the pack.
On looking closer at it I discovered "grown in Morayshire" in the label.
Accidental?

My wife pointed out the same thing, we can't buy much without the union flag being present, mainly bread and fruit and veg.
Farmers now have to be part of the UK Quality Assurance, and their mofiff is.. you guessed it, a Brit flag. Kind of reminds me of when Rover started sticking union flags on their cars, it gave out the wrong signal, and that the company is Brit Nationalist, which is an opposite type of nationalism we know of in Scotland. After WW2 Germany was made to stamp made in W.Germany on all its products, it was thought that this would reduce sales, it had the opposite effect and became a symbol of quality, unlike the Great British Rover etc.
 
 
# drumsmudden 2012-11-12 20:21
Considering what the owner of Tesco got up to in the past I am surprised that more people do not boycott them.
I see from their yearly results, that like me, an ever increasing number of folk are avoiding them like the plague.
 

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