By a Newsnet reporter
A year-long academic study carried out by researchers at a Scottish university has revealed that both the BBC and STV have been favouring the No campaign in their TV news coverage of the independence referendum.
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of the West of Scotland, found that an overwhelming number of news items were styled in a manner the research team concluded was favourable to the anti-independence campaign.

The research, which covered the period from September 2012 to September 2013, took in 730 hours of early evening TV news coverage broadcast by the BBC and STV.  The results revealed the No campaign benefited by a ratio of 3:2.

According to a report written by Dr John Robertson who headed the team, the simple numerical preponderance of anti-independence statements over pro-independence statements on Reporting Scotland and STV News, was clear.

The study revealed:

  • Reporting Scotland broadcast 272 news items deemed favourable to the No campaign against only 171 favourable to Yes.  STV was only marginally less biased with the 255 for No and 172 for Yes.
  • Statements which made use of academic, scientific or ‘independent’ evidence favoured the No campaign by 22 to 4 on BBC Scotland and by 20 to 7 on STV.
  • Personalising independence arguments as being the wishes of Alex Salmond appeared 35 times on BBC and 34 times on ITV with no such personalisation of any of the No campaign’s arguments.
  • Broadcasts containing language that was considered insulting to independence campaigners occurred on 18 times on both BBC Scotland and STV but language interpreted as insulting to pro-Union campaigners appeared only 3 times on each broadcaster’s news reports.
  • Finishing a broadcast item with anti-independence claims which were unchallenged happened 28 times on BBC Scotland and 34 times on STV whilst ending items with unchallenged pro-independence claims occurred only 8 times and 17 times respectively.

Commenting on the over representation of anti-independence news items, writing in his report, Dr Robertson said: “One obvious explanation lies in the editorial decision to allow all three anti-independence parties to respond to each SNP statement creating an unavoidable predominance of statements from the former even when these were kept short.”

The study found that many broadcasts focussed heavily on economic matters with Trident, Energy and Financial Institutions cited as examples.

Health-related matters were the other dominant theme according to the report which highlighted a lack of balance:

“For example, on 27/9/12 the case of a Scottish patient seeking free cancer drug treatment only available in England was highlighted and linked to the relative lack of GP control in Scotland.  This began a mini-series of reports on alleged failings in the Scottish NHS by Reporting Scotland reporters and by Labour spokespersons.  No balancing cases were reported of a flow in the other direction although such did appear in the popular press.” the report said.

The report also noted the tendency of broadcasters to omit the links to UK Government of some organisations and groups whereas in cases where groups had links to the Scottish Government, the links were made clear.

“The use of evidence from sources other than the parties themselves and which might be presented as ‘independent’, ‘academic’ or ‘scientific’ is a measure of quality in political debate.

“Notably, there was very little use of such evidence in the reporting overall and, where there was, there was clear tendency to use anti-independence over pro-independence evidence.  

“Though a rare phenomenon overall, reporting tended to link pro-independence evidence from Scottish Government sponsored committees to their sponsorship while UK advisory groups such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, The Institute for Fiscal Studies and several Parliamentary, Treasury, or House of Lords committees were typically treated as independent despite linkages to UK government and other government departments or units with a vested interest in the union.

“Indeed the IFS was referred to as a ‘well-respected think tank’ (Reporting Scotland, 19/11/12) whereas a Glasgow University academic was ‘outed’ as having been ‘bought’ by the SNP to support the independence case (Reporting Scotland, 21/8/13).

On the tendency to personalise the case for independence using Alex Salmond, the report said:

“Personalisation of political issues is long-established strategy to weaken arguments, shifting focus from collective reasoning or shared values to supposed personal desires and personality traits.  Historically, this tendency or strategy has been used to demonise and to undermine numerous political figures in the UK including Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.”

Dr Robertson added: “Comparing Reporting Scotland with STV News, the former seems less balanced and fair to the Yes campaign if only in the tendency to give pro-independence statements a greater frequency of opening and closing debates.  Overall, however, both feature a preponderance of anti-independence statements, a majority of anti-independence evidence and a heavy personalisation of the debate around the character of Alex Salmond with the latter often portrayed as selfish and undemocratic.”

The report concluded: “So, on the objective evidence presented here, the mainstream TV coverage of the first year of the independence referendum campaigns has not been fair or balanced.  Taken together, we have evidence of coverage which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign.”

The study results will prove embarrassing for BBC Scotland and comes only days after the corporation was found to have misled viewers over a broadcast item on Reporting Scotland.

Following an investigation into a news report that appeared on Reporting Scotland last year, the BBC Trust found BBC Scotland guilty of having broken editorial guidelines on accuracy after the news item suggested Irish Minister Lucinda Creighton believed a newly independent Scotland would lose its EU membership.

Ms Creighton subsequently denied having made any such suggestion.  There was further anger when BBC Scotland employed a news blackout of the Irish Minister’s claims that her words had been “misconstrued” and “misrepresented”.

The reporter responsible for the erroneous broadcast, Raymond Buchanan, resigned from BBC Scotland days before the Trust confirmed it would investigate the matter.

Both the academic study and the ruling by the BBC Trust will be seen as vindication by many independence supporters who have long believed that some at the BBC, at least in Scotland, are working to an anti-independence agenda.

Although not as bad an offender according to the study, the report will also make uncomfortable reading for Scottish Television Chiefs.


2014-01-19 00:50

Looks like an extremely detailed and thorough study.

Of course, it only sums up what most people already know – but now there is solid proof, it can’t just be written off as cybernat paranoia.

272:171 ratio for Reporting Scotland is appalling for a so called impartial organisation.
2014-01-19 01:15

It will be interesting to see what, if anything the msm does about reporting this. I trust that copies of the report will be slammed down on the desks of the BBC Trust and the Electoral Commission
2014-01-19 01:27

It is high time the Scottish Government stepped in to control this imbalanced material from both BBC and STV.

The commercial channel is not dependent, nor draws from the public purse and is akin to the virtually feral MSM press for accountability and morality – but the BBC is a public broadcaster, legally obliged to be funded by the Scottish public and is not an arm of the UK establishment.

Let’s hope this academic research will be enough bounce the Scottish Government into action.
2014-01-19 01:31

BBC Scotland are a disgrace.

And a law unto themselves.
2014-01-19 02:09

Another aspect of bias not apparently included in the study is the non-reporting of news which could be seen as favourable to the Yes camp. Difficult to quantify, but important nonetheless.

Also, did the study weight the results by amount of time devoted to individual stories? And/or their prominence in the news items (headline, versus story number 4)?
2014-01-19 05:15

A very timely and significant report and findings based on a huge body of evidence analysed scientifically . Well done. The results and conclusions are clear. Its amazing that BBC and STV probably think we would not notice.

Based on this evidence should we not be looking to crowd fund a legal challenge to the BBC and STV on the basis of breach of their charters? We cannot just let this situation continue. If we just ignore it they will be emboldened and it will get even worse.

The observation on the personalisation on Alex Salmond and its effects politically as a strategy is especially telling. If there is God forbid a NO I think this would be the main and only reason. It would signal that democracy as we used to imagine it will have died in Scotland.
Chris Jack
2014-01-19 05:37

This seems like a very interesting report.

I suggest that all those who read this and are concerned submit a complaint to the BBC at:…/…

and e-mail STV at:

2014-01-19 13:03

Great idea Chris.

Do you by chance have a template email we might replicate and send for this purpose?

I don’t ask through laziness I might add! I just thought it’d be better if we emailed the same formatted complaint for ease of use amongst members, and fellow Facebookers.

Cheers 🙂

2014-01-19 08:18

Just as the YES campaign suspected. The issues raised by this report should be taken on board when any interviews are given to the two offending organisations.
2014-01-19 08:49

Re Reporting Scotland and health reporting, here’s one example I wrote about for Bella.…/…
2014-01-19 09:23

Today’s Observer is reporting that Dame Janet Smith’s impending report will be a damning exposure of the BBC’s institutional complicity in the Jimmy Saville affair that the State propaganda broadcaster will find very hard to bury this time – see…/…

“A source close to the inquiry told the Observer: “The numbers are shocking. Many hundreds and potentially up to 1,000 people were victims of Savile when he was representing the corporation. The report will overshadow Pollard. It will go right to the heart of how Savile was able to get away with the most heinous of crimes under the very noses of BBC staff for more than 40 years.”

The sheer scale of victims’ testimonies being examined has delayed the publication of Smith’s report by a month.”
2014-01-19 09:44

“Finishing a broadcast item with anti-independence claims which were unchallenged happened 28 times on BBC Scotland and 34 times on STV whilst ending items with unchallenged pro-independence claims occurred only 8 times and 17 times respectively.”

That is a shocking statistic, never mind the principle of ending a news programme with such subjective and one-sided sign offs.
2014-01-19 09:47

Anyone in the audience of next Thursday’s BBC Question Time @ Dundee –…/b03sfvg8 – could do worse than asking a question on this report.

EDIT: WoS have now found the PDF at …/FairnessInTheFirstYear.pdf
It’s only 11 double-spaced A4 pages but should be a must read for anyone who cares about fairness and honest reporting – so not the BBC Trust, I fear.

O/T another good question might be to ask what hope is there of Devo-more when the Welsh (Labour) FM is bemoaning the uselessness of the tax varying powers on offer in the Wales Bill supposedly “improving” Welsh Devo – see…/…
2014-01-19 10:08

Broadcasting in Scotland is a matter reserved by and to the parliament in England.
Not sure but possibly because of this,I imagine any legal challenge would have to be done through the English courts.
Their excuse for the biased reporting is that they are just reflecting public opinion as evinced in some dodgy poll data and that traditionally,t  hey have always given the English based political parties air time on any subject of public interest.
They are not equipped through custom and practice to handle the current political reality and has been said by others,will struggle to cover the referendum in an even handed manner.
2014-01-19 10:26

I emailed BBC Scotland’s ‘Headlines’ programme last night, suggesting they discuss your story regarding BT’s refusal to partake of your offer of questions to Yes, and vice versa, but needless to say, they did not use it.
As a matter of fact, I also put a comment on your story, which strangely has not appeared either.
I hope the virus is not spreading!
2014-01-19 10:32

Yet despite all this hostility to independence from the printed and broadcast media,No still can’t muster more than 50 percent in opinion polls.Very,very shaky.
2014-01-19 10:34

Said it before, but we can forget about being a democracy or republic, monarchy or even devolved part of the UK. If we let the media skew the debate and swindle us out of a better future, we will need a new word for ourselves as a country ruled by TV.

I was worried back then. They seemed to be getting away with it. These days, I get the impression it isn’t going to plan. The BBC is only strong if it has integrity, and it seems determined to forfeit that. People are not so easy to manipulate.
We are blessed to have the internet, if only for exposing the underbelly of the BBC.
The truth has enough core momentum, and with every half truth or manipulated agenda, the BBC will destroy itself.
2014-01-19 10:39

The Smoking Gun.

In a week when the NO campaign have been forced to backtrack on the issues of sovereign debt and EU membership we have this report that clearly demonstrates the partisan nature in the broadcasting of the referendum debate.

No hiding place for the BBC and the STV now. They have been found guilty on all charges. That most valuable of entities – Trust – has now gone.
2014-01-19 10:42

It is good news and something most of us here new already with certainty. However, will they tackle the Newspapers now?
2014-01-19 10:52

BRL. Wrong. The ONS designated the BBC in 2006 as a Department of State of the British Government and the License Fee as a Tax on the people.
This revalation horrified the BBC Trust who anguished at length about the implications and the future of the Institution. Equally, they concerned themselves greatly about the forthcoming renewal of their Charter.
Good for them and worry they should. They are a State Propagandist in every facet of their being. We ignore this reality at our peril and its effect on democractic debate in Scotland.
The very last thing Scotland needs post a Yes vote is our own State Propagandist.
2014-01-19 14:51

@Upsake – BRL. Wrong?

I agree the BBC SHOULD NOT be an arm of the UK establishment, it’s phrased poorly in my text, ‘…but the BBC is a public broadcaster, legally obliged to be funded by the Scottish public and is not an arm of the UK establishment.’

However, you then quote the ONS, which makes me smile a little.

Following the expose last week or so, of their release of figures to the EU which wrongly painted Scotland’s economic performance and was only picked up by a sharp eyed journo from the Financial Times, it seems the ONS are either not the sharpest tack in the box, or they’re part of the UK’s propaganda sabotage machine.

Be nice to know which, wouldn’t it?

2014-01-19 10:56

Well, well. So we (us swivel-eyed cybergnats) were right all along. who’d have thought it.

Now we have proof.

Next time I say to some No supporter or Don’t Know switherer that our media is biased and they deny that this is the case I will be able to point them to an unbiased academic study that shows it is true. What a powerful bit of ammunition for the Yes cause.

I’m away to the Yes Aberdeen campaign kick-off at 2:30 this afternoon in Goals at Bridge of Dee with a smile on my face (in spite of the weather!).

BTW – Apologies to anyone who I misled last week, as I thought this meeting was taking place last Sunday. They didn’t put a date on their original email and I only found out too late to rectify.
2014-01-19 11:10


Ken MacDonald did draw attention to the existence of this report but without comment. Altleast he mentioned which is more than some of his colleagues at Pacific Quay would have done!
2014-01-19 11:13

From the BBC’s website:

“Guidelines require the BBC to have a balanced audience for this event.”…/…

So BBC’s own ‘guidelines’ say they must have a balanced debate but they just don’t have to have balanced reporting? Go figure.
Flower of Scotland
2014-01-19 11:15

I have complained bitterly over a number of years of the SNP , Independence , etc bias of the BBC Scotland to no avail . Even to the BBC Trust ! , and to Friends . I have now taken a photo on my i pad of this document which will give me some ammunition in the events of future discussions . Thanks Newsnet for reporting this . Don’t think we will see any MSM,s reporting this somehow !
2014-01-19 12:01

A typical situation of this report has just happened in the Politic show today with the last word given to the BT man rubbishing the YES side.
I’m back on this PS has just finished with 2 pro BT to round up one from Herald and a wifie fa the Scotsman Gary Robertson his usual.
Dundonian West
2014-01-19 12:01

—–meanwhile our Watchdog,Lord Patten of Putney and his BBC Trust sleep easily in their beds at night content that all is well with the BBC in Scotland.
Will Mcewan
2014-01-19 12:20

There is little chance of any change here unless the report is widely publicised
2014-01-19 12:53

No surprises in this report then.

Still no mention of BBC Scotland getting rapped over the knuckles. They normally broadcast aplogies when they get things wrong – why is this an exception? Well we all know the answer to that.

It will be interesting to see the make up of the panels and audience plus the questions asked for the Greenock debate and this week’s QT from Dundee.

O/T Beware of fake on-line Tax Return Submission sites – see today’s Mail On Sunday on-line and 2 articles thereon last week plus last Sunday’s Observer on-line.
David Whannel
2014-01-19 13:20

Tell me they studied every TV show rather than just the news, would love to see every figure including repeat broadcasts, radio too, and maybe all newspapers for fairness, guess they can do that up until September 18.
Marga B
2014-01-19 13:34

OT but seems there’s a programme on BBC tonight and BBC world tomorrow by Alan Little: Why Pro-Independence Catalans envy Scotland. Can’t see air time.…/…

Link includes interview with Catalan President. He envies you! What’s Little like? Is he fair?

Also latest: 1 Catalan socialist MP resigned parliament and 3 out of 19 left voted against party whip Thursday, voting for the right to a referendum (manifesto policy, but party’s U-turned due to central pressure) and risk expulsion from parliament and maybe the party on Monday.

Catalan socialists are in melt-down.
2014-01-19 13:38

My comments dont always get posted on Newsnet Scotland (dont know why this is the case?_- but agree whole heartedly with the views above.
2014-01-19 14:23

It’s a shame that the BBC Trust just closed their consultation on the Referendum less than 4 days ago – this would have been good cite…
2014-01-19 16:26

Derek Bateman has just written an anguished article on the subject over on his website…/…
2014-01-19 16:40

This report surprises me – but only because I would have guessed bias to be 3:1 or 4:1 rather than 3:2.
2014-01-19 16:56

Just back from the Yes Aberdeen meeting.

Over 50 people turned out on a very driech Sunday afternoon to volunteer for canvassing and leafleting in Aberdeen.

Far better turnout than I had expected as Aberdeen is not renowned for it’s independence support. There were representatives there from the Radical Independence Campaign, SNP, National Collective and Labour for Independence.

10,000 Yes campaign newspapers distributed for delivery in Aberdeen!

We’re off folks, and we WILL win this referendum!

PS. The Derek Bateman article is, as Grenscot says, quite a sad reflection on the state of BBC Scotland.
2014-01-19 17:39

Good on ye.
I’ve just received 250 copies of “Yes” and will start hitting the streets this week in the “Iron Burgh”, supporting the existing active Yes movement.

2014-01-19 17:52

Complaints sent to BBC Trust and STV…/…
2014-01-19 18:24

I am so glad I am not a Licence Tax payer. This must be one of the most resounding reasons for anyone who wishes to register their ire at the BBC’s pretence that the Independence movement doesn’t exist.

No more, in the same way that I would not pay someone to stand outside my house shouting abuse at me; I will not allow the BBC to ignore my wishes regarding Independence. I don’t really believe they will change, they are mired in a belief that only their old mates in the Labour Party will “look after them”, completely failing to open their eyes to the fact that the Labour Party in Scotland is up to their necks in a struggle to look after themselves.

Shame on them for a clear betrayal of trust.
2014-01-19 18:48

Can we view a copy of this report? I’ve searched the UWS site and can’t see it?
Awfy Puggled
2014-01-19 19:25

Can you please provide a link to the study? It would be useful to see the whole thing.

Ta much
2014-01-19 20:22

For those who are interested here is a copy of the report:
call me dave
2014-01-19 20:52

That report / table.
Care of WoS. Link.

2014-01-19 22:04

Now that we have incontrovertibl  e proof of BBC bias, can we have Blair Jenkins coming off his softly softly approach and do the same as Derek Bateman has done by issuing a Press Release saying how shocked he is with his former colleagues? The ‘Yes side need to up the pressure. This ought to be game-changing.
2014-01-19 22:37

Well done and thank-you to Dr Robertson and the University of West of Scotland for measuring what we have all suspected for a long time. Now the Yes campaign need to pick this up and put both the BBC and STV on the spot.
2014-01-19 22:59

We as individuals need to put the pressure on by raising as many complaints as we can. Personally I’ll be using the withdrawal of license fee as a threat. Of course the loss of one persons license fee won’t mean jack to these guys but it may help me in any legal crap that may follow when I do stop my direct debit.
2014-01-19 23:23

Part 1
Someone earlier in the thread spoke of a template for a complaint. I’m no where near the most articulate poster on this website but feel free to use my complaint if you like…
The University of the West of Scotland report has revealed that in the time period September 2012 to September 2013 BBC Reporting Scotland has shown bias in favour of the Better Together (No) campaign in their referendum related stories by order of a ratio in the region of 3:2. Within the report there are also allegations that the BBC has sought to personalise the campaign to the detriment of Scotlands First Minister, seeking to portray him as selfish and undemocratic.
How do you respond to the serious issues raised in this report?
How will you ensure a fair and balanced media exposure for both campaigns from now up to the date of the referendum?
2014-01-19 23:42

Part 2
I can’t stress enough to you how serious an issue this is. This is the most important year in my countries history. I personally favour a Yes vote but I would be equally as outraged if the report had shown a bias in the Yes campaigns favour at the same level that it has shown to be in favour of Better Together.
You are in clear breach of your charter and you are letting down the license fee paying people of Scotland who desire nothing more than the facts during this campaign not the pro-unionist spin that has now been independently proven that your main television news programme has provided to date.
As a current license payer I demand that you answer my questions and I reserve the right to withdraw my license payments if you do not provide sufficient evidence that you have restored balance to this most important of campaigns.

2014-01-19 23:14

An idea I’ve been pondering this afternoon. And the pdf link makes possible.

What if ‘we’ were able to deliver, by hand, hardcopies of the big stories that were likely to be buried, to the different news vendors Herald, Record to STV and BBC, and all significant others.

If two people were to deliver these and have them signed or acknowledged as having taken delivery FAO the Editor/ Controller etc . It could be filmed and uploaded to Youtube as proof of these organisation’s being aware of said incidents and thus when, or if, they don’t publish/run with these stories, having made an editorial decision to not inform the public.

That the line taken may, just perhaps, be being centrally coordinated is never going to wash with the general public, so we need to just be smarter than them.

Anyone up for this who’s based close to the culprits?
2014-01-20 04:54

The worst thing is that we’re talking amongst ourselves and neither of the T.V.companies really give a damn and will continue on the same treacherous road. BBC Trust? Don’t make me laugh. They sit on their hands for months before making any decision. We need to get this out there the length and breadth of the country for if we don’t, the naysayers will win.
2014-01-20 09:32

That’s my letter off to Elaine Smith re this report, copied to the presiding officer and Nicola.

Previously wrote to Local MP and the BBC direct re bias and got the usual guff. Don’t pay the licence fee if you don’t watch live TV, use catch up services and iPlayer to see what’s jokingly called the “News”
Time for the Scottish Parliament to act on our behalf.
2014-01-20 16:42

Surely the SUN won’t let this oppurtunity to bash the BBC go amis.
2014-01-20 16:55

I had a reply after complaining to STV – they spouted the usual nonsense about how they are balanced and fair, and stated that they do not take the study seriously. At the end of the reply, IT WASN’T EVEN SIGNED! Mr or Mrs Anonymous i guess… How can you take these people seriously?
2014-01-20 17:48

Got a reply from STV also. They ‘refute any suggestion of editorial bias and would question the methodology and findings of this study’.
Here’s the reply in full…

Thanks for contacting STV.

Please be assured that STV is committed to providing a platform for the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future.

As a public service broadcaster we have a duty of impartiality and STV adheres to a strict compliance process to ensure our programming is balanced and impartial at all times. We refute any suggestion of editorial bias and would question the methodology and findings of this study.

STV produces a wide range of content for our audiences on air and online, including the regionalised STV News at Six and popular current affairs programme Scotland Tonight, and will continue with this commitment in the lead up to the referendum on independence.

Kind Regards,
2014-01-20 19:36

I got the same reply was going to post it but you have beat me to it.

2014-01-24 20:38

I received a reply from Ian Small advising me to send my complaint to a BBC address in Darlington!

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