By G.A.Ponsonby
Last week a respected academic appeared on STV and BBC.  Professor John Curtice was talking about the latest survey on social attitudes.
The Scottish Social Attitudes survey was carried by every news outlet in Scotland, its findings deemed crucial to the independence debate.  Interviews and articles accompanied the latest poll and Professor Curtice enjoyed yet more media attention.

His views were treated as though written in tablets of stone.  He managed to dictate the narrative of the day’s news in Scotland – no mean feat.

Professor Curtice is, you see, a respected academic who is one of a list of other respected academics who turn up on our TV sets regularly – David Bell, Jo Armstrong, John McLaren, Brian Ashcroft, Tom Devine and Jim Gallagher are others.

But one academic it seems is less respected than the list above.  That academic is Dr John Robertson, who last week revealed results of a study his team of researchers at the University of the West of Scotland had undertaken into TV reporting of the independence referendum.

Dr Robertson’s team analysed not a week, not a month but a full year of early evening news output, broadcast by BBC Scotland and STV.  The research team watched, noted and carefully tabulated their findings before compiling a report.

The findings were revealed last week by Newsnet Scotland – they showed that BBC Scotland, and to a slightly lesser extent STV, had been favouring the No campaign in their evening TV news output.

Our article took social media by storm and was tweeted hundreds of times, at one point our counter indicated over 650 tweets.  It became one of the best read stories we have ever published and was read by well over 23,000 people.  However a search for the story on any of Scotland’s traditional media outlets would have drawn a blank – a news blackout appeared to have been imposed.

The subjects of the study rejected the findings of the report.  STV at least replied to people who had asked the broadcaster for a response – BBC Scotland, in keeping with the tartan shawl of secrecy that surrounds the tin hut on the Clyde, said nothing.

Well, nothing publicly that is, until former BBC Scotland journalist Derek Bateman revealed that the broadcaster had sent an intimidatory email to Dr Robertson demanding he hand over his research data.  According to a source who has read the email, it contained a “very heated attack” on the “credibility” and “methodology” of Dr Robertson’s work.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the University of the West of Scotland is a quack organisation, on the fringes of the Scottish education establishment and that BBC Scotland are correct to treat the study with contempt and mistrust.  However this same broadcaster was happy to use research from the University two years ago in a prime time TV programme.

So why the mistrust now?  The reason of course was that this study confirmed what many already suspected, that BBC Scotland has serious issues when it comes to political reporting.  That STV was also found guilty was not surprising given that it ‘apes’ much of what its next door neighbour does.  There’s also the fact that STV is a business and its editorial decision may have been based on the belief that they were indulging the majority view of their viewers.

Some commentators, such as Derek Bateman, have expressed surprise that the study was ignored by newspapers.  But that suggests Scotland’s newspaper industry is interested in highlighting the corruption that is eating away at the soul of BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland provides a nice little earner for too many newspaper journalists in Scotland for them to want to rock the boat.  Too many of them get to appear on the TV and radio disguised as ‘neutral’ commentators whilst being paid a few hundred quid in order to promote their own wee agendas?

The newspapers also enjoy regular free advertising on BBC radio and TV with their headlines read out – that’s tens of thousands of pounds worth of free promotion … thanks to the beeb – or more accurately the licence payers.

One newspaper had the opportunity to run the University of the West of Scotland report as a scoop, which would have been massive, but the Herald ignored the study despite being in possession of it days before it was sent to Newsnet Scotland.

The refusal of the so-called ‘Scottish’ media to report the story did not surprise independence supporters who have long since given up on Scotland’s media.  The reason of course is that journalism was one of the first casualties of the independence referendum. 

Nationalists already knew that the media in Scotland was essentially worthless – it’s so riddled with pro-Union cabals that the independence debate is slowly being taken from them.

Social media reported and debated the indy-broadcast study because traditional media closed the story down.  It’s precisely because of citizen journalism that Dr Robertson has been invited onto Radio Scotland today (08:20).  His invite to appear on the Saturday morning dead zone tells you all you need to know about BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland is, and has been for quite some time, held in absolute contempt by many who are less than enamoured with the current Union.  It wouldn’t be too strong to say that there are tens of thousands of Scots who loathe the broadcaster – they despise it.  Its political coverage is manipulated and packaged in order to minimise any benefit to the Scottish Government and to promote pro-Union narratives.

Dr Robertson’s report came barely a week after the BBC Trust found BBC Scotland guilty of having misled the Scottish public over one of the key issues of the independence debate – membership of the EU.  It took the Trust nearly a year to give a ruling on what was an open and shut case.  The guilty verdict was the second in six months for BBC Scotland’s news department, it too dragged on for a year.

Two guilty verdicts in six months and an academic study highlighting clear political bias would, if it was the main UK national news, have led to a public outcry with the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, being summoned before a House of Commons Committee to answer for the blunders – before being forced to resign.  But not in Scotland where nobody seems to care that we have what now looks to be a dysfunctional management in charge of an institutional corrupt political news department.

Those who believe that the BBC is capable of acknowledging its own failings need only look to the Jimmy Savile scandal to see how the impenetrable walls of the institution can be used to shield offenders.  How many famous presenters, their careers over, have now admitted they were aware that these practices were going on? 

It’s so bad that on any given day you cannot just detect but actually predict how BBC Scotland will report a major political story.  Even stories that would ordinarily be helpful to the Yes campaign can be turned with ease into ammunition against them.

On November 30th last year I wrote an article entitled ‘Lifted from the internet’ – The poisoning of the independence debate.  The article highlighted the appalling misreporting that followed the highlighting of a letter from an EC official.  First Minister Alex Salmond had revealed the existence of the communication in response to claims from his Unionist opponents that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU.

Part of my article dealt with claims by two BBC Scotland reporters that the Scottish Government had downloaded the communication from the internet.  Both Brian Taylor and his colleague Niall O’Gallagher said the document had been “lifted from the internet” by the Scottish Government.

Despite being contacted by Newsnet Scotland and informed that their claim was mistaken, BBC Scotland refused to issue a correction.  The refusal to acknowledge their mistake came despite Newsnet Scotland informing BBC Scotland that the document held up by Alex Salmond had been sent to his Government by us.

Indeed the day before we sent the PDF to the Scottish Government we had sent a copy to BBC Scotland.  Receipt was later confirmed to us by a BBC Scotland official.

Those who remember the news reports will also recall that opposition leaders at Holyrood had themselves accused Alex Salmond of having googled the communication.  The BBC’s misreporting dovetailed nicely with Unionist rhetoric and a story helpful to the independence campaign (the official communication) was turned into an anti-Salmond smear.

And the story doesn’t end there.  In frustration, Newsnet Scotland decided to submit a complaint to the BBC over the inaccurate nature of the reports.  The response was almost as bad as the original misreporting by the two BBC Scotland reporters.

A spokesperson said: “There was some confusion as to the provenance of the letter when the First Minister’s official spokesman was questioned after FMQs and the phrase ‘lifted from the internet’ was written by a leading news agency used by many media outlets.”

Incredible but true.  According to BBC Scotland, two of their reporters had blithely reported as fact a claim that had emanated from an un-named news agency, a claim that had they asked the source of the story – Newsnet Scotland – could have been corrected.  But they didn’t ask, indeed in all of the news reports, BBC Scotland refused to even disclose to listeners and viewers that the letter had been revealed by us, in an exclusive.

Who had provided BBC Scotland with the false information?  We don’t know, but a casual search of the internet reveals the usual suspects all parroting the same false claim.  So the whole of the Scottish media ran another smear which poisoned the independence debate.

Just as in the case of Lucinda Creighton where BBC Scotland broadcast something we now know was inaccurate and misleading, the “lifted from the internet” claim has become accepted as fact and regularly finds its way into online debate.

BBC Scotland is elitist, arrogant and dysfunctional.  Any attempts at extracting basic information are met with a wall of silence or abrupt dismissals.  Few nationalists would weep if its political news department closed down completely.

It is unable to handle the independence debate – the latest offering, a ‘debate’ from Greenock was more of the same partisan ranting from the audience.  These football style tribal shouting matches where ‘fans’ clap and cheer their own team’s mini-speeches are worthless.

They appear unable or unwilling to strip out ignorant political bigotry and allow for mature, reasoned debate.  Its morning phone in is a maelstrom of partisan ignorance designed it seems to allow some of the most misinformed political bigots you have ever heard to promote their views … uncorrected by a host, apparently equally ignorant.

In September last year, BBC Scotland announced it had appointed the former editor of the Independent on Sunday, John Mullin, to lead its coverage of the Scottish independence referendum.  If the dross that has been presented to licence payers since then is evidence of his influence, then god help us.

BBC Scotland is institutionally corrupt in its coverage of political news and I firmly believe that those who work within its walls know this to be the case, and have done for some time.  Guilty verdicts, resignations and the University of the West of Scotland study are indicators that intelligent people cannot ignore.

Who would have believed that in the space of a year, we would have witnessed:

  • A respected former BBC Scotland presenter resigning and revealing the head of news tried to influence the content of political programmes.
  • BBC Scotland being found guilty of misleading viewers over a key independence issue.
  • One of its top political reporters leaving under a cloud pending an investigation.
  • An academic study finding BBC Scotland guilty of pro-Union bias.

All have come to pass but none has generated headlines in the newspapers, which means BBC Scotland can continue along its dysfunctional path.

Derek Bateman highlighted what appeared to be a conspiracy of silence after the damning University report was published:

“Has anyone come across coverage of the West of Scotland University media bias report in the mainstream media? I can’t see it anywhere and don’t suppose BBC Scotland discussed it either.  Isn’t that in itself remarkable…a Scottish university produces a report on a year-long study of news and finds a disturbing trend showing bias in what is a regulated industry – broadcasting – including the taxpayer funded BBC, and no one in the world of journalism in our country thinks it’s worth telling the public.

That’s a subject worth academic scrutiny all by itself…what principles do the media adhere to in judging items, who decides and what criteria are applied.”

It’s difficult to underestimate the damaging effects on society and democracy in Scotland if this approach continues over the next eight months.  I have said it before, the media are in danger of creating a sense of grievance so powerful that it will manifest itself in a political bigotry so pronounced and so deep that it may last for generations in Scotland and could split communities.


2014-01-25 00:42

The fundamental issue with the British Broadcasting Corporation
in Scotland is that it is unaccountable to Scots.
We might as well have North Korean TV being broadcast into our homes selling the message of a benign state who is really looking after our interests.
Unlike Scotland having a share of Antarctica,no mistake was made with Blair’s devolution bill which left broadcasting amongst just about everything else in London’s hands.
2014-01-25 01:08

What a brilliant exposition of the appalling state of BBC Scotland, Mr Ponsonby. It’s great that people like you and DB1 and the Rev can articulate the utter frustration and near despair that I and many others feel about the blatant corruption of the independence debate by this appalling organisation. Despite everything, however, I really feel that the pressure is now building up to a level where the dam must surely burst. Thanks again.
2014-01-25 01:39

I have been following NNS for many years and I have never read such a powerful statement.

There is much more no doubt that could also be produced. But to what point? And indeed, is this not just that very point; who is behind the feral operating process which dominates the BBC’s output, who is responsible for ignoring the BBC’s own Charter and Policy?
Why are there hints and nudges of deep unrest among BBC journalists and the sidelining of proficient presenters who don’t sing the full BBC party song-book?

This article will be ignored, of course, by those who should pay most attention to it – and that simply says it all – an organisation incapable of self-correction, is a failed organisation.
2014-01-25 02:35

Ok,come on people. It`s now or never. It`s time to challenge BBC Scotland.
We`ve demonstrated outside their building next to the Clyde on several occasions, Marched through Glasgow city centre to call on all media to play fair but nothing has or will change unless we get some serious numbers of people to make a very public protest.
I witnessed the numbers who attended the march and rally for Scottish independence in Edinburgh last year and it really blew me away.
If we can get a large number of people to gather in George square for a rally and then take it to the BBC walking past STV say on a saturday. Maybe even get groups to head to newspaper HQ`s like the Herald, Scotsman in Edinburgh we could make a fairly big impact. Print off some articles to share with friends and family and politely tell them we are fighting for Scotland`s democracy here and it`s important that as many as possible attend. Lets hear your ideas? ? ?
2014-01-25 06:03

The BBC televised FMQ’s provides an opportunity for MSP’s (pro indy)to highlight the failings of the media and the BBC should be challenged to respond to the report. The Yes Campaign continually fail to correct inaccuracies or challenge reporters or interviewers allowing them the opportunity to repeat previously disproven and ridiculed assertions. Why are YES so passive in their promotion of a positive yes message. Jim Sillars displayed some Scottish Passion on qustion time more of this required if apathy to be overcome. Scots need to get angry, if they find out they are being dooped they will.And they will react!
2014-01-25 07:36

You have eloquently described the academic dimension of the exclusive chumocracy (cf. Gerry Hassan)that is Scottish media punditry. ‘Just one of the many things wrong with BBC Scotland.
2014-01-25 08:05

Sounds like GMS may be discussing the UWS report this morning…..
2014-01-25 08:16

It is absolutely not my intention to defend the BBC, but there is a comparable arrogance and lack of accountability in many quangos and government officers.Not answering questions is pretty endemic throughout our culture. Contesting the issue doesn’t lead you to justice, the best you can expect if you get lucky is to land a blow on someones reputation. Justice? Forget it. This has been a pernicious assault on our society for decades.
2014-01-25 08:36

To put it bluntly the BBC in Scotland appears to have decided to go for broke with its bias against the independence campaign supported by a million or more Scots who will never trust the BBC again.

This is a mistake by the BBC that will come back to haunt it.
2014-01-25 08:48

Listened to GMS with Dr Robertson. A calm and obviously professional academic. He did not claim it was “exceptional” bias, just that it did exist. He also stated clearly that he wasn’t a Nationalist. He was not surprised at the lack of coverage, but did express “disappointment” at the initial BBC in Scotland response to his paper.

I would not say he was back-tracking, but he was exceptionally careful about what he said, and even went so far as to illustrate that the bias could have been a gradual process and did not necessarily suggest a predetermined management approach to ignore the Independence side.

Not sure on balance whether he was being too “defensive”, perhaps to save the University from any other backlash. But there is a lot of this story left to run
2014-01-25 09:21

The only way this issue of political corruption and the misuse and misappropriatio  n of public monies by the state broadcaster will be brought front and centre is for the Scottish Government to come out and condemn its toxic effect on the electoral process, as they announce an official inquiry.

An inquiry with the power to compel attendance and testimony under oath, the release of electronic mail, texts, phone records. and printed communications within the BBC and between BBC, it’s employees, and outside organizations and individuals.

The BBC is prohibited by its charter and by statute from operating as the agent for a political organisation’ or colluding with individuals or groups to influence the outcome of an election. Yet there is more than a prima facie case to be made that they have done exactly that.

They need to be brought to account and either exonerated or indicted.
2014-01-25 09:44

My take on Dr Robertson this morning on GMS was that he was overly contrite and definitely backtracking. Also to repeat twice as he ended the interview that he wasn’t a Nationalist was a very strange thing to do.
More importantly though, the piece advanced no information to the listener on the detail of the study, and my feeling was that the BBC will be feeling relieved that they can now claim they have addressed/ reported on the study and can put it to bed. Dr Robertson’s statement that he considered it reasonable to allow the Unionist side more air-time than the “SNP” so that a Conservative and a Liberal and other Unionist viewpoint could be given just left me underwhelmed at his logic. Where is there a place for a Green, L f I or other pro- indy view to be expressed?
2014-01-25 09:50

Quoting Marian:

To put it bluntly the BBC in Scotland appears to have decided to go for broke with its bias against the independence campaign supported by a million or more Scots who will never trust the BBC again.

This is a mistake by the BBC that will come back to haunt it

Not long after the 2011 SNP landslide, Ian Bell wrote in the Herald that by the time of the referendum the BBC’s reputation in Scotland would be in tatters. A price Westminister would be prepared to pay to save the Union.

It’s up to YES supporters to ensure this hapens long before the referendum!

The Tree of Liberty
2014-01-25 10:17

Mr Ponsonby, excellent piece of work.
2014-01-25 10:45

Excellent expose of the corruption at the heart of our so called ‘national broadcaster. The cracks are however beginning to show.
Since the story broke, I have emailed a considerable number of media outlets, and have received acknowledgement  s from most of them. At least they are now aware of what is going on, even if at present they have not reported on it.
One of them– the widely read print and digital Allmediascotlan  d, has an article today www.allmediascotlan and I have had a nice email from Media Lens, a website who regularly takes the BBC and MSM to task for mis-reporting world events.
The edifice is beginning to crumble. Keep up the pressure!
2014-01-25 11:01

A good article and very true.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the University of the West of Scotland is a quack organisation

NO. One may not be forgiven. It’s a very good University with an excellent reputation.

2014-01-25 11:28

Unfortunately this information is unlikely ever to get main stream media attention.

Can I suggest it would be more visible if it could be arranged for a peaceful demonstration outside the broadcasters premises. If we could somehow agree and organise thousands of people to stand outside these institutions with placards and banners then it would be impossible to go unnoticed. If it was somehow ignored it would provide further evidence and legitimacy to the Scottish people of the bias

What is everyone’s thoughts?
H Scott
2014-01-25 11:49

‘It’s difficult to underestimate the damaging effects on society and democracy in Scotland if this approach continues over the next eight months. I have said it before, the media are in danger of creating a sense of grievance so powerful that it will manifest itself in a political bigotry so pronounced and so deep that it may last for generations in Scotland and could split communities.’

Unfortunately, I think this is true. The biggest danger is a referendum result where a biased media – in particular ‘our’ public broadcaster with its obligations of fair and balanced reporting – is seen as getting the No vote ‘over the line’.
2014-01-25 12:53

I’m not sure if we adopted the same methodology on Newsnet Scotland the results would be particularly flattering. Of the last 20 opinion pieces, by my count 17 are explicitly pro-independence, 3 are broad enough that they aren’t pro or anti-independence, and none at all are explicitly anti-independence.

If we’re using these results as proof of bias, then by the same token isn’t this website also biased?

[Admin – Newsnet Scotland, like the Daily Record, Scotsman, Telegraph, Times etc has an editorial stance – and that is quite normal.

The BBC, unlike Newsnet Scotland, compels people to fund it through a licence fee of £145.50. The BBC should be completely and absolutely impartial.]
2014-01-25 13:24

Bill, it’s a fair observation to make, but don’t forget NNS set out to address the lack of reporting of pro independence issues. It has even been attacked for trying to be objective in doing so, as opposed to blind febrile endorsement of all things pro indy. So yes, you are going to find a pro-independence aspect to the coverage, but it’s been quite up front and open in its purpose. The line is pro-independence but objective.
The BBC is bound by charter to be impartial, pretends that it is, and manifestly doesn’t like people exposing their bias empirically.

The essential difference is the BBC pretending to be something it isn’t. Neutral.
2014-01-25 13:51

I think that’s a fair enough response, I’m just not convinced that methodologicall  y this sort of quantitative approach is the way to go. As the study says, part of the problem is really that if you invite the four largest parties to a debate in this country then three of them are automatically anti-independence from the outset.

It’s something Question Time managed to get around a few months back where they had the entire debate framed around independence (three pro participants, three anti) but that’s a bit of an exception to the rule – and in many cases, where independence isn’t the only topic up for discussion, it’s more problematic.

2014-01-25 13:45

Prior to Devolution we had the hut that was parked opposite St. Andrew’s House.

That was effective and managed to elict a fair amount of media coverage whereas the protest marches to Pathetic Quay have managed nil, zilch media coverage.

How about a permanently manned hut in the vicinity of Pathetic Quay – it wouldn’t need all that many people to man it 24/7.

However, given Labour’s control of Glasgow Council they would probably come up with some obscure reason for banning it.
2014-01-25 14:20

It’s interesting how Professor John Curtice’s views are treated as though written in tablets of stone by the BBC & STV. Could this have anything to do with funding? John Curtice shares funding of £1.3m with six other “respected” academics – that’s £185,000 each. And who provides that funding? The UK Government, via BIS and the ESRC.

I don’t remember either the BBC or STV mentioning the source of funding for John Curtice’s so-called research, but you can be sure if his work was funded by the SNP, they would most certainly mention it.…/…
2014-01-25 15:38

I think that’s a little unfair. The ESRC is the main funding body for political research in the UK and you’d be hard pushed to find many established UK academics studying politics who haven’t at one time or another had ESRC funding. I put myself in that category and I’d like to think I’m not a mouthpiece for the British government!

2014-01-25 14:35

Everyone seems to be getting very exercised over this matter but just wait until you see what the BBC has coming down the line – a TV series about the Stuarts and if the trailers are anything to go by – and they may be edited to get people to watch – then it is going to be controversial to say the least.

Usually the Stuarts are glossed over in any history of the UK. They are the dynasty that did not happen as far as BBC programmers are concerned – until now that is. Strange timing.

Also over the past few months there has been a whole series of programmes on a variety of topics all of which have the word British in them but whose content does not seem to include all component parts of these scepter’d isles. In fact the content rarely ventures beyond England. The latest is on ‘Britain’s oldest family businesses’. So far they are all English based.

So not just the news that lacks balance
2014-01-25 14:58

“So not just the news that lacks balance”

Hey but look on the bright side–Scotland gets to host UK Armed Forces Day twice in four years. Hmmm… wonder why that is?

2014-01-25 15:27

But that suggests Scotland’s newspaper industry is interested in highlighting the corruption that is eating away at the soul of BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland provides a nice little earner for too many newspaper journalists in Scotland for them to want to rock the boat.

This reminds me of the non-reporting by sports journalists of the problems of Rangers Football Club. Another case of succulent lamb?
2014-01-25 17:30

This reminds me of the non-reporting by sports journalists of the problems of Rangers Football Club. Another case of succulent lamb?

I would be interested if you could elucidate there. The coverage was extensive in both the newspapers and television and in fact continues to this day.
Perhaps I inhabit an altogether different Universe from yourself?
Early Ball
2014-01-25 19:47

Certainly there has been loads over the last couple of years Briggs. The “succulent lamb” however refers to the David Murray era where there was not much scrutiny.

2014-01-25 15:57

Great article. The wife and I will attend any smart mob or organised demo on this issue.
We’ve had enough.

Democracy is in danger.
2014-01-25 16:26

We cannot beat the MSM with writing letters or demonstrations because they will never broadcast the fact.

A massive crowd-funded advertising radio/newspaper/TV campaign might have a far better effect. Use their weapon against them.
2014-01-25 16:51

I would like more BBC or more likely ex BBC people coming out and telling how it really is in Pacific Quay. People with the guts of D. Bateman would do fine.

2014-01-25 17:34

Was at a committee meeting this morning discussing the YES campaign. We agreed to deliver thousands of Newsnet Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland leaflets to counterbalance the huge hegemony of the BBC. This referendum will be won by the respected news/opinion websites. Everyone in the YES campaign should be doing this. It would be no extra work if done along with our own info.
It’s a pity Dr. Robertson did not cover GMS. The number of SNP and YES telephone contributors who have suddenly encountered a bad line is absolutely amazing.
2014-01-25 19:34

Was this a YES HQ committee Nautilus? Is it going to be rolled out across the YES campaign?

Would be excellent news if it was.
2014-01-25 22:11

I think this is an excellent idea

2014-01-25 22:56

Hmmm..STV…? Why does a commercial organisation that relies on viewer figures for its income eschew the need to debate this?
I would think any sensible and responsible independent news organisation would jump at the chance of decrying their opponents.
And there’s the rub,STV are a hub of ITN.That bastion of Coronation Street would never attack the hand that feeds it.Once more we are let down by a system which refuses to recognise the democratic mandate of a people to decide how they are governed.
2014-01-26 04:20

This is why NNS needs a weekly TV YouTube programme/news/roundup 😉
2014-01-26 11:11

#X_Stix. No it was an SNP CA meeting, but the topic being discussed was the diminishing credibility of the MSM and the need to get the YES argument over. It’s plain that the cybernats are biting and BT is itching.
2014-01-27 17:35

Given that BBC Scotland know damn well that many people have a thing about BBC2 and never watch it why is all the Independence Referendum related programming being broadcast on BBC2 and not on BBC1?

It’s almost as if they don’t want people to watch them in case they become infected with a desire for Independence.

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