By a Newsnet reporter
An academic has hit back at BBC Scotland Chiefs after his research into TV news reporting of the independence referendum was dismissed by the corporation as being of “questionable legitimacy”.
Dr John Robertson, an academic based at the University of the West of Scotland, has insisted the year-long study that found both BBC Scotland and STV had favoured the No campaign in TV news coverage, had used the most robust methodology available.

In a statement issued on Monday, the academic defended his research and said: “The methodology adopted is of the most robust form and compares very favourably with that employed in reports commonly presented on TV.”

Dr Robertson also revealed that the study had been commended by another academic publication body for its impartiality, which the University of Edinburgh’s Political journal Scottish Affairs described as “admirable”.

He added: “The research is not based on a small sample, as is common in surveys often reported on TV without critique but is based on one whole year and every evening from 6-7 pm on two channels.”

The row centres on a study carried out by the academic which analysed evening news reports from BBC Scotland and STV from September 2012 to September 2013.  The findings revealed that both broadcasters had favoured the anti-independence campaign in several key categories by a ratio of three to two.

According to the study, Reporting Scotland was considered to have shown 262 news items that were favourable for the No campaign but just 171 favourable for the Yes campaign.  The numbers for the STV evening news programme were 255 to 172 respectively.

The study also found that ‘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.

Furthermore, the study showed that 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.

Following publication of the report, STV challenged its findings and denied favouring one side over the other. 

However BBC Scotland went further and contacted the academic directly.  An email sent by BBC Scotland Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs, Ian Small, called into question the credibility of the survey, and informed the academic that BBC Scotland had “serious concerns with the methodology applied” as well as the “factual accuracy” of the report’s conclusions.

Responding to BBC suggestions his report contained conclusions that were factually inaccurate, Dr Robertson said:

“The coding which led to the evidence of bias emerged from a grounded theory/phenomenological approach which allows the data to speak.  The final coding is the product of two phases, through all the data, of coding by the lead researcher and subsequent moderation by three others (recently retired staff and PhD students).”

Explaining that some news reports which could have been deemed beneficial to the No campaign were categorised as general, due to the subtle nature of language, he added:

“The first phase resulted in evidence of bias more damaging to the BBC and STV.  In the second phase, the lead researcher allocated statements with more subtle or nuanced undermining of the Yes campaign to the general or descriptive category.”

In a swipe at the refusal of the broadcaster to highlight the existence of the report on any of its news programmes, Dr Robertson said:

“I still await a ‘robust rebuttal’, from the BBC, of a report they have not admitted exists other than briefly on Radio Scotland, with genuine excitement.”

The report has received widespread coverage on social media and other online outlets with pro-independence supporters citing it as evidence backing their long held belief that a pro-Union imbalance exists within the Scottish media – in particular the BBC.

However there has been no mention of the study from traditional media outlets.

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call me dave
2014-01-27 22:24

Well! No fear factor there then.

Good for you Dr Robertson.
40 – 15 to you and your serving with new balls
2014-01-27 22:56

I’m not entirely sure they are new balls Dave, but they are certainly larger.

2014-01-27 22:35

Well, from the article it appears the study has been peer reviewed and declared legitimate.

For the BBC and Mr small to knee-jerk an offensive email without doing due diligence evinces hubris and a preening self-regard.

The facts are the facts and they seem to correspond well to everyday experience, do they not? The BBC are intent on shooting the messenger rather than dealing with their manifest wrong-doing.

The Scottish Government and Parliament need to address this issue of manipulation of news and political corruption at the BBC, for there can be no doubt but that it is deeply damaging to the electoral process and a dagger at the heart of Scottish democracy.
2014-01-28 08:19

Indeed sir, I’ve already written to my MSP (Labour) and copied the e mail to the Presiding Officer and DFM. We need to get this well and truly on the agenda. Perhaps another cross party letter, this time to the BBC (copied to the BBC Trust and D Cameron)

2014-01-27 22:51

So Dr. John Robertson’s report was peer commended.

The BBC Trustee needs to act on this matter. Shouldn’t they review operational management’s hasty decision in attacking this evidence-backed, statistical report?

Dr. Robertson seems to be doing their job for them.

We, the license payers, have already had our say on BBC Scotland (their own poll) – we don’t trust their output. Something has to change.
Flower of Scotland
2014-01-27 23:35

Well done Dr John Robertson ! Don’t let the BBC bully you !
At least it is on Social Media are there are many more people reading Newsnet , Wings and Bella than previously . I have complained to the BBC many times but just get waffle back . We know what to do when we get Independence ?
2014-01-27 23:36

This excellent report from Dr Robertson provides the truth of anti-independence bias from BBC and STV.

There’s not much we can say about STV given it’s private funding other than they should comply with their broadcasting charter and remain neutral.

The BBC is a different kettle of fish. We the licence payers fund the state broadcaster, and for them to be proven to be manipulating the news for political ends is utterly unacceptable. Something must change. The fish is definitely smelling very badly.

MacQuarrie, Boothman and Small must go.
2014-01-27 23:44

I notice today there wasn’t any mention on the BBC of The Scotsman poll which shows the gap between Yes and No dramatically narrowing to within a few points. The blackout continues of any news which could be seen as positive to the Yes campaign.
2014-01-28 00:16

Under the impartial headline Campaigners clash on young voters it’s there on the BBC website at…/…

What few numbers are given are right at the bottom, presumably too deep into the story for 99% of the readership.

2014-01-28 00:08

I hope this will not be a chance missed, it truly is shocking what is going on with all the implications of their behaviour on Scottish democracy.
what will happen if there is a narrow mo vote and the bbc were never challenged throughout the referendum process?
much anger will be felt but the votes will be cast and I can’t imagine Scots will have the appetite to repeat the process again.
of course Westminster will be chuffed to bits that the most British of institutions came to their rescue and basically did their dirty work for them.
2014-01-28 07:11

The response from the BBC is entirely unsurprising and consistent with the flaw in the first place. The thing is, if the BBC was capable of acknowledging the findings of Dr Robertson’s study, the study itself wouldn’t have discovered any bias.

Most people who work at the BBC are remarkably institutionalis  ed: I know some of them. The simply don’t comprehend the idea that they could be biased. Therefore, when you get a Labour man like Boothman in charge, they just follow on, oblivious to the effect his editorial decisions have.
2014-01-28 07:15

Not only has the report not been mentioned on any of the BBC News programs or web site but neither have either of the 2 weekend polls showing a substantial swing to YES.

All of the above illustrate perfectly the fact that BBC Scotland fails to report information which may be detrimental to the Unionist cause.

On another tack BBC Breakfast from Salford is reporting, complete with an interview with one of its leaders who is obviously a NO supporter, that a campaign with possible legal action is underway to enfranchise expatriate Scots in England and abroad in time for 18/9.

They really are running scared.
Jo Bloggs
2014-01-28 08:07

Don’t worry gus. The potential Unionist Scots in England would be more than balanced by the YES vote from ‘abroad’. All the Scots I’ve met here in Finland would vote YES, and I’m sure that’s the picture around the world too.
2014-01-28 14:53

That’s certainly been my experience, Jo. It’s the people at home, who have no experience of modern self-government, who are hesitant about independence. Those of us with the relevant personal experience are in no doubt where our Nation’s future lies.

The SNP has provided the best governmental administration by miles on domestic policies. It still has everything to learn on diplomacy and international affairs (all it knows is the EU), but that will all fall into place in the light of experience and a bit of informed criticism.

2014-01-28 16:54

You may be right but unfortunately the expatriate Scots in England, and there are a lot of them, are being bombarded with Unionist lies and scare stories and I reckon they would be more likely to register than those further afield should this campaign to broaden the franchise succeed.
2014-01-28 19:13

This would inevitably end up in the Suprememe court in England via the Scottish courts.
The Supreme court has never overturned any legislation passed by Holyrood so they are on a hiding to nothing.
If they want a vote then return home and take up residence before September.
I hope we are not going to see bus loads of Scottish “ex pats” coming across the border on the 18th September,Quebe  c style.
Opening the franchise to Scottish people residing outside Scotland (apart from armed forces people) would be an administrative nightmare to organise and verify.
If you are not on the electoral role,you won’t have a vote.
Simple as that.

2014-01-28 07:54

Corruption is a good thing – so long as it’s our corruption.
The Union.
Is this how it works?
2014-01-28 08:25

And what has the Electoral Commission to say on the matter?

Let me guess, “Nothing to see here, move along”.

Who cares what the BBC has to say, get this report delivered by courier to the Electoral Commission and demand an urgent response. This is not a matter for the teflon BBC to resolve.

We HAVE to make this rare breach into the BBC’s citadel count. Are you listening SNP?

“Flood once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English Scottish dead”.
[Shakespeare – Henry V – ish].
2014-01-28 09:45

I agree with you again Breeks – this has to be formally put to the Electoral Commission.

Does anyone have their contact information?
Marga B
2014-01-28 13:42

This is one contact address from their website:


The Electoral Commission
Lothian Chambers
59-63 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1RN
Tel: 0131 225 0200
Fax: 0131 225 0205
infoscotland@el  ectoralcommissi
2014-01-28 17:42

Hi Marga, I have e-mailed the electoral commission asking they take steps to govern the bias put out by BBC and STV, the reply I received very quickly was that it was not in their remit to control either one of these parties and that we should contact both head offices of them with any queries.

Whats new EH

2014-01-28 09:51

Any illusions that we are living in a proper democracy have been destroyed by the actions of the pro- union forces since the referendum was announced.

The BBC and “newspapers?” have completely lost all credibility and respect after having been exposed by their actions to be nothing more than propaganda mouthpieces of Westminster.

The BBC routinely breaks its own rules on impartiality big time and the columns of the Daily Mail and other so-called “newspapers” are filled with lies and hate towards all things Scottish.

The Westminster government has been caught briefing against independence internationally and colluding with reactionary governments in Spain and Russia to make things difficult for Scotland’s aspirations in the EU.

You would think that it was the Third Reich that Westminster was fighting with such hostility and venom instead of the peaceful democratic independence movement that is the YES campaign.
2014-01-28 11:46

BC to 1990 a History of Scotland by James Halliday.
A very good read I often still refer to it and the part from the early seventies makes very good reading,change the dates to 2012-2014 and it is history repeating itself,smears,s  care stories you name it I suppose the BBC were acting the same way then as they are now.
2014-01-28 12:53

Aye RTP, they are acting the same way, but now we have the internet to expose their propaganda for what it is.

We now have a means of communication that is outwith their control and they don’t like it one little bit.

willie boy
2014-01-28 12:01

If the BBC had any legitimacy as an impartial provider of news then they would be inviting Dr Robertson’s faculty and it’s students access to it’s files and records.

Of course this will never happen because of the rotten biased organisation that the BBC is.

The BBC is quite frankly a bad smell that has long needed cleaning up.
John Souter
2014-01-28 12:22

Truth of the matter – If you can’t change the output from the State Broadcaster – you have to change the State.
2014-01-28 14:47

Has this item been sent to The Herald (and, perhaps, the Guardian and Indy)? It’s a waste of time sending it to most of the others.
Andy Anderson
2014-01-28 20:17

We can’t let the BBC and the Media away with this we must mount a campaign against them. What about a brief report followed by a poll of the general public on this issue.

I would be prepared to chip in again financially to support something like this.
2014-01-28 20:29

I send everything regarding this matter to the Herald! Mind you, they share the same solicitors as the Beeb. Fat chance of them paying any atytention

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