By Derek Bateman
BBC Scotland is attempting to extricate itself from the controversy over the UWS Bias in Broadcasting report. In a letter to the researcher Dr John Robertson they repeat accusations that his work is unprofessional and say they now conclude they “must agree to disagree”.

Corporation bosses are keen to end the row they started by questioning the validity of the year-long study that found the early evening news displayed bias and was having a detrimental effect on the Yes side.

In another pointed and reproachful letter* the head of policy Ian Small asserts that the findings of bias are variously flawed, inaccurate, misrepresentations, guesses, distorted and value-laden. In a highly subjective assessment, Small offers no evidential base for his accusations, repeating exactly the error he accuses Robertson of committing.

He fails to say how the BBC has reached its conclusions, what methodology it used or evidence to support his contentions. There is no independent assessment, only the value-laden judgement of BBC bosses infuriated at being accused of failing in their duty.

The only attempt at providing evidence is a reference to a health report about a woman whom Dr Robertson said was revealed to be a “Labour plant”. Small says this is complete fabrication – “as the person has confirmed to us.” He doesn’t indicate what else he expected her to say when asked by the BBC the question: “Are you a Labour Party plant?” He then underlines the phrase: “There is no truth whatsoever in your accusation”.  Why would he do that in what is supposed to be a professional and appropriate letter from a major public organisation? To me he again sounds like an angry consumer who has found his bill is too high, rather than a cool and detached executive.

There is no word of conciliation, no offer of a meeting, no explanation why the report was not originally aired and no mention of why this report, alone among the thousands sent to the BBC every year, was singled out for such intense scrutiny and systematic rubbishing, and if it is pure coincidence that it was critical of the BBC.

I think the opening sentence is revealing. He is worried about corporate reputation. You bet he is. Nothing hurts them like the idea that they are biased…it goes to the very heart of why we have a BBC and why we are all obliged to pay for it. But the “impact on corporate reputation of the university” is clearly a threat. It says to me: “We can make all this public and embarrass you and the university and who knows, someone might lose their job”. From the once liberal, open-minded, and self-confident BBC this is nasty stuff and illustrates the decline in the corporate ethos.

Here is a simple answer to the whole controversy. If they had the talent, they would have foreseen what was coming down the track nearly three years ago and immediately instituted a balance checking system to monitor their output and, without viewers even knowing, would have been providing carefully unbiased news reports. It didn’t need to be precise and balanced on a weekly basis but it would have provided an at-a-glance service to producers.

It would also have meant that if and when someone like Dr Robertson came along and challenged them they could simply point to their own in-house data and silenced the critics. Now wouldn’t that have been clever? Certainly better than the unedifying, reputation-shredding slanging match they are now engaged in.

This is the latest manifestation of the lack of acuity and imagination to be found in the current BBC Scotland management which has also led them into the worst industrial relations dispute in the whole of the corporation. Behind that there is a deeper institutional problem. The Trust holds no sanction over them. It can admonish but it can’t hurt them and no one ever suffers for the mistakes and miscalculations. They can’t lose business and therefore income. The Parliament has no statutory authority over them. Viewers and listeners have no real choice but to use them.

They control the private sector in programme-making and are in effect untouchable. When allied to lack of talent, it makes for a damaging mix and because of the referendum the scrutiny is intense and has exposed them. Let’s hope the investment in new programmes produces the right uplift in quality. (It’s a pity we won’t see the new referendum evening show until May.)

*Dear Dr Robertson

Thank you for your email with attachment.

In your comments you note that your report does not represent the corporate view of the University.  We did not suggest it did.  What we said was that we believe it holds the potential to impact on the corporate reputation of the university in the same way that it does that of BBC Scotland.  We see that it carries the logo of the university on its cover.  For that reason, again, as with all of our correspondence, this email is copied to the University Principal.

I’m  afraid there is nothing within your most recent communication that alters our view that important parts of the research methodology, the report contents and the conclusions are flawed.

Factual errors appear throughout the report (including significant inaccuracies in the number of news hours claimed as the evidence base for the report); it is highly subjective in its approach and highly selective in its choice of ‘evidence’ to support its contentions; many of its contentions about Reporting Scotland have no evidential base and are either misinterpretations or simply wrong; many of its general conclusions appear to be little more than guesses; the interpretation of data in crude quantitative terms, working from transcripts, appears to have resulted in a skewed and distorted analysis of broadcast output; much of the terminology used remains undefined and the language within the report is often, and very clearly, value-laden.

In your most recent attachment you accuse Reporting Scotland (on 27/9/12), in a story on NHS treatment, of including a case study of a seriously ill woman whom you say “turned out to be a Labour plant”. The person in question has confirmed to us that this is a complete fabrication – there is no truth whatsoever in your accusation.

Finally, you conclude, again without any evidence, that the BBC is responsible for “propagandising techniques” and somehow is involved in a “blanket suppression” of your report “across the mainstream media in the UK”.  I’m afraid there is now little more to be said regarding your report and we believe it best, in conclusion, to agree to disagree.

Ian Small

Courtesy of Derek Bateman


2014-02-09 10:15

A good example of why Dr Robertson is a respected professional, and Ian Small is an unimportant nobody, elevated to a position way beyond his capabilities, too full of hubris to realise he is (or is supposed to be) acting impartially on behalf of license payers who fund his incompetence
2014-02-09 10:36

Our Scottish Government has the BBC bang to rights, it has an independent, ostensibly neutral, peer-respected year long study into bias which has delivered a damning indictment of the BBC. It comes on the back of a BBC Trust conclusion confirming the BBC has breached its own parameters on impartiality. Any lately, we have the Electoral Commission charged to monitor broadcasting washing its hands of the responsibility.

Our Government MUST use these benchmark failures as leverage to secure a digital news channel for Scotland; the same or similar Scottish 6 news channel which the BBC said there was no call for.

If we vote YES, then we have the bare bones of our own independent broadcaster, if we vote no, we perhaps have more autonomy over broadcasting in our ‘region’. Nothing to lose!

We have only months left, and it begs the question, if not now then when? Come on Scottish Government, let’s see some action!
2014-02-09 11:07

Broadcasting is reserved by and to Westminster.You might demand that Trident be removed from the Clyde but it won’t happen for the same reason.
Should we vote No,Westminster will assume that their propaganda campaign,aided and abetted by the state broadcaster,has succeeded.
There is no chance then of them ever devolving control to a regional government.
All we can do is try to make the bias evident to as many people as possible and take ownership of it after independence.
2014-02-09 12:04

I know Bringiton, but it’s leverage. Even if the case presented was forlorn, it is a fight and protest that all the people of Scotland will see.

Don’t forget, Dr Roberston’s study was just the 6-7pm slot, just one hour of prime time news. His study didn’t include our daily bo___ks on Newsnight Scotland, or innumerable interruptions of indy voices, or Tokyo Kaye on GMS, or mock a jock on any number of ‘comedy’ programs on TV & radio, Politics Scotland categorised as entertainment not politics, or any online suppression of comments on BBC websites, or propaganda pieces from Grima Fraser, or 4:1 stacked panels on debates, or inane programs made in Scotland and passed of as Scottish output.

For all we shout and bawl, we need our leaders to get this injustice into the more public realm. It MATTERS!!!

I don’t expect for a minute we will see our digital news, not by September, but by God let us see the b____ds squirming to deny us.
2014-02-09 12:32

It’s not just what’s reported, but what isn’t.
It’s what ‘news’ lingers like a bad smell and repeats like indigestion, or clatters down the news agenda in freefall never to be heard more than once, – if ever.

It’s the UKIP script we’re expected to follow. The Europhobic criticism we’re expected to digest and adopt as our opinion. It’s the every cloud to a Scottish silver lining.

It’s the Starmer Smiths and Brian Moores who commentate on ‘our’ team, on BBC2 or highlights.

It is year, after year, after year of the same.

We have the sword to kill the beast.

Why is Braveheart kept as our best definition of William Wallace? Wouldn’t the truth be better than the caricature?

It is ALL the result of placing our heritage into the hands of others and we thereby abdicate looking after it ourselves.

2014-02-09 11:50

I have confronted senior members of the SNP at Conference on many occasions over the years of my awareness of BBC Scotlands indifference to accusations of bias particulary in favour of Scottish Labour and of anti SNP and Scottish Government bias. It was a waste of energy.
They, the BBC are unanswerable to the Scottish Parliament. Fact.
The only answer is for SNP and Yes interviewees to make their opinions obvious to the public by strong reaction on air to such bias.
Alec Salmond in an interview in the last few days refused to be bullied by a lady on News 24 and made it pretty obvious that he would not tolerate such ill manners.
2014-02-09 12:37

At the end of SP today we had two people who were in favour of Cameron’s speech saying even if it had been held in Stornway AS would not been happy,as for Dr Robertson I think he knows he has the backing of many of us as we have seen the bias of BBC with our own eyes.

I note with interest that Ian Lavery Lab MP is to introduce a bill this week to get rid of the Bedroom Tax,what’s the point Lab MPs will not turn up to vote.
2014-02-10 01:28

Quoting RTP:

I note with interest that Ian Lavery Lab MP is to introduce a bill this week to get rid of the Bedroom Tax,what’s the point Lab MPs will not turn up to vote.

Ach it disnae really matter if its scrapped or not. According to Fiona O’Donnell (Labour East Lothian)who stated in HOP on 6 Feb 2014
thanks to the efforts of Jackie Baillie, Iain Gray and the Govan Law Centre, people in my constituency and across Scotland are now protected from this inhumane measure. I also want to give credit to my own local housing association, which has found a legal way to protect its tenants. This is the success and the power of devolution. This is the reality of having the best of both worlds”.
Now don’t you feel a lot better knowing that SLAB are looking after us? Won’t say what I think – I’d be banned.


2014-02-09 12:50

Ian Bell in the Sunday Herald sheds some interesting light on the problems.
call me dave
2014-02-09 12:55

Beat me to it. Just read it and it adds to the weighing of the BBC output.

Good article.

2014-02-09 15:43

You are right: the BBC are untouchable.

And they know it.

They are an absolute disgrace to decent journalism, although there seems to be a severe lack of decent journalism around anyway. Sky News, ITN, and all the newspapers just confirm the dumbing down and lack of quality journalism generally. (To be fair ITN can be ok at times, but hardly anything to shout from the rooftops about).
2014-02-09 16:45

Withdraw your support to them.…/…

Stop watching live TV – use only catch up services.
Stop paying because you do not need to.
They’re untouchable all right, I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.

2014-02-09 16:26

can’t you just smell the stench of the labour party from behind the scenes.
2014-02-09 16:39

Many thanks to you, Derek for the good work that you are and have been doing on this. Although ‘untouchable’ the BBC are stinging as well they might and lots of organisations claimed to be untouchable but are not in existence any more. Keep up the good work and let the People of Scotland keep up the pressure for reform or replacement of this rotten borough that is the BBC in Scotland.
2014-02-09 17:50

It is the censorship by omission which has the biggest real impact on democracy.

The distortion, one sided opinion bias and ‘truth mistakes’ are all damaging, but can be ‘smelled’ out by the reasonably astute viewer.

However. it is much more difficult to smell something that isn’t even presented at all.

In addition to the non appearance of the UWS research, in recent days we have had similar treatment for statements by German and French EU constitutional experts saying that Scotland could retain EU membership without ever having to leave and a major back tracking by the Spanish as well.

And the Financial Times double page spread showing how an independent Scotland would be better off financially has also been posted missing.

Quite apart from the familiar wee domestic issue of Scots being kicked in the teeth, that’s just situation abnormal, these are all outrageous affronts to the very principle of democracy itself.
2014-02-10 04:19

BBC state “we are not in an official referendum campaign and therefore do not have to balance it out between yes and no.” Then they have the audacity to complain when the bias is pointed out for all to see. You couldn’t make it up.
2014-02-10 05:37

Well, I’m not so sure the BBC are untouchable. It’s difficult to see their actions in promoting the NO side and disparaging the YES are anything other than willful.

What is the value of the free advertising the Beeb has gifted the NO campaign since the referendum was announced? It must run into millions in market value.

Consider that the most insidious and effective propaganda is that not recognised as propaganda by its victims. The BBC is abusing the public trust and violating its charter. We know that from the UWS peer-reviewed study which is dispositive.

Questions need to be answered under oath by Mr Small and others at the BBC WRT the possible misuse of public monies and violation of campaign law.

Another strand of this troubling matter is that of possible collusion between the BBC and NO politicians and operatives.

Is the BBC guilty of criminal wrong-doing?

Enquiring minds and the procurator fiscal wonder.
2014-02-10 09:06

We have only ourselves to blame for this situation. The BBC is institutional and the clue to where its loyalties lie is in the name. ‘British’. We all in these islands are British but only the English conflate the two.
England = the UK = Britain = England, first and last and the media, mostly London based have that mindset.
Quite apart from the BBC being classified by the ONS as a government department and the license fee as a direct tax, it is for the largest nation that makes up the so called UK to call the shots as they win every time by virtue of their size.
Is it not England that is growing rapidly in population and not the other home nations. Does that not tell you something ?.
Pay no license/tax. let them squirm.
2014-02-10 09:13

I don’t think they’re untouchable. Dr Roberson has got right under their skin. His report, and the NNS pursuit of the breach of impariality acknowledged by the Trust are concrete examples of failure. We can call the BBC biased and condemn its impartiality without fear of defamation or libel because of these benchmarks.
Our people need to know the extent to which their news is being manipulated, and that requires the people whom the BBC cannot keep off our screens to be flagging up the bias and misreporting.
These two documents, Dr Robertson and the Trust’s own verdict cannot be dismissed as paranoia or here say.
We risk losing the vote if this media manipulation is not contested at every opportunity. But equally, once exposed, it will boost the YES ranks once the truth is exposed, not by default, but by finally getting the arguments properly presented.
2014-02-10 09:35

Has either YES or the Scottish Government even lodged any formal complaint on the issue? None that I’m aware of.
Judging by the time taken by the Trust to address a single complaint, there isn’t time left to resolve a complaint anyway, so we might have to fight with what we’ve got, but the commotion we create might be the only way to alert people and open their eyes.

If we do nothing, then the BBC will not alter course.

Street protests won’t reach enough people, but people on the TV can, and formal complaints, especially at governmental level are items of news which will surface.

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