Breaking News…BBC threatens academic

Fascinating to see the BBC’s priorities revealed so nakedly tonight when Pacific Quay management contacted the University of the West of Scotland to object to the UWS Bias in Broadcasting report http://issuu.com/creative_futur/docs/robertson2014fairnessinthefirstyear which, as far as I can see, they didn’t have the courage to broadcast.

Instead of doing what any self-confident public service broadcaster should do and producing a news item out of a critical report from one of our own universities, they seem to have hidden it from the licence-fee paying public who bankroll them and then mounted a sabotage operation against the author.

I understand they are demanding to see the raw data such is their fury at being found out misleading viewers. But even without seeing it, they themselves are reaching conclusions saying they doubt the “factual accuracy of a significant number of the contentions contained within the report and with the language used in the report itself.”

In a letter from Ian Small, the head of public policy, which came to me via a third party source, they say: “many of the conclusions you draw are, on the evidence you provide, unsubstantiated and/or of questionable legitimacy.” You may detect the irony of this statement given what the report revealed about the BBC’s reporting and presentation of referendum news.

There is little doubt that John Robertson’s illuminating report has found out the questionable management of news at Pacific Quay when Small says the report is  “highly subjective and questionable analysis of our news output.” Those are, in my view, spiteful and insulting accusations against a Scottish academic for which Small has no evidence whatsoever. Are you getting the impression of an arrogant, out-of-touch, superior organization resentful of criticism and unable to defend itself without resorting to personal vilification?

So offended is this superannuated administrator that he demands to see the data so the BBC can make its own assessment. Who qualified this pen-pusher to assess any academic’s information? Can we be allowed to see the budget information on which BBC Scotland bases decisions to sack so many experienced staff? I don’t think so.  Perhaps John Boothman will be asked to assess it instead.

And guess what gives the BBC’s game away…their email has a c.c. to Craig Mahoney, the university principal…a classic piece of low cunning to intimidate an academic by referring it to his boss.

I think we need to rally and support this individual who has a track record in exposing media manipulation. It is clear in this case he has struck at nerve at PQ where there are continual concerns at the running of the news operation which have now reached London but which simply don’t move Kenny McQuarrie whose job it is to guarantee an impartial and accurate news service without which there will be no BBC Scotland. It is the basis of the whole organization. He is oblivious to the queue of experienced journalistic staff leaving and to the threatening attitude that is now the hallmark of a once liberal and free-wheeling organization. No doubt when this report was brought to his attention he would express the kind of furious demand for a response that he should be using to energise the news department.

I am sending the details I have to my MSP and to the convenor of the Culture Committee at Holyrood – Stewart.Maxwell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk – as I think it’s time they began another series of investigations into BBC Scotland. Remember, Kenny McQuarrie refused to go before them the last time until given a kick in the pants by the chairman of the Trust. Such respect for the parliament.

I am also writing to the university principal Craig.Mahoney@uws.ac.uk in support of his university and of Dr Robertson who should not be subject to bullying by public officials unable to do their job properly. I urge you to do the same.

We have proof this week with the UWS report that the BBC is failing the Scots – yet again- remember less than half of Scots , 48%, believe the corporation is good at representing their lives through news and current affairs, the lowest proportion of any of the countries in the UK.

It strikes me as the height of hypocrisy for the BBC to try to badger an independent organization because it can’t stand it revealing the truth – that it is failing in its primary duty to the Scots…and they didn’t even report it. Therefore let’s also tell Mr Small what we think of his efforts – ian.small@bbc.co.uk. After all the BBC is always saying it wants to hear from you….

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111 thoughts on “Breaking News…BBC threatens academic

  1. “Are you getting the impression of an arrogant, out-of-touch, superior organization resentful of criticism and unable to defend itself without resorting to personal vilification?”

    Yes.

    Its also safe to say from comments so far, that we are all pretty much in agreement. The BBC ‘OUR BBC’ which we pay for, is actively acting in the interests of anyone they feel like other than the general public. Whether it be to suit themselves, a political POV, a particular party of choice, all of the above, some of the above, doesn’t matter. The current set up and management are basically flawed and requires someone to hit reset.

    • Did your hear a news report or was it a spoof that two ex reporters or celebs were getting together again and the trail intro was wait for
      BETTER TOGETHER
      this is the funny BBC Not

  2. I did have a chuckle that Mr Small wants access to the ‘raw data’, which is after all in the case of the BBC nothing more than a years worth of Six O’Clock News followed by Reporting (sic) Scotland. These are things he has access to. I suppose what he really wants is the category coded data, the precise breakdown of textual analysis which the report then allocated into a number of different categories, so that he can see whether he agrees with the way the academics have made their judgement.

    I wouldn’t mind having a look myself, and no doubt there could have been more polite ways of asking for this material, ways which did not carry an implied threat and impugn the integrity of the academic and veracity of his claims.

    It is beyond reproach that this has not seeped into the public domain. If no-one brings this up at FMQ’s today I will be dismayed, not least because I already wrote to my MSP earlier in the week to suggest this very thing. Last night’s developments makes it even more urgent. Thanks to you and your friend for sharing Derek, otherwise this might not have been known beyond the BBC and the University. I hope the University takes stock and then outs the BBC in public. A carefully worded statement issued by the principal attacking the BBC could have quite an impact.

    Unfortunately due to the way the BBC handles complaints nothing will now be resolved by the Trust before the referendum, by which time it will be too late.

    Derek, what I’d be very interested to hear from you about is how BBC is going to change during the legally proscribed period? There has to be a concern given the last year or so of their output, and that they themselves don;t consider they are biased in any way, that the run-in will just see ‘business as usual’ as you put it. If that is the case, and in particular the practice continues of giving all three unionist parties a right of reply, citizens might well have to consider their options in relation to legal action and we know from the past that the SNP is not scared of taking the BBC to court, though not always with success,

    Also, what did you think of the BBC’s first referendum debate, that has to be worth a considered blog surely? In what word is the redoubtable Mr Massie a swithering impartial don’t knower…?

  3. I no longer watch the so called “Scottish news” and with the exception of the occasional foray into RT territory get all my info. from the internet.

  4. You also have to wonder if the research had been done by someone at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow or St Andrews (or heaven forfend, an oxbridge academic) whether the BBC would have acted in this way?

  5. I contacted the Herald by phone yesterday evening – the journalist who spoke to me professed never to have heard of Dr Robertson’s report. Such a denial of course lets the paper escape any censure of ignoring items that do not fit with editorial policy but now that they are aware of the existence of the report one might expect detailed coverage. Or did I come up the Clyde on a bike?

  6. For long enough BBC Scotland and Scotland Tonight have ridiculed the lack of a “game changer” for the Yes campaign.

    Well maybe this is the game changer they have been so desperately looking for.

  7. Unbelievable, where is the BBC going? where is the free speech, free trade, free nationals?

  8. Perfidy Prober
    I do hope your reply to the reporters claim of ignorance was Weel, ye ken noo!

  9. Derek

    I always liked your Headlines programme and was sorry when you left the BBC.

    You always came across as fair and balanced and gave a favourable view of the Yes camp side of the debate.

    Have you possibly let bitterness or regret cloud your judgement?

    Shoot me down if I’m wrong. But if this report had any real credibility the Murdoch press would be all over it. And you know why.

    I think it’s fair for the BBC to request access to the source data. The conclusions reached are, in many instances, highly subjective.

    Surely it’s back to journalistic first principles that sources should be verified.

    Regards

    • The BBC have asked for the data to discredit it. That is openly stated in Ian Small’s email. Any academic enterprise would never start from this position, “Your wrong, and I will prove you wrong”. It is never a question of wrong versus right, it is all about the robustness of the data, the methodology employed in its collection and analysis, and the interpretation of the findings.

      If the BBC were truly interested in determining compliance of their own editorial guidelines they should have suggested that Dr Roberston’s research be subject to independent peer review. After all this is what science is about.

      Instead we have a threatening email. What can one say.

    • I think your definition of ‘subjective’ is rather different to mine, which appears to be little more than a pejorative swipe.

      Subjective: (adjective) based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions

      I really don’t think this report can be fairly said to be subjective, when the conclusions are drawn from a year long study. The authors arguments which follow on from their main table appear to me to be sound, provided the data is correct, and assuming that the way they have ‘coded’ the news reports into the different categories which generated the table is sound. I should add that they do give some examples in the report. Perhaps you can offer an example from the report where you feel their coding is flawed and subjectively motivated?

      This is empirically driven research, which is why it is so interesting. It is perfectly valid to dispute the methodology employed, although I think the coded categories are actually pretty comprehensive. Equally it would be fair to dispute judgements that have been made about whether or not a particular segment should have been coded in a different way. All perfectly legitimate points for academic discussion. However, in the absence of the data behind the table, which has not yet been published, it is simply disingenuous to dismiss the report as ‘subjective’.

      As to why the media have ignored it well there is a long track record of the media in Scotland ignoring academic reports, statements from individuals, etc. which are favourable to the YES campaign. Nevertheless, the question you ask is very important. Personally, my subjectively driven view is that the media does not want to address the question of media bias, it is a subject which it is better left alone for tactical reasons. People in glass houses and all that….

    • Of course I’m bitter…that’s what growing old is all about. Now I’m saying what I want to say for the first time in my life.
      What I don’t understand is why there is an underlying assumption, now made explicit by the BBC management, that this year-long research is anything but sound. Why wouldn’t it be? The media including the BBC publishes at face value all sorts of reports from academics, think tanks and cranks without saying: Oh dear we’d better not touch it until we see the underlying data first and get it independently verified. This is from a Scottish university…they’re quick to quote principals arguing for tuition fees at face value. Why not a report critical of themselves? They should have reported it, added in a line from management that they didn’t agree with the findings and would seek clarification from UWS and politely requested the full data for their own use to make sure, if it’s correct, they don’t continue to favour one side over another. Instead they ignored a legitimate report and then drew disparaging conclusions about the research and it’s author and treated him like an amateur while inviting his boss to step in. This is a big mistake and to me smacks of insecurity leading to overreaction, a hallmark of the McQuarrie regime. On Murdoch, maybe they prefer the Union to the BBC. Thanks for taking part. Derek

      • Having read through the report I can see clearly why the BBC are questioning it.

        First and foremost, there is no peer review of the study. If there is intention to have the study published in a peer reviewed journal, this should surely be mentioned at the start or end of the report.

        The report mentions ‘researchers’ (p3) but the report gives credit only to Dr J. Robertson. Were there others who helped conduct this research, and why have they not been credited?

        There are no references to other similar studies on media bias, so that the methods used in this report can be compared for their adequacy and appropriateness.

        Analysis of the data in Table 1 (labelled for some reason as Figure1 in the report) is somewhat brief, and the lack of subsections in the results section, or even references to the data in the text, makes it difficult to determine what has and hasn’t been analysed.

        Critical discussion of conclusions are somewhat lacking. For example (p8) “In sharp contrast [to referendum reports on Scottish channels] the UK-wide broadcasts rarely reported on this topic”. Perhaps this holds true for STV and ITV (141 vs 11), however relevant factors such geographic distribution of viewership are not discussed, and so use of the term ‘rarely’ here seems mostly subjective to the fact that 141 is approx. 10x larger than 11. This paragraph goes on to discuss that the BBC1 figures are reportedly inflated, however no data is presented to back up this statement.

        Also on p8, “Anti-independence statements were heavily concentrated on economic affairs”. Such breakdown of the data is not given in this report, it is simply not there. Picking out 3 reports as examples for this is certainly not evidence.

        And on p9, “Health-related matters were the other dominant theme”. Firstly, what exactly qualifies as a ‘theme’ is not discussed. If we are to assume that ‘Economic evidence’, ‘Social evidence’ and ‘Political evidence’ and the coded categories which qualify as themes, then health-related matters, which fall under ‘social evidence’ (p6), rank 3rd out of the three (35 counts for social vs 73 for economic evidence and 40 for political evidence).

        p10 draws conclusions from data which again is not presented in the report

        p12: “The closing statements in reports might be felt to leave a lingering impression and thus carry more weight than some others”. What evidence is this statement based on? The tone (“might be felt”) suggests anecdotal evidence or personal experience of the writer, rather than previous peer-reviewed studies.

        The final conclusion that coverage has not been balanced seems to be based mostly on the data in the “Finsihing with Pro/Anti evidence unchallenged” which seems like a reasonable statement, however there are no references to show why this category is the most relevant to the conclusion, and again the data and its context simply aren’t discussed in any critical manner.

        The evidence presented in this report is far from objective (all examples of news reports given fit with a pro=independence agenda), their final conclusion has absolutely no basis given in the report (what evidence is presented for damage to the Yes campaign?), and there is a very rushed feel to the whole report, in its briefness and lack of critical data analysis.

        I’m sure Dr Robertson is entirely capable as a researcher, but this report does not read as ‘sound research’, I’m not at all surprised that the BBC have questioned it.

        And with regards to my position on this matter, I completely believe that the BBC is biased in their editing with regards to the referendum. But this report, in its current state, does not provide the evidence to back that belief.

      • Barry
        Great post..cant disagree with anything you say as you sound expert. The thing is though the BBC never challenges the soundness of academic reports or expert reports on any subject to my knowledge. In almost every single survey or poll they could in theory test the credentials of the author and the sponsor or the methodology or the language. They don’t. So why only in this case? If they reported first and offered a statement questioning it, it would allow them the moral right to to contact the author and express their surprise at his findings and ask politely if they could view the data for themselves to help them evaluate how effective they were on balance. Instead the ignored the work and then hounded the author, questioning his integrity and dropping in the threat of the principal’s involvement. This is not appropriate behaviour for any public body and the tone is utterly unprofessional. How would you feel if you got a letter like that? This is the first time I can think of where a university research project has been subjected to this inquisitive interference and displays crass misjudgement given that it is about the BBC. Your first PR thought would be to handle this carefully and not kick up a bigger stink. They have lost the ability to act properly at PQ. They need help. This also opens the way for viewers and listeners to challenge every single report broadcast by the BBC from now on. The next time you hear them say “the independent and highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, write to Ian Small and say you don’t believe their methodology and could they check it with the source? Why do they report opinion polls without declaring they have checked the methodology and approved the findings? We should bombard them from now on every time they report some academics or experts work. Have you checked its provenance and efficacy, Mr Small? Is it approved by the BBC monitors and does it meet acceptable standards for us to view? Barry, they are not questioning the data, they are attempting to rubbish the report. It is a dirty trick. This has some way to run. The next question may well be: Was there a plan to run an item on Newsnight? Was it postponed? And why? BBC journalism does not allow for BBC management interference in editorial affairs. Regards. Derek

    • Agreed with all the responses to the comments made by longshanker’s, the only objective element of which is an uncontentious value judgment implicit in the final rhetorical question. Sources should indeed be verified. For myself, as far as that principle is concerned in this case, I’ve no cause to doubt that those were the programmes watched by the author of the report, nor that the report was published.

  10. Since my earlier post above, I have sent details of this ongoing saga to Channel 4 News, Aljazeers, and Russia Today.
    I hope they give it laldy!

  11. Longshanker: “But if this report had any real credibility the Murdoch press would be all over it. And you know why.”

    Aye I understand why the Murdoch press would be all over this report. It’s not the report’s credibility that’s stopping the SUN from publicising the report.

  12. If the BBC in Scotland merely ‘required access to the source data’, why did they not just ask for it? Why did they feel the need to add all the pejoratives?

    You make the same mistake the BBC did by attempting to do down a report with out any evidence other than, it doesn’t suit the unionist message.

    I imagine, if a report came out showing the BBC in Scotland to be honest and completely unbiased in the referendum debate, BT would be all over it.

  13. If the Scottish media won’t publicise this report.
    then Circulate Derek’s article and newsnetscotland’s article to contacts.
    Ask your contacts to pass it on.

  14. I am not unfamiliar with customer relations and customer care structure and would class this action by Ian Small on behalf of the BBC as tantamount to scuttling his own flagship.

    The operation of the whole BBC, Scotland and elsewhere, is predicated on its Charter and conformance to it, but this is damaging to the BBC, the UWS and Dr John Robertson himself.

    I would expect UWS and the report’s author to take suitable action, but given its past, the BBC will not do anything which is indicative of an oppressive internal atmosphere. As a public corporation and indeed, the public broadcaster, it should be called out as unfit.

  15. Is Grahamski a BBC employee?

  16. The BBC broadcast opinion from random people at bus stops with red rosettes as long as it suits them and does not citicise them. So why would they not publish this report. Lets think about this if the report was in their favour it would have been on the news when the print was still wet.

  17. Email sent:

    Dear Mr Small,

    I understand that you have written to Dr John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland in relation to his year long study “Fairness in the First Year?” to request his raw data for analysis.

    Without seeing this raw data, it’s highly surprising that you would immediately doubt the “factual accuracy of a significant number of the contentions contained within the report and with the language used in the report itself.” Or additionally, “many of the conclusions you draw are, on the evidence you provide, unsubstantiated and/or of questionable legitimacy.” and describing it as “highly subjective and questionable analysis of our news output.”.

    Dr Robertson’s methodology is clearly described in his report and it would be a straightforward exercise for the BBC to look back through a portion of the historical broadcasts in question to check his analysis. In fact, I would have thought it prudent to do so before forcefully questioning the validity of this study.

    We, the licence fee paying public are constantly reassured that the BBC is an impartial organisation and so the BBC must have these programs available to them for their own analysis. Otherwise, how could you examine and maintain your impartiality over the course of an extended time frame?

    Regards,

  18. What I would say is that the report is perhaps biased towards fairness? In that my reading of the report, if the SNP & Labour couldn’t agree on the shape of the Earth, rather than taking the side of those who know the Earth is round and lambasting those who think the Earth was flat, that the BBC and STV should present the arguments of both sides with talks from both sides equally and with independent advice from both sides equally with any hidden agendas revealed.

  19. In my humble opinion the BBC and STV are totally biased in favor of the “NO” camp in the question of Scottish Independence.

  20. In case you didn’t know, Derek, the BBC are very aware of possible perceptions of bias – so much so that they commissioned Ipsos-Mori to conduct a poll in early December to test it. There was an Ipsos researcher in our house who interviewed my brother, and they asked about perceptions of bias in all the main media outlets, but I collared the chap on the way out, and he said it was commissioned by the BBC.

    I have to think that if this survey showed no noticeable concerns or reports of bias from those questioned, we would have heard chapter verse & trumpet fanfare about it by now from a grinning Jackie Bird.

  21. I’m pretty sure Dr Robertson took a deep breath before publishing knowing full well it would result in some “negative attention”.

    What I wonder was Ian small thinking? perhaps “I’ll write a bad tempered letter drawing attention to our own incompetence” ?

  22. Google “Balen Report” and “28gate”. Hypocrisy must be in the job specs.

  23. A Southern intruder, wandering in via WUWT.

    The BBC plainly acts as a political institution now, rather than a broadcaster of record. Its values have mutated throughout its entire output, from drama to sport via current affairs, news (of course), wildlife programming (for heaven’s sake!), and even the coming 1914 commemorations, treating those as an opportunity for melodramatic agitprop.

    I may not agree with those who would break up the UK, but throttling a proper debate about it is a dishonest, disgusting and shameful (though not unexpected) action which simply confirms the state of degradation into which the BBC has fallen. It has actually made me think twice about the whole independence issue – if a truly independent broadcasting network for Scotland were part of the deal, receivable in the rest of the UK as well, maybe that would be a way out of everyone’s present dilemma of what to do with the BBC now that it is so patently morally derelict? Pardon my extreme ignorance, is that at all on the cards?

  24. Reply from Stewart Maxwell MSP

    Thank you for your email regarding the study on referendum media coverage by Dr John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland.

    The Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee will be meeting next Tuesday to discuss its future work programme. I plan to raise the findings of Dr Robertson’s report at the meeting and will ask members to consider if the issue should be examined further by the committee.

    I will contact you again to let you know how the committee decides to proceed.

    Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to my attention.

    Kind regards,

    Stewart Maxwell

  25. Just had an automated reply from Mr Small’s inbox.

    On 24 January 2014 16:41, Ian Small wrote:
    Thank you for your correspondence. The BBC welcomes feedback but to ensure it is dealt with properly, all correspondence has to be submitted via our central system. Comments and complaints are now handled centrally to allow us to make the most efficient use of your licence fee.

    Comments can be made by visiting the Contact the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/contact To send your complaint to the BBC please submit it centrally through our complaints website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints to be guaranteed a reply (or alternatively by post to BBC Complaints, PO Box 1922, Darlington DL3 0UR or by phone on 03700 100 222).

    Full details of our complaints service are available on our Complaints website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

  26. Ian Small
    16:41 (27 minutes ago)

    to
    Thank you for your correspondence. The BBC welcomes feedback but to ensure it is dealt with properly, all correspondence has to be submitted via our central system. Comments and complaints are now handled centrally to allow us to make the most efficient use of your licence fee.

    Comments can be made by visiting the Contact the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/contact To send your complaint to the BBC please submit it centrally through our complaints website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints to be guaranteed a reply (or alternatively by post to BBC Complaints, PO Box 1922, Darlington DL3 0UR or by phone on 03700 100 222).

    Full details of our complaints service are available on our Complaints website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

  27. I have duly sent two emails as suggested citing my academic qualifications in the hope of making me harder to ignore. Thank you a lot Mr Bateman for flagging this issue up. To attempt, on the sly, to shoot the messenger was highly reprehensible.

  28. I have now received a reply from Mr. Small in standard wording advising me to send my complaint to a BBC address in Darlington!

    What a Kafkaesque organisation the BBC has become!

  29. […] Piker, if you scratch around beyond the normal press routes you find wee gems… Broadcasters favouring No campaign according to new academic study Breaking News […]

  30. […] paper and no friend of the SNP) and also by prominent Scottish bloggers, including a former BBC Scotland producer, Derek Bateman  Dr Robertson was interviewed on the BBC’s Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland […]

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