BBC: Balance the Bias

It looks like BBC Scotland is compounding its overreaction to the Bias in Broadcasting report. It is now embarked on a course of forensic examination to challenge the detail of the UWS work in an attempt to claim that it is wrong to suggest bias in favour of the No campaign. The letters currently going out give some detail of the areas they object to – the first time the BBC has publicly acknowledged to licence-fee payers what its concerns are.

“It took us several days to review the research available to us within the report and when doing so we identified a number of inaccuracies within it. In addition we would also question the methodology as well as the fundamental validity of the conclusions it reached. 

It is our view that the report consistently fails to support its contentions with factually accurate evidence; for example there are several substantive factual inaccuracies within the references it makes to Reporting Scotland news output. We are also concerned, for example, with the inclusion of a number of non-referendum stories within the data outlined in the report. 

We also believe that the report failed to define terminology used within it; for example ‘fairness’, ‘insulting language’ etc. or whether any account was taken of what the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines or the Ofcom Broadcasting Code have to say in this respect.

The report concludes the authors have “evidence of coverage which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign.” Our strongly held view is that there is no evidence whatsoever, as contained within the report, that supports this contention. It is no more than an assumption, based on the report’s findings which, themselves, we contest.”

Previous descriptions of their concerns were put in the public domain via the letter sent to Dr John Robertson, the author, from the head of public policy Ian Small, a letter seen by Dr Robertson’s university colleagues. This is a change in tactic after the PR mistake of replying to all correspondents with a standard letter of rebuff advising them where to make complaints. Dr Robertson, I understand, is not for backing down and stands by his research and is ready to counter the BBC’s assault on his work. In the meantime some questions arise.

Who drew the BBC management’s attention to this research since the news department did not report it? Or did the news department not report it because it was asked not to by management – a serious breach of editorial rules?

Does BBC Scotland routinely check the methodology and credibility of academic reports? Or is this the only time this has happened? If so, is it just a remarkable coincidence that the report they decide to challenge is critical of the BBC itself?

Will all academic studies which come across the BBC’s desk be subject to the same credibility check from now on and if not, why not? Does the BBC take at face value all other research from other sources or only research pointing out BBC shortcomings?

One of my correspondents said he was interviewed by a pollster asking about bias in BBC news coverage. Why is the BBC commissioning survey data on this subject if they are convinced they are treating both sides equally? And if they now have that data would they like to publish it? It is after all paid for by the audience who have a right to see it. It may well back the view that there is no perception of bias in which case it would be interesting given most peoples’ views. But how revealing would it be if it turned out to support Dr Robertson’s contention of bias? The BBC should be asked to publish this polling material. (If any of you do write in, don’t be fobbed off with claims it doesn’t exist. I know of a case where a national newspaper asked for listening figures from the year 2005 when Jeff Zycinski became head of radio in order to compare them with up-to-date listening figures. The BBC press office was instructed to tell the reporter than the data didn’t go back that far…a blatant untruth…RAJARS as they are known, which measure audiences, have been going since 1992. Who would instruct such an untrue statement to be released?)

The BBC really need to win this or they will not only be guilty of bias but of overreacting and making themselves looks very silly. The trouble is that all they’ve got is an attempt at undermining the university work when what they really need is their own internal assessment of the first year of output. Only then will they be able claim a victory. First they must get enough voices to agree the UWS work is not good enough and then they have to prove their own programming was not biased. This they can do by repeating the exhaustive work carried out by Dr Robertson and reviewing all of their early evening news output for the year in question and doing so under the professional eye of an independent adjudicator. If they don’t trust John Robertson, why should he trust them? They cannot claim they don’t have the base material – it’s all in the archive.

Meanwhile it would be helpful if the MSPs started to wind up another inquiry into the operation of BBC Scotland and tease out why they are so scared of Dr Robertson’s work and if there has been interference in editorial decision-making over his report.

By the way…there’s another issue of bias underway…BBC Scotland is taking keen interest in the latest House of Lords pantomime which of course is entirely one-sided, like the Scottish Affairs Committee. We already heard Ian Lang on Radio Scotland this morning – not debating of course, one doesn’t do on-air debates – and no doubt there will be equal time for an SNP person tomorrow but how do they cover a debate in which every overblown, self-important anti-democratic windbag says the same thing? Personally I’d ignore it. Does any Scot care what unelected party placemen say about anything – apart from the forelock-tuggers awaiting their own ennoblement. I’d say Darling and Tavish first…any others?

45 thoughts on “BBC: Balance the Bias

  1. outbreak of groupthink at the bunker.

  2. I hope the pertinent questions you pose are being put directly to BBC Scotland Management, Derek, where appropriate under Freedom of Information legislation.

  3. Yes I agree BBC Scotland have developed a bunker mentality over its reporting of the referendum debate. If the BBC cannot/will not independently verify and publish findings on its broadcasting output then its much coveted Editorial Guidelines on impartiality can be ripped up on the steps of Pacific Quay.

    Oh wouldn’t that be sweet.

  4. The BBC questions on the UWS research methodology also seems to be an attack on Edinburgh University who reviewed it and found no issue with the methodology used.

    It is this kind of detached statistical analysis that the BBC should take on board to improve output. Seems to me the research was a chance to improve the BBC public news service in Scotland, or at least stimulate televised debate. This is the kind of research the BBC should be designing / funding themselves.

  5. Does anyone remember deCSS or 09 F9?

    I love the Streisand effect. We should encourage it here.

  6. Derek, just think, it wasn’t that long ago you were defending this crock o’ shite! However you are correct in your analysis, they believe they HAVE to win this.

  7. While accessing BBC Scottish news on line the other day I was invited to answer a survey before gaining access, it was totally about BBC bias in Scotland. Wonder if I will ever hear anymore about it or will it just disappear since I gave them a truthful and well deserved “doing”. Nearly forgot about it, as these things never see the light of day after they go into the BBC system. However I always go through the motions!

  8. I got exactly the same reply from them.

    BBC didn’t agree with the report therfore it was rubbish and BBC didn’t care about it sums it up.

    I have a whole folder of emails that say pretty much the same thing.

    We are the BBC. We are untouchable. We are NEVER wrong. You (me) are just a stupid, worthless, powerless little punter and how dare you have the temerity to complain about or question the fabulously powerful institution that is the BBC. Fuck off back to your hole and don’t bother us. We’re busy saving the empire.

    I really am coning to believe that the BBC is run by an MI5 department that reports to westminster. They certainly don’t want anything to do with the people they tax to pay for their propaganda.


  9. There is no bias at the BBC?

    The fact that the articles reporting on the independence referendum on the BBC Scotland Website had a ‘related link’ to Better Together, but not to YES Scotland were obviously just an oversight – something I see has been put right after numerous complaints were made.

  10. First lesson in any decent History class:

    “There is no such thing as an unbiased account of events.”

    So since they claim to be unbiased, we *know* that they’re lying to us.

  11. The BBC have to be made to substantiate their own unsubstantiated claims that the UoWS research findings are unsubstantiated 🙂

    Now everyone who received this lame complaint has to ask for the specifics. What exactly were the inadequacies? What aspects of the methodology were questionable?

    ‘We don’t agree’ doesn’t mean anything. Of course they don’t agree. UKIP don’t agree that they are racist.

  12. Would Glen Campbell sitting on the steps ripping up the Scottish government’s manifesto be considered anti government bias or a publicity stunt,

    IF not deemed to be bias, but merely a publicity stunt, do the BBC consider this an appropriate way to report the news?

  13. Lamentable Murphy, A & D Alexander.

    Don’t watch BBC – 20%? viewers – down to 10% . Heads will roll.

  14. Interesting reading the BBC’s response which Derek posted above. Can you spot the trend ?

    The BBC don’t do facts, figures or evidence. There’s nothing there that substantiates their claims. It’s all hot air and bluff that could have been whittled down to a short sentence, ‘we don’t agree’.

    This is typical of the entire BBC news output. How many times have facts or figures been missing from news stories ? A few weeks ago Reporting Scotland ran a story on South Lanarkshire NHS telling us the mortality rate in the region’s hospital’s were higher than the Scottish average.

    But how much higher ? A lot,a little or so high their could be serial killers stalking the wards ! We’re never told. The BBC obviously don’t think it’s important enough. This trend has been carried through on just about every scare story you can imagine, currency, the EU, NATO, Trident . Facts, figures and actual evidence seem to cause problems for BBC Scotland.

    Similar trends also happen on the main BBC news at six. Monthly we have Hugh Pym, the economics editor, coming on to tell us about the deficit and the latest monthly figures. 9 times out of 10 that will never go beyond those figures to tell us how this is adding to our national debt and where it stands.

    The conspiracy theorist in me says that the BBC have been nobbled by Westminster. ‘Don’t tell them the truth, there will be protests in the street’. It’s happened in many countries after all, could it be possible that’s what’s really going on here ?

    In the meantime, next time you watch the news, just be aware of what information is actually being provided and what sources the BBC use.

  15. I have listened with distaste to the so called debate in the Lords where one could listen to unelected, superannuated windbags repeating the same trite nonsense, invoking Scottish patriotism and how through their veins runs good Scottish blood. I had to switch off so nauseating and self congratulatory had it become. If the BBC report any of this supposed debate it will prove bias above a shadow of a doubt.

    • I just can’t understand how intelligent people can even consider getting themselves into what can only be described as a panto outfit and thereafter adopt an accent which is alien to them. Surely their behaviour simply demonstrates a sad lack of self confidence.

  16. @tartanfever
    There was an excellent example of this yesterday. Mike Russell was on talking about the damage that immigration is doing to higher eduction (something I can personally attest to) and was saying that numbers from India had fallen drastically. The interviewer confronted him with a long list of countries of origin from which student number in the UK had risen. “Ah!”, said Mike, ” I have that very list in front of me!” He made the point that a lot of tiny increases from some countries are dwarfed by yhte massive reductions in students coming from the major overseas nations with significant numbers of students studying internationally: India, Nigeria, China, etc. His argument is backed up by Universities Scotland.
    Fast forward to “Morning Call” where, with Mike Russell safely out of the studio, the same list of countries with increased numbers of students coming in was quoted as counter-evidence to the damage that is being done to Scottish Universities by UKIP-inspired visa restrictions!

    • Indeed, the immigration policy proposed in the white paper is exactly what we need and the perfect counterpoint to the race driven agenda being pursued down south, contrary to almost all the empirical data available. Many of the very talented students who come here to complete postgraduate degrees would love to stay, but this is increasingly hard, and for some, just impossible. Even Americans find the number of visa hoops they have to go through very onerous, never mind those from China, India etc. We do have world class universities which offer a high class and very competitively priced education, but what we don’t have is an immigration policy which supports that demand and talent, never mind the desires many of those that come here have to stay. We should be doing everything we can to attract foreign students to our universities, not putting barriers in place to prevent this, and we certainly shouldn’t be putting artificial caps etc. in place. The current immigration debate at Westminster and the obscene pandering to UKIP is something which totally dismays me. An issue which clearly demonstrates the divergent needs of Scotland compared to rUK.

      • I very much agree. The point is someone in the BBC has gone through that list and made a political point out of it by selectively stating the number of countries where student numbers have increased. This is actually a big stretch when overall numbers are being restricted by the policy and Universities Scotland has stated that there is a problem. So why does BBC Scotland take it upon itself, not just to fire this as an awkward question at Mike Russell, but to introduce it as a “base fact” in the following Morning Call discussion.

  17. Margaret Brogan

    I listened to Ian Lang this morning and he was so bad that even James Naughtie demurred when he said that Scotland would become a “dependency” of the UK following independence. This kind of supercilious nonsense does the Yes campaign a big favour, the nuts are coming out of the woodwork!
    James Naughtie for Yes? He’s up here so often he’s succumbed to the reasonable arguments and the facts!
    I heard the same distortions mentioned above, where Mike Russell had dealt with the numbers of students from the list of other countries, saying they were tiny. I normally put Morning Call off, because it is such a poor programme, but I was making bread and my hands were sticky, so couldn’t. The bread got a good pummelling just the same!

  18. I think the Scottish lords are in a panic. I very much doubt the good old England will continue to pay them so handsomely when there’s no gain for the English Treasury. I strongly suspect it will not be long after independence when they are asked politely to vacate the premises and forego thier expenses (I think their pensions will probably be honoured though).

    All they’ll have to do to continue the pretence of their worth will be the Balmoral Games and other wee get-togethers with Brenda.

  19. I replied to their email asking for detailed account of what exactly they are refuting ie. examples.

  20. India has retaliated. No one is allowed into India waters without a current visa. Travelling visas last for six months. (£100+) A subsequent six months period must past, before another Indian visa will be issued. British banks do a lot of business in India, selling insurance and pension plans etc. There is no comprehensive welfare state in India.

    The Iraq, Afghanistan war has made air travel etc longer and more expensive. The air space has to be avoided. Flights cannot go direct, but have to divert higher, making the journey east/west longer.

  21. You’ve made some killer points regarding the BBC refutation of an academic report that they haven’t carried as news. They have become the story rather than just reporting it.

  22. I received the same standard reply from the BBC and immediately questioned if they vet all such reports (if not why not?) and what precise complaints in detail do they have in relation to the UWS report.
    The gist of their defence seems to be “We’re the BBC, trust us” but the fact is we don’t trust them and we wish them to acknowledge why that is and then redress the bias in their news reporting.
    At least the Beeb replied to my complaint, emails sent on three occasions to STV’s News official website mysteriously could not be delivered. Does anyone have an active site for STV that I could try?

  23. Charles Kearney

    If a University Research Document is to be the subject of a BBC ‘Scotland’ Investigation, then it would appear that the long series of Anti-Referendum UK Government Reports, generated by Westminster, at Public expense, should be subjected to the same scrutiny before this Organization Airs them!

    Since the Methodology of Dr. Robertson’s Report was verified and commended by Edinburgh University, every University in the Land should be asked to undertake the same examination of his work and give their opinion; should they not do so, they lay every Research Paper they Publish, open to challenge by the Administrators and Journalists of BBC ‘Scotland.’ That they have neither Training nor Expertise in such research, will not matter to them as they control the output on Radio and Television and will state whatever they like as fact! This is common in all Dictatorships, but is foreign to a so-called Democratic Society.

  24. The BBC’s position here is disingenuous. Robertson’s report is written for the public, it avoids technical jargon where possible, it isn’t thick with citations to other similar studies and it doesn’t have a long rambling introduction discussing in detail the theoretical/methodological issues raised by the paper. It is a concise statement of research aimed at the general public, which makes it all the more frustrating that it hasn’t had the wider coverage it deserves. Why have our politicians largely ignored it? Just because the paper lacks some of the normal critical apparatus you would have in a journal article is neither here not there, though the BBC are insinuating this somehow invalidates the output. The medium of communication chosen was entirely appropriate for the importance of the study and the need to disseminate it quickly and in a form the public could understand and engage with (or so it would have been hoped). A fully written-up academic version would have languished in peer review and then journal cycles too long, it wouldn’t come out until 2015 at the earliest, by which point it would all be purely academic….

    YES seem reluctant to play on the issue of media bias despite ample opportunity to do so. They are very quick to point out when reliable sources conflict with the BT message (this week has seen a stream of such messages), but are much more reticent when it comes to the problem of directly addressing media bias and the negative impact it has on the referendum debate. This sort of report is really all the ammunition they need, and yet they remain largely silent.

    I can’t help but think therefore that whilst we are clearly being failed by the BBC, our politicians, and by that I mean the Scottish government, must do more to ensure those who have a duty to impartiality are beholden to it. When we hit the designated referendum period at the end of May, will anything really be different? How will the BBC handle it? Will they consider that giving YES a voice and then allowing each unionist party a right of response still amounts to fair and impartial reporting? We shall have to wait and see. I’d like to see a lot more of Greens and Labour for Independence involved in TV debates, to visually demonstrate to the public that YES is a broad political coalition, and not merely an army of lackeys worshipping their dictator and demi-god, Alex Salmond.

  25. “an army of lackeys worshipping their dictator and demi-god, Alex Salmond.”
    Oh dear. Is that what you think?

  26. I was being sarcastic of course….that is what some of our friends in BT think!

  27. J Lamont= “A list of wee things” I see your ex bosses had a wee clip on the news that JL had made a wee slip saying this at FMQs today are they getting worried I wonder if Brewer will say anything about it tonight.

  28. Derek,

    At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, do you care to comment on the performance of James Naughtie since he has appeared on GMS?

    I can not help but be appalled by the manner in which he appears to treat representatives of the YES campaign in comparison to those who represent the NO campaign. Recently he has been extremely bullish in discussions with Alec Salmond and Keith Brown and this in itself is a good thing, political representatives should be challenged, however this becomes an issue when he does not apply the same tactics with the other side of the debate. In recent conversations with both Iain Lang and Alastair Darling the discussions tended to be a series of monologues which he appeared to helpfully setup for the speaker.

    It is as if he has assigned a different weight of authority to each side and is thus treating them differently. I am sorry to say this but the immediate conclusion is that this lacks journalistic integrity, and no doubt to many, and I struggle not to agree, reinforces the belief of BBC bias.

    Iain Ross

    • Hi Iain

      All journalism has an inbuilt problem and that is the perception held by those who consume it. We all have a bias of some kind and it’s very difficult especially in a heated debate to acknowledge to ourselves that we have such views and to allow another voice to contradict them. We hear things that aren’t necessarily implied. However the difficulty faced by journalists who are themselves political, as in myself, and Naughtie, is finding ammunition to put to those with whom we broadly agree. I used to imagine myself a Labour politician (not easy!) when doing a robust interview with a Nat. I would imagine what sorts of questions and attitudes they would adopt and would use them as part of my attack. The easily identified problem with Jim is that he is a proud product of the British Establishment and craves its acceptance to validate him. He carries the typical burden of the London Scot, a slightly superior approach to those he thinks have usurped his Scotland. His tone says: How dare you… It’s as if he is comfortable with things as they are and will have been subject to all the pressures of the Anglo Scot in being or feeling required to integrate by pushing away anything too nationalistic because it causes offence, as Andy Murray has had to learn. You will be accepted in London circles so long as you play the game their way and accept your country’s subsidiary role. Much easier to laugh off questions about independence than face ridicule. It is noticeable to a professional ear how Jim regards it as his duty to trip up the Nats but how emollient he sounds with anyone on the “respectable side” of the debate. His recent interview with Salmond was one of the worst I’ve heard on GMS which is saying something. He was beside himself with impatience as he tried to jump in and you could hear him squeaking like a piglet in the background as Salmond spoke – very distracting – and he should have had the studio producer in his ear to instruct him to shut up so the listeners could concentrate. In one answer Salmond – unnecessarily – pointed out that a “Scotsman founded the Bank of England “. It was a nothing remake but because Jim had a parlour game reply ready he couldn’t wait to burst in and kept trying to state what every Scots knows – that William Paterson headed up the Darien Scheme and “ended his life a convinced Unionist” as Jim trumpeted. This was gratuitous and irrelevant and disrupted the interview which his not designed to show off the knowledge of the presenter – just imagine! – but to INFORM THE LISTENER. My approach to the Paterson remark by Salmond would have been to log it in my mind and at the very end of the interview politely say to Salmond: The Scot who invented the Bank of England…was that the same man responsible for true Darien Disaster? In other words, take the frippery out of the meat of the interview and use it as a humorous tease at the end. Jim seemed to regard the interview as a platform for his own erudition…very Radio Four. Jim has no real ammunition for a Unionist big hitter because he is instinctively on their side and frankly I agree with you – it shows. Interviewing old farts like Lang and Forsyth he utterly fails to convey the mistrust and historical contempt these people are held in by modern Scots.Why on earth would anybody in a modern European state seeking their own democracy pay one jot of attention to an unelected place man from the last bastion of privilege and preferment in the western world? That might have been a reasonable question. Or: since there is no one to disagree with you in the Lords how do you define the word Debate? Is it acceptable to you that the Palace of Westminster now has only 4 per cent representation for Scots? In what way do you think the House of Lords speaks for Scotland? When did you last hold a public meting to gauge opinion?
      Lords should be ridiculed for the corrupt system they represent and that should be the price they pay for being allowed on the airwaves at all. Here’s a last point about journalists. When you hear or read them ask yourself: Would he/she be the kind of person to accept an Honour? I don’t think any serving current affairs journalist should feel able to be rewarded by the state when his job is to challenge it and rattle the bars. Some guys you just know as dedicated to screwing the establishment through their journalism. How do you suppose Jim would react to a letter from the Palace?


    These unelected self opinionated, non entities (800) of them (£300) per day = £240,000 PD or £1,200,000 PW
    Or circa £62,000,000 PA. + Expenses. + overheads and running costs of their GANG HUT. THE GREAT AND THE GOOD, nae wonder the Psudo middle class Proud Scots admire and defend their superiors.

  30. Thank goodness there are people like you Derek who can write the truth and the internet is accessible!

    BBC not biased? Don’t make me laugh it is so blatant! Read this and watch the video and tell me/explain to me the BT leafleting wasn’t staged for Reporting Scotland!

  31. Derek, we’ve surely been round this circuit times enough to know the BBC stinks to high heavens, but some questions are being forced to the surface with this UWS/bias report; if the Scottish Government cannot control it because it is not a devolved matter, surely they can go through procedure and get SoS Carmichael to intercede and why does the BBC need a Head of Policy?

  32. Naught(ie)y should be replaced by Derek Bateman. Only then will BBC Scotland be unbiased. Vote YES for an unbiased News service. Can’t wait. It’s so exciting.

  33. Derek, Brian Taylors Big Debate today from Strathallan High School. He asked the audience of 200 how many would vote Yes in Referendum. He counted three. Not the best choice for a fair representation of views, Yet another display of BBC bias

  34. Received email from Stewart Maxwell…..

    This week the Education and Culture Committee agreed additions to its work programme for the coming months. The Committee has decided to examine a number of areas on Scotland’s constitutional future, including an inquiry on the issue of broadcasting and culture.

    Senior BBC Scotland executives will be asked to come before the Committee to answer questions on the BBC’s preparations for its coverage of the independence referendum.

    It has been agreed that part of the Committee’s evidence gathering session on broadcasting will examine the findings of Dr Robertson’s study: “Fairness in the First Year? BBC and ITV Coverage of the Scottish Referendum Campaign from September 2012 to September 2013”.

    The Committee plans to look at the issue in more detail during its evidence sessions in March and April. Further information and updates on the Committee’s work can be found on its webpage:

  35. Have you seen this from Graham Avery….

    Clear and authoritative.

  36. BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor’s Big Debate was broadcast from a neutral venue totally representative of the young people of Scotland today, the …errrr… fee-paying Strathallan school in Perthshire. Fair questions were put to the panel such as “An independent Scotland would legislate for land reform, since landowners do a great job in protecting our land, do you think is fair?” Immediately the nasty cybernats rushed to fill the ethernet with their bile ie ” I’m a yes vote for a fairer Scotland” etc. Is it any wonder the No side complain about vile cybernattery. They will eat their words next Friday as BBC impartiality is confirmed when Brian conducts his Big Debate from Dennis Canavan’s hoose. Toodloothenoo!

  37. Dear Derek

    This is my first comment here, so may I say please keep up the good work. Your writing is absolutely what we should be getting from the mainstream press and of course the BBC.

    The BBC are still at it this morning (Sunday). An hour ago Roger and Naga had Ian Collins on, reviewing the papers on Breakfast. They had a full page of Carmichael, including his nice big face, and asked Collins for a comment. He basically said the yes voters are all stupid and the only reason for voting yes was so our friends would think us cool.

    He was billed as a “political commentator” but seems in fact to be a radio chat host. I googled him and could find no prior contribution at all to any issues related to Scotland or Independence.

    Naga just thanked him politely for his comments, so that was that.

    Sadly it would take an army of listeners to monitor the BBC every day over the entire network. As you say they should do this themselves, but I guess the bosses know what they’re doing.

    Best wishes


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