BBC: Can We Just Let It Go Now?

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

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0 thoughts on “BBC: Can We Just Let It Go Now?

  1. BBC: You’re wrong, we’re right.
    Academic/hapless consumer/seeker after truth: Why?
    BBC: Just ‘cos.

  2. Ian Small: “we believe it best, in conclusion, to agree to disagree” – I’m sure that BBC Scotland would love to leave it there, Their comments about impacting the reputation of the UWS and the BBC are interesting. UWS – reputation enhanced, BBC Scotland – reputation unchanged, since we did not think for a moment that BBC Scotland provided any kind of balance in the Referendum coverage before the UWS report came out. No wonder more and more people in Scotland are refusing to pay the licence fee, for it is essentially a tax used to denigrate and belittle those of us who see the potential in an independent Scotland.

  3. Mr Small appears to have attended the same course on speed reading as Alistair Darling such is his willingness to offer a speedy critique of a year long academic project. I think it reasonable to conclude that Mr Small never watches the News programmes he defends. I did and decided to no longer be a BBC customer since I wasn’t prepared to contribute funds to BBC broadcasts of bias and propaganda on behalf of the British State,nor waste my time watching and listening.

  4. I wouldn’t trust these people any further than I could throw them.

  5. What would be the position if we started a “Can pay, won’t pay” campaign for our BBC licences? Obviously we would be breaking a law, but is there a defence along the lines of the BBC failing to adhere to it’s defined obligations, and actually providing a service which is not for for purpose? Or if we all made partial payments, writing to advise the BBC Trust that we were withholding a percentage of the licence fee equivalent to the percentage of airtime devoted to biased news reporting?

  6. I texted BBC Scotland (80295) yesterday and told them – I’m nearing 70 years old and have listened to Radio Scotland for longer than I can remember however I will not be listening to you demean and diminish Scotland any more. I will also be considering the morality of paying you to mislead me! (as accurate as I can remember). I would encourage everyone who is fed up of BBC bias to text them.
    We’ll never know if it helps but it may. Bill

  7. From what I understand, if you produce an academic paper, before being published it is verified by another academic/peer. So is Mr Small now questioning the verifiers credentials as well?
    Outside of BBC management whether you work in Tesco, the NHS or a University, there are audits, checks and balances and risk assessments undertaken with monotonous regularity. ‘People ‘ don’t just plod along waiting for an intrepid BBC reporter to make a story about them, they genuinely put care, time and effort in,so for a faceless bureaucrat to try and dismiss a valid piece of work ( I think verified by someone at Edinburgh Uni, but could be wrong) really smacks of superciliousness.
    Is Mr Small really trying to ruin a mans academic reputation because they do not ‘agree’ with the findings of a paper he has published in order to save the billion pound corporations reputation ?
    Perhaps Mr Small should reflect, a large swathe of the public in Scotland perceive BBC Scotland as biased, that has been brought about by his management team, nothing to do with Dr Robertson , his work only confirmed what many believe.
    When will the BBC produce it’s report on why BBC Scotland’s figures are down? We await that one with interest, I will happily pay for an academic to ‘review’ that one. Anyone know an academic who specialises in media politics?

  8. Hmmm…censorship Mr Bateman?

  9. Small’s letter smells like a Curtice spellbinder.

  10. Isobel Fraser is back on at 5pm. She’s a star. Found out by accident.

  11. Apologies for the earlier erroneous post Derek. Changing my ISP, e-mail and wireless network set up at the same time was way beyond me. Descended into random clicking. It’s amazing the sense of achievement though when the printer test page comes out though.

    Mr. Small seems to be a one-man judge and jury. The speed and lack of detail to his rebuttals are the exact opposite to the detailed, peer reviewed, UWS study.

    If BBC Scotland management will not listen and it takes the BBC Trust 1 year to get involved what can the public do other than refuse to pay the license fee? Also, when the Trust do belatedly respond it seems weak and is largely ignored.

  12. Yet more penetrating comment, Derek. BBC’s response lacks evidence or conviction.

    You suggest that Mr Small may be concerned about BBC’s reputation but sadly I consider that has long gone. I certainly no longer go there for straight news reportage and I know that this applies to many of my associates. I am approaching 75 and have always paid my licence fee but now genuinely regret that I did not withhold my most recent, and last subscription as I am so disgusted with the bias and partiality displayed by what was once considered an exemplar.. .

  13. Anyone in any doubt about BBC bias… Let me remind them.

    “In the build-up to the 2003 invasion, according to studies by Cardiff University and Media Tenor, the BBC followed the Blair government’s line and lies, and restricted airtime to those opposing the invasion. When Andrew Gilligan famously presented a dissenting report on Today, he and the director general were crushed.”

    The fact is the BBC works for the Establishment, regardless of which party are in Westminster.

  14. And the BBC’s World Service has the audacity to proclaim every day, ad nauseam, that it’s “the world’s radio station”. Would their guests think that they are if they knew the BBC is nothing more than a propaganda mouthpiece for the British government? I don’t think so. They would run a mile. You get more accuracy and truth from Max Keiser on Russian state media channel RT. How the once mighty BBC has fallen. Come on Max, do an expose on the BBC!

  15. By now supporters of independence have written off the BBC as a biased state puppet broadcaster and will treat everything it says and does between now and the referendum as hostile action and respond accordingly.

    The BBC is finished as a serious broadcaster and will be isolated and ignored by the very large body of independence voters even after the referendum because of what it has become.

    • Quinie frae Angus

      You’re so right, Marian. Like Derek B, someone very close to me used to work there also, and feels exactly the same as he does., But the bravery of Derek B; and Allan Grogan & co; the tenacity of Rev Stuart C; the integrity of Blair Jenkins; the magnificence of Alex Salmond; the intelligent kindness of Patrick Harvie,, and the determined collective mindset and dllligence of ALL OF US will determine this outcome. Scotland has never been so energised or exciting. This feeling and collective momentum is never going to go away, whatever the vote. But this past two weeks, something has definitely changed in the wind. It’s gonna be a YES. Thank you, Derek. Thank you, Wings. Thank you, Newsnet. Thank you, Bella and National Collective; Business for Scotland and Radical Independence for Scotland. A new dawn awaits.. ,

      • You are both right to a certain extent. What you neglect, is the influence that a constant barrage of propaganda and biased headlines does to the populace. It burrows in the subconscious and changes the zeitgeist.

        It is no accident that Westminster are pursuing ‘smear, sneer and fear’ …. they want the largest number of the Scottish electorate as possible, to harbour doubt.

  16. Ian Small must have a massive ego
    . how can he possibly deny the BBC is biased

    • You people are all in an echo chamber of utter nonsense.

      long with this crackpot “academic”, you’re already convinced that anything that disagrees with you is biased so no matter what they did you’d “huff and puff”.
      The BBC is probably the least biased news organisation in the world and has been described by people like Kofi Anan as “Britains gift to the world”.
      The BBC is also relied upon by several hundred million people globally for news and unbiased reporting precisely because it is so trusted. More than 120 million people worldwide tune in to the BBC worldservice rather than their own local broadcasters.
      This moronic “study” which includes such stupid data points as “how many times were offensive comments against the YES campaign made” is just nonsense. Mental gymnastics to convince themselves and fool others, by people who have already made their mind up and will always be anti anything from the south.

  17. […] half century. What else is the playful Scottish blog feed of early 2014, with National Collective, Derek Bateman, Gerry Hassan, Mair nor a roch wind, Wings over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, A Thousand Flowers, BBC […]

  18. Now we have BBC Scotland’s Top Ten Battlegrounds show due to be broadcast on Tuesday. How do we know that the list of ten possible options presented on the survey are the actual ‘top ten’? How can we trust that their 1008 people questioned in their survey are without prejudice and are not all ‘friends’ of BBC/Labour? Will the viewers be told that the Scotland Institute, which is bound to feature as it does on their website story today, is not the historic and independent organisation that it’s name gives credence too but is in fact a wholly unionist love-in formed in 2012 when the realisation eventually clicked in that a referendum was inevitable?
    I can’t believe a word that they say now and that is why I have now stopped my license fee direct debit.

    • Bubs, I am becoming more and more disillusioned by the BBC and want to cancel my TV license. I don’t however want to get rid of my TV, how can I cancel this legally?

      • Garry , use the internet and watch catch up TV , you don’t need a licence , the only time you legally require one is when you watch TV being broadcast

  19. IF the BBC genuinely believed they are being impartial then this is what would’ve happened when the report first came out:

    Opening – “The BBC is tonight responding to criticism of it’s handling of the referendum coverage. A report by a team at UWS claims that referendum coverage in evening news programmes by both STV and BBC Scotland has been unbalanced and has been detrimental to the YES campaign. In a statement tonight, the BBC has refuted the allegations, citing factual errors and problems with the process of the study – but has agreed to increase monitoring to ensure balance in the run up to the vote on 18th of September.”
    Full piece – Background to the study, supporting clip from Robertson, refuting clip from bbc management saying we fundamentally disagree but we are committed to impartiality so will step up monitoring with UWS support
    The fact that they didn’t do that tells you everything you need to know. I happen to work with someone on the trust and though they understand the concerns, they seem to believe (and the BBC/Trust relationship confirms) it is not in their gift to do anything about it. Scotland 2014 either changes the direction fundamentally, or the BBC is dead as a national institution.

    • So if any crappy academic criticises a highly respected institution without much backing it up they have to “increase monitoring” and respond with a massive story etc. They would never get anything done replying to all the crackpots and Scottish nationalists taking offence at every single thing they say.

      (read the “study” its value laden and a load of nonsense by a clear YES supporter looking to criticise the BBC).

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