Definitely no pals at Pacific (updated)

Response from BBC Scotland: “We couldn’t be arsed. Now go away.”

And this from an outfit that is still recovering from the public relations disaster of messing with Wings Over Scotland’s YouTube channel!

Oh, well.

Mr Ian Small
Head of Public Policy
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay

Dear Mr Small,

I’m offended by the enclosed response that I’ve received from the Editor of “Reporting Scotland”, and I think you should be concerned about it too. It’s a public relations disaster: she hasn’t been sent half the information (two charts), she refuses to read the other half (online supporting data), she makes a cheap jibe at my using the wrong name for the UK-wide broadcaster, and she ignores the main question (which was “Please explain your policy”).

In an article in The Scotsman on 20th August, you wrote, “We want to engage, constructively, in dialogue with those who question our journalism or are suspicious of our decision-making.” In this instance, you failed spectacularly to do that.

When Scotland becomes independent, this way of treating your customers will not look good. I would welcome it if BBC Scotland could engage with the issues I raised.

Yours faithfully,

Derek Rogers

Editor, “Reporting Scotland”
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay
Dear Editor,

I thank you for your reply to my letter to BBC Audience Services asking why you discriminated against some political parties. While I welcome your personal engagement with this topic, I don’t think your response will do, for reasons which I give interleaved below.

Best regards,

Derek Rogers

Their response in detail:

Dear Derek

Reference CAS-5126206-61V30W

Thank you for your correspondence. Your comments were passed to the Editor of Reporting Scotland. who has asked that I forward her response as follows:

“Thank you for writing to BBC Audience Services about various ‘leaders’ interviews in September and October when party conferences were being held.

In these interviews, you say “you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.”
— I did say that, and I note that you don’t challenge it. Does that mean that you concede this point?

You further say “your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties”. That is as it should be – at the time of a party’s annual conference we endeavour to provide for all main parties parity of coverage of the conference as a whole and of any leader interviews we may do within or around that coverage.
— It is not as it should be. Coverage should reflect the relative strengths of the parties.

— The interviews were not “at other times”, so the paragraph which follows is irrelevant.
At other times, news judgements are more likely to drive editorial decisions – so that if a party is in government it is more likely to find itself being questioned than other parties because it is initiating policy for the respective legislature to pass into law. This is the case for the SNP in government in Scotland, as it was for Labour and the Liberal Democrats in previous administrations in Scotland; and it is also the case for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when they are or have been in power in the UK. The views of other parties are, of course, also sought and reported.

You suggest that for big stories from across the country, licence fee payers “will look not to yourselves but to BBC London”. I somehow doubt that, as BBC London serves London and some surrounding areas as a vibrant local station.
— I clearly meant the UK-wide broadcaster, in contrast to the Scottish broadcaster. Your response is a cheap jibe that demeans you.

I am afraid I do not understand your reference to “turn-lengths”, as in “the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers”.
— In all conversations, speakers take turns: one speaks and stops, and then another speaks. The length of a “turn” can be measured (usually in seconds). If six speakers are treated equally, they will each get one-sixth (17 percent) of the total turn-lengths. Blackford and Corbyn did not.

You also refer in your bar chart 2 to “interruptions” and “hostile comment” which are subjective labels with no measurable standards – an “interruption” can be by an interviewer attempting to get the interviewee to answer a question, a “hostile comment” might be a challenge to justify a statement.
— These are not subjective labels: I laid down objective criteria for them, which I described under “Methodology” in the supporting data. I enclose a copy.

The bar charts which I have received are in monochrome with no legends and therefore tell me nothing – so unfortunately I cannot comment on them. You have supplied a link to an unverified external source: we do not open such sources.
— The paper copies of the bar-charts that I sent to Darlington were in colour and had legends; if they didn’t reach you, you should complain to them. The charts are publicly available at:
— (blog-post of October 12th)
— (blog-post of October 12th) (click ‘BBC’ at foot of front page – the directory is no longer hidden) (as above)
If your policies do not allow you to access any of these sites, I will send you paper copies.



You say in your concluding paragraph “Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance”. The SNP is not being “disfavoured” and therefore I believe you “wrongly” have the feeling that you have a grievance.
— I still have the feeling that I have a grievance.

— My closing question, which was signalled at the beginning of my letter, was, “Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?” You do not address this question.

Thank you again for being in touch.”

Kind regards

Andrew McCormick

BBC Complaints Team

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.


No indy pals in Pacific Quay

BBC Scotland undermines the independence movement by playing down public support for the SNP. SNP support is massive. Seven out of every ten Scots who are members of political parties are members of the SNP; and in the 2018 Holyrood election, the SNP won half the votes and took all but half the seats:
This makes the SNP virtually as large as all the other parties put together, and leaves them fragmented and scrabbling for scraps from the table.

So how much time did Scotland’s party of government get allocated in BBC Scotland’s recent pre-conference interviews with leaders?
That’s right – the SNP, huge in terms of membership, came third in inteview time. There’s an enormous discrepancy there. And if you thought that, despite the shorter time, the treatment would be even-handed, then think again:
Massively more interruptions, and massively more hostile comment from the interviewer, for Ian Blackford than there was for Ruth Davidson.

There are those who say that this is just the rough-and-tumble of political debate, and that the independence movement is out to nurse a grievance, but BBC Scotland’s discrimination is more pervasive than that.

A letter to BBC Scotland making these points is below.

Dear BBC Scotland,

I’m writing to ask for clarification on your policy regarding political interviews, specifically the six interviews broadcast by Reporting Scotland on 13th September with Vince Cable, 20th September with Jeremy Corbyn, 27th September with Theresa May, 30th September with Ruth Davidson, 5th October with Keith Brown, and 7th October with Ian Blackford. In those interviews, you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.

a. In what follows, I use Scottish data rather than UK data. Given that the name of your organisation is BBC Scotland, I expect it to take a Scottish perspective, and this expectation was reinforced not only by the name of the programme which broadcast these interviews, “Reporting Scotland”, but also by the strapline on its website saying “Big stories from across the country”. For UK perspective, listeners will look not to yourselves but to BBC London.

b. The amount of time you gave to the four shorter interviews did not reflect the relative strength of the parties in Scotland. SNP support is broad, not to say overwhelming: seventy-four percent of all those in Scotland who are members of any political party are members of the SNP; the SNP has half the seats in the Scottish Parliament; and it took 45 percent of the vote in the Scottish 2016 Parliamentary election. The remaining parties share what members, seats and votes are left over. But your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties, with each party taking between 20 and 30 percent of the available time, and the SNP – which is larger than all the other parties put together – placed third. All the features I describe here are documented in the attached two supporting charts.

c. You also discriminated against some politicians. Forty-four percent of the time spent on interviewee interruptions was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn, 39 percent to attack Ian Blackford, and only 17 percent to attack Ruth Davidson; by contrast, Theresa May, Vince Cable and Keith Brown were not interrupted at all. Interruptions reduce the length of a speaker’s turns, making it more difficult for them to be coherent and persuasive, and this is shown in the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers. The underlying data for the supporting charts can be found at (type the URL into your browser address-bar – there’s no link from elsewhere).

Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance. I can see that you might wish to undermine a political party whose first stated aim in its Constitution amounts to destroying the United Kingdom, but your job as the public broadcaster for Scotland is to represent all strands of opinion fairly. Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?

Yours faithfully,

Derek Rogers


Countering media bias is currently monitoring BBC political output in the expectation of showing bias. In my view, the approach they’ve taken is unsatisfactory – it’s aimed at cheering up the troops and inciting hatred of the BBC, rather than winning over doubters by showing the true facts. A recent case concerned Reporting Scotland’s news item about data relating to NHS staffing levels. You can read their criticism of Reporting Scotland here; below is my suggested rewrite.

BBC Reporting Scotland : NHS Staffing Levels : Broadcast on Monday 31st July 2017

This news item relates to a consultation initiated by the Scottish government under the title, “Safe and Effective Staffing in Health and Social Care”. The government’s aim is to introduce a law requiring health boards to maintain safe staffing levels, thus securing patients’ protection and defining providers’ responsibilities. This is an aim which it would be difficult to disagree with.

The consultation is being carried out in Scotland by the Royal College of Nursing, who recently presented interim findings to a committee of the Scottish Parliament. The findings show broad satisfaction with existing staffing levels: about two-thirds of respondents raised no concerns. Asked whether a shortage of health care support workers affected patient care, three-quarters said No; asked whether patient care was compromised by staff shortages in general, half said No; and asked whether a shortage of registered nurses affected their ability to deliver high-quality care, two-thirds said No.


So there was no bad news here: respondents were on the whole satisfied with current staffing levels.

Of course it remains true that between a quarter and a half of respondents did have concerns, but in the context of a consultation seeking to determine whether there’s a need for the proposed law, that’s not surprising. Indeed, it’s welcome, because it provides information that can take us forward.

Reporting Scotland, however, like many anti-independence groups, consistently seeks to belittle the achievements of the Scottish government. One way of doing this is to say that a set of figures that shows satisfactory results actually shows terrible results. In the present case Reporting Scotland said, in terms, that the findings show that “staff shortages in the NHS are compromising patient care”, which is the opposite of what the data says. They supported their claim by highlighting in shocked tones the proportion of respondents who said there was a problem – about one-third – and not mentioning at all the two-thirds who were satisfied.

Flying Pigs and Porky Pies

Astounding stuff on BBC Radio Four News tonight: “Scotland’s whisky producers see new opportunity in Brexit,” were the words headlining the item in the opening overview of stories. Goody, something new and good is happening! What’s the new development, what’s changed, what’s the new opportunity? After 18 minutes we got the detail:

1. David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland, has visited a distillery on Islay. Hardly a new Brexit opportunity.

2. Sarah Smith, our BBC Scotland editor, said that the Scottish whisky industry had seen Brexit as unwelcome, but that now “the mood appears to be changing”. However, she didn’t present any interview in which anybody said the mood was changing, she didn’t play any clips of anybody saying it, in fact she didn’t offer any evidence of it at all. She might as well have made it up, and given her lack of evidence, the conclusion that she did is pretty inescapable.

3. A Scotch whisky spokesman said that the industry had always seen Brexit as posing a challenge. He didn’t say anything about anything having changed in that regard.

4. Sarah Smith came back and said that “the industry can also see big opportunities beyond the EU.” However, she didn’t present any interview in which anybody said the industry saw big opportunities beyond the EU, she didn’t play any clips of anybody saying it, in fact she didn’t offer any evidence of it at all. She might as well have made it up, and given her lack of evidence, the conclusion that she did is pretty inescapable.

5. The Indian Government imposes a 150percent duty on whisky. David Mundell told us that freeing ourselves from EU restrictions gives us an “opportunity to change” that. This is like saying that the benefit of falling down a crevasse is that it gives you the opportunity to clutch at a flying pig.

A lie is an utterance which the person producing it does not believe is true. So this is a lying headline, supported by two further lies from the BBC correspondent, contradicted by an industry spokesman, hitched on to the facts that a member of the government has visited an island and is chasing pie in the sky. Why do we pay the BBC a licence fee for this, and why do they think we’ll believe it?

UPDATE 3rd August 2017: Complaint lodged with BBC. All things are possible.