It’s been quite a week for political news coverage in Scotland; Buckfast, Maldives the NHS and Balmoral - all featured this week in the Scottish main stream media.
However, what of balance, factual accuracy, objectivity and informed analysis?
Let’s take a look shall we ....................
Monday 18th Jan: BBC - ‘British Buckfast Corporation’
BBC Scotland brought us the investigative gem called ‘The Buckfast Code’. This particular broadcasting low point featured the infamous North Lanarkshire aperitif in all of its glory and was trailed by the BBC as though they had unearthed the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant.
The story was deemed so important that pretty much the entire Scottish media gave it the VIP treatment with prominent banner headlines suggesting that the brew was the ‘devils potion’ and that imbibing it begat a demonic possession resulting in the possessed ‘ned’ becoming a bottle wielding threat to society..
Of course the problems of anti-social behaviour are all too serious for those unfortunate enough to suffer at the hands of such unruly youths and life must be close to intolerable for many. However why BBC Scotland sought to spend valuable resources on a drink pretty much confined to areas of North Lanarkshire and Ayr was never fully explained.
The story was rather fortuitous for one party though; the Labour party, who had until then been battered by wave after wave of criticism on the sea of the ‘minimum pricing’ debate. Indeed Labour’s English Health Secretary Andy Burnham caused further problems for Labour in Scotland when he endorsed minimum pricing as a means of combating England’s alcohol related health problems.
So, when BBC Scotland decided to highlight this particular alcoholic beverage, Labour MSP Richard Baker wasted no time and quickly grabbed the metaphorical ‘Bucky Bottle’ and used it to launch an attack on a sensible Scottish government policy.
Buckfast was of course the very product that Labour had previously used in order to justify refusing to back minimum pricing for alcohol – they pointed out that its price would not be affected by the policy. So the BBC decision to spend taxpayers money ‘investigating’ the same product was fantastic good fortune and of course purely coincidental.
Minimum pricing of course is not about Buckfast drinking neds, nor any other anti-social louts but is in fact about the health of the nation and has the support of health professionals and the police.
Anyway, the state broadcaster’s ill timed intervention has muddied the waters of this particular debate and instead of informing the Scottish electorate it has in fact merely served to confuse them.
Exclusive Update - 23rd January:
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that due to the UK exposure given to this programme the French have got wind of it and, as their grapes and brandy are essential ingredients, they are angry that 'the Scots' appear to be claiming their products cause violence and anti-social behaviour. There may be repercussions as a result of BBC Scotland's clumsy and perplexing decision to target Buckfast in the way that they did. Newsnet Scotland will publish more information in due course.
Tuesday 19th - ♫ Press release me - let me go, for I don’t read you anymore ♫
At last month’s Copenhagen summit on climate change the First Minister signed a treaty with Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed. An essentially symbolic gesture that helped highlight the problems faced by the islands as a result of climate change and rising sea levels. It also drew international attention to the ambitious green targets set by the Scottish government, targets that drew plaudits from many international observers.
In a response to a freedom of information request by Labour MSP George Foulkes it was confirmed that the First Minister now hopes to visit the islands as part of his scheduled visit to Delhi where he will attend the Commonwealth games.
The Maldives visit will allow the First Minister to consolidate the treaty and help build relations with the tiny group of islands whilst also using it as a platform in order to highlight Scotland’s growing reputation as the place to be for those seeking to invest in renewable energy; promoting Scotland is something that Alex Salmond is never slow in doing.
Now national leaders and heads of state frequently make visits to foreign countries, indeed there is very often a mutual benefit for both sides and in this case the potential to use the visit in order to promote Scotland’s renewable industry is obvious.
However Tuesday January 19th saw The Scotsman, The Herald and The Daily Record all producing articles attacking Scotland’s First Minister for this apparent heinous crime.
So, how is it that all three of our newspapers can have placed the same bizarre ‘Salmond Under Fire’ interpretation on what is a pretty mundane story that might even offer a small opportunity to benefit Scotland?
The Press Releases:
Press releases are the life blood of the [lazy] political reporter and the scourge of democracy.
These political statements are very often facts that have been doctored and twisted into a grotesque caricature to be circulated amongst the ‘hack dealers’ of the press who then lace the already ‘doctored’ story with their own peculiar ‘ingredients’.
By the time it reaches the ‘client’ [us] the original facts are often distorted to the extent that they are no longer recognisable and the story is reduced to no more than a bile laden vindictive poison pen letter. Well worn terms and clichés are wheeled out as we are told that there is ‘fury’ over something or other and that the subject of the article has ‘suffered a blow’ or is ‘under fire’.
Is that what happened with the Maldives story?
Well the fact that all three newspaper articles contain identical sentences and paragraphs does indeed imply such an occurrence. Descriptive passages of narrative are repeated word for word in all three newspaper articles:
For example all three contained this:
“The First Minister wants to call in at the islands in the Indian Ocean on his way to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.”
... and this:
“Officials stressed that Scottish expertise in renewable energy could be harnessed and promoted across the world through the link.”
... then this
“Last month Mr Salmond signed an agreement with the republic's president”
“on how Scotland can help the low-lying islands cope with rising seas, blamed on climate change.”
... and finally this:
“The travel plan was revealed following written parliamentary questions from Labour backbencher George Foulkes.”
There were more similarities of course but by now I’m sure you now get the drift.
So, the evidence suggests that a straightforward visit by the FM has been manipulated by an unknown source for political purposes and then circulated to Scottish newspapers who very obligingly have printed it in the form of a prominent article whilst adding their own particular brand of pejorative terms and phrases – the visit became a ‘jaunt’ in one newspaper.
This week saw yearly circulation figures released that showed just how perilous a state some Scottish titles are in. One wonders if they have any respect at all for the intellect of their readership given the quality of some of their ‘articles’.
Wednesday 20th – ‘Time’ travel sickness
Imagine picking up a copy of The Scotsman and seeing a headline that proclaimed ‘Banking industry continues to thrive’ or The Herald running with ‘Brown vows no more boom and bust’ or even The Daily Record stating ‘Holyrood 2007 - Labour ahead in poll’.
You would wonder if these papers had taken leave of their senses or if you had wondered through a time warp and arrived in 2006. Of course such headlines would be ridiculous, no one would cite something from three years ago and present it as the situation today.
Well no one that is with the exception of independent charity The Nuffield Trust who did exactly that when they produced a report using out of date data collected around three years ago and came to conclusions on today’s NHS in Scotland.
The ‘report’ was subsequently ‘seized on’ [couldn’t resist that !!] by every Scottish newspaper and trumpeted by the ever ‘impartial’ BBC Scotland.
Reports in Scotland are commonplace, there is nary a week goes by without one or other report making it onto the front pages of our newspapers. Mostly they are put together by well meaning professional organisations, often they are used by political parties in order to justify a policy or political stance, all quite proper and understandable.
However, the manner in which this scathing report was accepted at face value by the whole of the Scottish main stream media suggests that they are totally indifferent to the integrity of the conclusions the report makes and by extension shamefully unaware of its shortcomings.
As we have already stated, this report used data that was some three years out of date – it covered the term when Labour and the Lib Dems formed the Scottish administration. To present a 2006/7 snapshot of the Scottish NHS and presenting the ‘image’ as today’s Scottish NHS is simply incredible.
In a radio broadcast on Radio Scotland that evening a spokeswoman for the trust stated that she would be “very surprised” if the trends identified in 2006/7 had not continued to the present day. That statement alone is jaw dropping in its admission; it suggests that those behind the report have simply assumed that everything is still as it was three years ago. Had they not heard that Labour and the Lib Dem administration in charge when their report data was compiled were no longer the government?
However, it turns out that the Scottish NHS isn’t actually as bad as is being presented. Indeed if one were being honest then the NHS in England has some very serious problems and they are getting worse as the rush to privatisation continues amid the obsession with administrative targets.
Even more damning was the revelation that staffing figures used by the report were flawed. Apparently the staff levels for Scotland includes dentistry, an area which the English figures do not include. Also at First Ministers Questions on Thursday the First Minister revealed that the figures for the Scottish NHS claimed by the report were off by a staggering 27%.
To say this report isn’t worth the paper it is written on is a breathtaking understatement. However don’t just take Newsnet Scotland’s word for this - I recommend reading the following letter sent to The Herald in order to fully appreciate the remarkable failings of this report.
The letter is entitled 'NHS report makes unhealthy points'.
Click Here For Letter ..... then scroll down.
Surely the Scottish main stream media – especially the BBC – would have noticed that the report was based on data that was three years old. They should surely have checked the veracity of the figures with the Scottish government before letting loose with the headlines that we eventually saw – every one of them presenting a three year old snapshot that itself was based on very badly flawed data.
The report writers even think that the Scottish NHS is answerable to the UK Treasury – bewildering ineptitude.
There is one area that has indeed deteriorated this last three years – the Scottish press.
You can also listen to Prof Alyson Black of the Centre for International Health Care, Edinburgh University as she discusses the report by clicking here. Fast forward to 1hr and 17 mins. The recording will be available until 27th January.
Update - 24th January:
The Nuffield Trust has admitted using incorrect data in their report - Click Here. (Thanks to the Newsnet Scotland reader who drew this to our attention.)
They were informed of this by the Scottish government on the 19th January, the day before the report was published.
How odd that when interviewed by Radio 4's Today programme on 20 January, Ms Dixon, the trust's director, felt unable to confide any doubts on the topic.
Thursday 21st – 'Up the garden path'
So to First Ministers Questions and arguably one of the most cringeworthy and disconcerting performances from Labour’s Iain Gray.
Cringeworthy due to the refusal of Gray to move away from the subject when it was clear that the First Minister had demonstrated the issue raised by Gray been handled according to proper procedure.
Disconcerting as it became evident that someone had leaked confidential communications between the Scottish government and Westminster and had possibly compromise the security of the royal family.
The Scottish government called for an inquiry into the leaking of the information.
Rather than give yet another run down of the accusations and claims emanating from Labour in Scotland we have decided this time to simply provide a link to the actual FMQ session itself and thereby allow the reader to witness for themselves what transpired.
After having done so then a quick perusal of the Scottish press will provide the opportunity to determine the accuracy or otherwise of our journalists.
To watch First Ministers Questions then click Here
After watching the exchanges then I urge you to read the following press reports to check for accuracy:
The Press & Journal