lundi, février 03, 2014

Scots Referendum Coverage: BBC Attacks & Dr John Robertson Responds

BBC Scotland - Pacific Quay, Glasgow
Last month (Jan 2014) Dr John Robertson, Creative Futures Institute, University of the West of Scotland, produced a report entitled "Fairness in the First Year? BBC and ITV Coverage of the Scottish Referendum Campaign from September 2012 to September 2013". 

The Report is critical of the BBC. Contrary to its standard practice of headlining reports, BBC Scotland has on this occasion chosen to correspond directly with Dr John Robertson, questioning both his data and objectivity. 

For comment regarding the original report document please see HERE and HERE.
Flavour of exchanges:
From preamble ("background"):
BBC: The reason we have copied this email to the Principal, Professor Craig Mahoney (as we have all of the correspondence we have sent to you), is because we believe the report, with which we have serious concerns, has the potential to impact on the corporate reputation of both institutions.

Dr John Robertson: This sails very close to bullying of the kind we might expect in a less democratic country. I'm unsure about your limiting of reputation to the corporate. Universities are so much more than that. I'd be more worried if I thought it might damage our wider reputation in the public sphere or with potential applicants to study with us. I suspect, based on the massive online debate which you ignore, it will have the opposite effect. I have not copied this to your head of institution.

From Overview:
BBC: [W]e question the fundamental validity of this report and, in particular, the conclusions which it reaches.
Robertson: I make no claim for absolute truth; only a level of objectivity somewhat above that attainable by journalists and corporate affairs officers.

Towards end of Section one (note especially Robertson's last sentence [my emphasis]):
BBC: [T]his reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how News, and in particular BBC News, operates. As an impartial news broadcaster, it is not the role or function of BBC news to ‘support’ any argument but rather to provide a platform for a range of views to be heard.
Robertson: This is a hugely important point, much researched in academia across Europe and the US and central to any explanation which goes beyond my account to identify causes. Journalists are known to be subject to peer pressure. Junior reporters work toward, perhaps sub-consciously, the approval of their seniors. Members of media elites (owners, editors, heads and directors) interlock socially with other elite members (politicians, officers, judges, directors, CEs) via selective education, early careers and social/cultural membership. No conspiracy is required. Elite members act in their own interests and those interests are the same as the interests of their groups. Thus thought control in liberal democracies is made possible and far more subtle than in totalitarian states where the people know, always, not to trust their media.

From Section 2 [just before (e)]
BBC: To infer that somehow Reporting Scotland, in its construction and editorial decision-making, is supporting one side over the other and in so doing, influencing the electorate in one direction relative to the independence debate, is yet another suggestion without substance. 

Robertson: As repeated earlier, I'm only suggesting that it's happening. I know you don't get round the table and plot the downfall of the Yes campaign. You don't do you?

From Dr John Robertson's final response:
The BBC response is a remarkably heavy-handed reaction. Why did they not report the research, let their experts critique it on air and then ask me to defend it? Instead we see a bullying email to my employer and a blanket suppression across the mainstream media in the UK. I’m shocked... ...The level of imbalance and the presence of propagandising techniques such as the demonisation of Alex Salmond, which emerged as I processed the first year’s data, did not surprise me. Remember I am a student of propaganda and media compliance in more oppressive contexts such as Russia and the Middle East or Europe in the early 20th Century...

Read clearly formatted full letter and exchanges
BBC Blasted in UWS Response
Full Derek Bateman blog post HERE
"If the BBC thought they would scare off the University of the West of Scotland with a threatening letter, they were wrong. In response to a letter questioning his researches which found bias in early evening news in BBC and STV coverage, Dr John Robertson has provided a detailed and at times explosive reply to BBC bosses. I include the whole of his response here. I suggest you pick your way through it and wonder how the BBC get out of this one."
UPDATE from Derek Bateman
(February 8, 2014)
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.

Full article by Derek Bateman 
(commenting on further letter* from 
BBC Scotland to Dr John Robertson)

*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