Petition update

BBC Editorial Team correspondence.

Patrick McFadden
London, ENG, United Kingdom

Oct 15, 2014 — Hello,

I hope this finds you well.

You may have seen the recent update containing a response from the BBC Complaints Team. They declare that they declare that they are confident Mr Robinson's "report was balanced and impartial.” I have been invited to contact the BBC Editorial Team should I wish to take the matter further. In my view, there are still serious questions to be answered

Below the line is my correspondence to the Editorial Team. (It is long.)

I will keep you informed of their response.




Case Number: CAS-2923651-Z1Y3BP

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to you to further an on-going discussion regarding Nick Robinson, case number referenced above. Thank you for the opportunity to continue the dialogue.

It is my view (and that of almost 19,000 petition signatories) that a report by BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson on the News at Six, September 11th 2014, was in breach of Article 44 of the BBC Charter. The following four items will give you a full picture of the issue:

- My initial petition -
- The initial BBC response, not to me, but to viewer complaints -
-My follow-up to this, which was then collated with the above pieces and sent to BBC Complaints via your online system -
-BBC Complaints email response -

Before going into the BBC Complaints response in-depth, I would like to say that this is now clearly an Editorial matter. From the two BBC responses put out on the issue, it is clear that the organisation views Mr Robinson as having done his job in line with Editorial policy.

In the recently received response from the BBC Complaints Team (4), it is stated “we are confident, therefore, that this report was balanced and impartial.” In order to better understand how this is considered balanced and impartial, I have broken down the entire News At Six report, referencing the original exchange between Mr Salmond and Mr Robinson and the issue at large. The BBC Editorial Team need to explain the questions raised through the prism of IMPARTIALITY, BALANCE, BIAS and FRAMING.

The reports discusses the announcements of various banks and supermarkets. The former on potential relocation of business. The latter on potential price increases (with the exception of Tesco who say nothing will change). There is no attempt made by Mr Robinson to assess these claims. Instead, the report is turned into an assessment of Mr Salmond’s trustworthiness. He does this by saying in voiceover “Alex Salmond knows that for victory he will have to reassure voters at home.” Mr Robinson is then shown asking the following question: “Why should a Scottish voter believe you, a politician, against men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits?”

This is a clear example of a leading question. It is a question that presumes one must be more trustworthy than the other. It presumes a binary response. It is a black-or-white fallacy. For Salmond to begin his response by stating “People should trust me over business leaders because...” is to tarnish all business leaders with being less trustworthy than him, which would be an inept response, one that would open him to a barrage of attacks for denigration of the business community.

Faced with a false dichotomy, Salmond must answer the question less directly, but does so in a very thorough way. In fact, he does this in two key ways. Firstly, Mr Salmond explains that the a business moving a head office would not affect tax revenues by explaining how corporation tax works. It is based not on where the brass-plate of a company is, but where it does business. Thus, he is laying to rest fears of tax revenue losses. Mr Robinson does reference this, by saying “Mr Salmond said there would be no loss of tax revenues either. It was simply a matter of shifting brass plates.” The decision to leave out Mr Salmond’s explanation seems a very odd one. From the longer clip it is clear that even Mr Robinson did not understand how corporation tax worked. Therefore, one must assume that members of the public would have benefited from the same lesson given to Mr Robinson by Mr Salmond. It is clear that it would have gone a long way to assuaging fears of tax-revenue losses in the minds of many viewers. Furthermore, given the framing of the article, having Mr Robinson mention that “Mr Salmond said there would be no loss of tax revenues either. It was simply a matter of shifting brass plates.” is not the strongest way to explain things to Scottish voters, is it?

Next, Mr Robinson says “Waiving the BBC’s story he said there should be an official inquiry into The Treasury for what he says was the leaking of market sensitive information. Attack, he clearly thinks is the best form of defence.” This then cuts into Mr Salmond saying “they have now been caught red-handed as being part of a campaign of scaremongering.” Apart from the fact this does not make a a lot of sense, it is again, hugely selective. Mr Salmond had not “waived” the BBC report on RBS moving its headquarters. He had discussed it at length via the corporation tax explanation and also via the statement from RBS chief. Much like, Mr Robinson's “he did not answer” statement earlier in the report, it is a false claim. A clear sign of bias. It also leaves out the fact that The Treasury did, in fact, leak market sensitive information to the BBC before the markets had opened - something that caused a dip in RBS share price. However the way this segment is framed is to once again make it seem as though Mr Salmond had evaded answering questions, by simply referring to the all claims as “scaremongering, intimidation and bullying”. Thus, marking him as a man with no real answers to important questions.

This is then followed-up with footage of Ed Miliband saying “do not listen to the lies and the scaremongering of the SNP. The only person who can privatise the NHS in Scotland is Alex Salmond.” Given the NHS is not being discussed in this segment, it seems a very curious choice to even have Miliband shown saying this. However, again the effect is to bring into question Mr Salmond and the SNP.

This is then followed by Alastair Darling saying “its not about brass-plates, its about brass tacks. This will cost jobs, this will cost us the funds we need to pay for the NHS and schools. And Asda have just announced that prices will go up if there is Independence. And all Alex Salmond can do is shrug his shoulders and say it doesn’t matter. Well it does matter.” These statements by Mr Darling go unquestioned, as though they are fact. It is at this particular point that the decision to leave out Mr Salmond’s explanation of how Corporation Tax works takes on even great import in terms of impartiality and bias. Had Mr Salmond’s explanation been aired then Mr Darling’s assertions would have been severely undermined. The tenor of the report would be changed dramatically. The understanding of the viewer would have been significantly different.

Mr Robinson ends his report by saying of Mr Salmond “ for all those questions, all those doubts. He dismisses those as scaremongering.” It has been mentioned several times about, but allow me to recap for the sake of any doubt: Mr Salmond did not dismiss the questions; Mr Salmond mentions scaremongering, but in the midst of a 7 minute dissection, assessment and explanation of the claims made by Mr Robinson and business leaders; Mr Salmond answers on corporation tax in a way that would enlighten many voters, as it did Mr Robinson. In short, this news report grossly misrepresents the events and information it is covering and it does so in a way that is shows an almost unrelenting bias against Mr Salmond and toward the No campaign.
There is one further omission from the report, which is perhaps the biggest of them all. On Monday 8th of September, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned business leaders to Downing Street and, as reported in the Financial Times, asked them to fight to keep the UK together. Amongst this group of more than 100 business leaders were the boss of John Lewis and Lloyds TSB. Two figures mentioned in Mr Robinson’s report as warning against economic consequences. The report from the FT, published the morning of Mr Salmond’s press conference and Mr Salmond’s report, can be found here - To understand just how extraordinary an omission this is, we must revisit Mr Robinson’s question again: “Why should a Scottish voter believe you, a politician, against men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits?” In his full response Mr Salmond references the Downing Street reception with business leaders. This is also omitted. Had both these pieces been brought to the attention of the Scottish Electorate, it may have changed the way some people voted. However, I am not here to speculate on that. The question here is one of framing, impartiality and bias. Mr Salmond makes the whole report about Mr Salmond’s trustworthiness. He uses the assertions on business leaders to do this, some of whom are the very same business leaders who were in collusion with Downing Street to save the UK. The BBC Political Editor is either hugely out of the loop on matters, or is acting with extreme bias.

There is a lot to sift through about, so allow me to condense things somewhat. Please answer the following questions:
- Does the BBC Editorial Team consider it impartial, balanced and unbiased for Mr Robinson to have framed the report, as he did? If so, and with reference to the above, please explain why?
- Does he BBC Editorial Team believe it impartial, balanced and unbiased for the report to have been edited in the way that it has been? If so, and with reference to the above, please explain why?
- Does the BBC Editorial Team believe it is impartial, balanced and unbiased to open a report with a selectively edited, loaded question? If so, and with reference to the above, please explain why?
- Does the BBC Editorial Team believe it is impartial, balanced and unbiased that the claims of business leaders and Better Together are taken at face-value, whilst Mr Salmond is ripped to pieces based on selective editing? If so, and with reference to the above, please explain why?
- Can the BBC Editorial Team explain how it is impartial, balanced and unbiased that the explanations given by Mr Salmond that would have completely undermined the reporting of Mr Robinson, the assertions of business leaders and the assertions of Mr Darling were omitted?
- Can the BBC Editorial Team explain how it is impartial, balanced and unbiased that no mention is made of Downing Street’s collusion with with business leaders quoted in the report? Especially when this would completely change the tenor of the entire piece? If the answer to this is that Mr Robinson did not know, then you have to ask yourselves a few questions about the people you employ. It is unfathomable that no-one on Mr Robinson’s team or your Editorial team knew this piece of information.

I look forward to your detailed response.

Many thanks,

Patrick McFadden

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