Why are BBC Reporting Scotland’s TV broadcasts and BBC News (Online) Scotland’s posts so different?

5th February 2017

Here’s how the online version, on World Cancer Day, opened:

‘Health Secretary Shona Robison has marked World Cancer Day by urging women to get screened for cervical cancer in a campaign to boost survival rates. Ms Robison said strides had been made over the past year to help reduce cases of cancer.’ Overall cancer mortality rates have decreased by 14% in males and 6% in females in the last 10 years.’


Here’s how the TV broadcast on Saturday 4th February opened:

‘Health trends show that more people in Scotland are being diagnosed with cancer but fewer people are dying from the disease. Within those trends though some cancers are becoming more stubborn [can cancers become more ‘stubborn’?] and waiting time targets are being missed.’

There’s more but let’s just consider the above first. The online version leads off with three positives while the broadcast headline has three negatives and a bit of a positive inserted. The online version shows some respect for the government’s engagement with the issues and headlines the overall achievement in, roughly, the period of its rule. The broadcast goes on to allow the Health Secretary only a few words almost at the end of the report after a long, emotional and personal interview with a sufferer and an equally full interview with McMillan Cancer Support. Both of these make much of the apparently un-met need for emotional support. It’s not at all clear from the interview with the sufferer that this has anything to do with the news being reported but is a consequence entirely of personal problems including a lack of empathy in some friends. We briefly hear, again at the end, some context with:

‘In Scotland the death rate from breast cancer, the most frequent cancer diagnosed in women is down 21% however, Cancer in the liver deaths in men are (sic) up 46%.’

We don’t hear, however, the crucially important contextual information that this increase has nothing to do with NHS performance, that these are not strictly-speaking cancer mortality figures, but rather are the consequence of a massive increase in cases emerging from an aging population addicted to and being killed by alcohol and by hepatitis B and C before the cancer can kill them:

‘Survival from liver cancer is poor in most cases. The main risk factors are alcohol and infection with hepatitis B and C.’


Finally, the broadcast report reminds us that:

‘The target set of 62 days from urgent referrals to first treatment is not being met by the majority of health boards.’

This target was neither mentioned in the ‘World Cancer Day’ announcements from Cancer Research UK nor even in the BBC Scotland online report which was quite long. When I complain about Reporting Scotland, the answer is often along the lines of: ‘in a sixty second report we had no time for whatever’ yet they always have time to harp on about the Scottish government failing to meet its own incredibly high targets.

Remember, good journalism has some ‘personalisation’ to interest and perhaps to draw empathy from the viewer but must also have sufficient ‘context’ to put things into perspective for, to inform and to educate, the viewer. This report was about 95% personalisation. See the online version for much better journalism. Might a staff exchange help?

According to the Health Secretary in the Scotsman, otherwise hostile but with this point left un-contradicted, of January 8th 2017:

‘Health secretary Shona Robison said more than 95 per cent of [cancer] patients had met the 31-day target.’


 According to the BBC itself on 15th January 2017:

‘In November 2016, the latest period which NHS figures are available for, the 62-day target for treatment to start was missed – with 83.5% of patients being treated in that timeframe instead of 85%.’

 That might have been another piece of useful context for both the broadcast and the online version.  Are such comparisons of no meaning or tasteless in the context of health? They are regularly used in other contexts:

‘Scotland’s unemployment rate now stands at 5.1%, while the UK rate is 4.8% – its lowest rate for more than 10 years.’


Finally, the online version had this:

 ‘Cancer in Scotland: The statistics

  • Overall cancer mortality rates have decreased by 14% in males and 6% in females in the last 10 years.
  • In men, the largest falls in mortality among the top 10 causes of death from cancer have been in stomach, lung and colorectal cancer (36%, 23% and 21% respectively).
  • Death rates from prostate cancer, the most frequently diagnosed cancer in males, have decreased by 5% over the 10 years to 2015.
  • The death rate from cancer of the liver has increased by 46% in men over the last 10 years.
  • For women, the largest falls in mortality rates among the top 10 causes of death from cancer were observed in breast, ovarian and oesophageal cancer (21%, 14% and 13% respectively).
  • Death rates from breast cancer, the most frequently-diagnosed cancer in females, have decreased by 21% in spite of the increase in incidence of female breast cancer.
  • Cervical cancer deaths have decreased by 14% over the same period, in keeping with a longer-term trend.’


So, nine cancers with falling mortality rates and only one with a climbing rate which requires proper context revealing it to be, unlike the others, little to do with NHS performance at all. Remember the TV broadcast chose just one bad and one good – balance?

Isn’t this a whopping great good news story and something the Scottish Government can take some pride in?

Back to my opening question: ‘Why are BBC Reporting Scotland’s TV broadcasts and BBC News (Online) Scotland’s posts so different?

I think I know but I can’t prove it. The TV broadcasts, I suggest, are aimed at the older captive audience that can be thoroughly scared into voting for the status quo ie the Union or Better Dying Together. The online posts are written in the knowledge that the Yes campaign dominates the cyber-sphere so there’s little point lying to them.

There is some evidence emerging to support the above case at:

‘Social media has overtaken television as young people’s main source of news, according to a report. Of the 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed, 28% cited social media as their main news source, compared with 24% for TV.’


I suppose it could be different staff writing and editing the two domains? Does anyone know if there’s anything in that theory?


9 thoughts on “Why are BBC Reporting Scotland’s TV broadcasts and BBC News (Online) Scotland’s posts so different?

  1. Contrary February 5, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    This is very interesting, and explains why something I may have heard solely via radio Scotland news does not always tally with what colleagues (who mostly use the Internet for news) are discussing.

    Unfortunately I have no knowledge of who writes which news items to be of any help here. In addition to age group-targeting of the different media, could there be something in that the website will be read world-wide and so be under greater scrutiny, while tv-news is restricted to targeted areas? Very few complaints are upheld against BBC reporting Scotland, so they get away with much of it, so they carry on with full London backing, targeting scots in general and with a specific agenda. The rest of the world need not hear about it. Why the website presents us with something different,,, ? Interesting question. Using television (and radio) to push propaganda, and the web to report news?


  2. johnrobertson834 February 5, 2017 / 2:54 pm

    Interesting thoughts. It does seem like Good Mourning Scotland is the worst and they don’t leave the recordings up on the web so you can’t go back and scrutinise them. Similarly RepScot only stay up for 24 hours. Same reason?THE BBC Complaints site is vey limiting and difficult to follow up on. I’m going to try just writing on paper direct to the editors with my full comments


  3. broadbield February 5, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    BBC Scotland Radio and TV news are ephemera soon to disappear into the ether- although insidious in that they are the propaganda arm of the UK State – and as you know the complaints process is designed to make it virtually impossible to get a result, and even if you do, by that time you’ve grown a beard. The Online version (I assume) is there for some time and it’s easy for the savvy activists to whip up a social media storm of protest over “misreporting”, as has happened in the past. So the imperative is to get it right and be (reasonably) balanced.

    It could also be that there are some really appalling broadcasters on radio and tv who wouldn’t recognise impartiality if it slapped them across both cheeks – (just to be fair).


  4. Clydebuilt February 5, 2017 / 7:26 pm

    My take on this is that Rep Scot is aimed at a passive audience that will swallow anything that is dished up to them. Easily influenced and an important target for the BBC, Whilst people who go to a news site are activelly seeking news and are more savvy. Also as “Contrary” pointed out the web pages are available to an international audience.

    Noticed straight after the Rugby (the game and before any interviews or discussion) finished yesterday, radio Scotland played their trailer pushing GMS. Same thing after the football. Desperately trying to build their dwindling audience. Whilst upping their chatting about Fakenews…… They’ll be linking Pro Indy sites with FN before long…..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brigadoom February 6, 2017 / 11:15 am


    ‘Scotland’s unemployment rate now stands at 5.1%, while the UK rate is 4.8% – its lowest rate for more than 10 years.’

    It would be interesting to know how often BBC Scotland gives context when UK figures are better/worse. Do we only get context when it shows how unworthy we are?


  6. Ian MacFadyen February 7, 2017 / 12:00 pm

    Yes, sounds about right.
    This is maybe the change the new boss has made; Keep feeding the busy/auld folk the London line, and for the politically savvy we’d better print the truth.
    The thing is, I’ve sent a 1000 person petition to John Nicolson last year and heard nothing back, but then he was ex-bbc himself at one point, so what can we do?
    The vans are a good tool, could we crowd-fund to buy our own vans? It would take some organisation but I’d happily get involved, some mechanical/transport background.


    • johnrobertson834 February 7, 2017 / 3:33 pm

      Thanks. Correct analysis I’d say. You can fund the existing vans I think.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s