BBC response and Complaint 2 re ‘Reporting Scotland make major arithmetical error or attempts to panic Scottish women’ and ‘Good Morning Scotland miss key facts’

The Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs has replied to both complaints as if they were one.

The complaints:

1 Reporting Scotland

On Saturday 26th May 2018 at 5:45pm, we heard:

‘New research suggests that more than 1 in 3 women in Scotland will be morbidly obese, that’s at least 100 pounds above their ideal weight, by 2035. The research presented today in Vienna at the European Congress on Obesity indicates that women who have been to university are likely to be more adversely affected than those who didn’t

Here are the figures from a report in Medical Express:

‘The new estimates indicate that rates of morbid obesity in adults will reach 5% in Scotland (compared to 4% in 2015), 8% in England (2.9% in 2016), and 11% in Wales (3% in 2015) by 2035.’

So, 1 in 20 Scots are expected to be morbidly obese by 2035. Even if the percentage for Scottish women is higher than for men, 1 in 3 is highly improbable. Perhaps Reporting Scotland have misread the prediction for overall obesity rates as being that for morbid obesity rates? See this:

‘By 2035, [not morbid] obesity rates will be highest, and see the greatest rise, in adults working in routine and manual positions. As a result, the difference in obesity levels between those in managerial roles (29% males, 31% females) and those in routine and manual roles (39% males, 40% females) is expected to widen in England and Wales (with the exception of English females where it is expected to reduce).’

It seems too obvious. Have I missed something?

There are two serious problems with this report.

First, we appear to have an error confusing obesity with morbid obesity, producing tabloid headlines with a consequent negative effect on many female viewers and thus failing to inform viewers in a manner promised in the BBC’s charter.

Second, we have the failure to report on the key finding that morbid obesity, in Scotland, is expected to plateau at 5% while soaring past that figure elsewhere in the UK.

Third, we have the failure to report on the explanation for the above trend. The researchers offered a clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in obesity in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation. For example: ‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’ Further evidence of the effectiveness of the above initiatives can be seen in this from the Evening Express: ‘However, almost no 15-to-24-year-old males in Scotland are expected to fall within this category, compared to 6% of the same group in England, the data shows.’

2 Good Morning Scotland

In the report on obesity, at 09:00, we heard nine, long, compound sentences yet no reference was made to key role played by Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation as stated clearly by the university researchers. In the Independent newspaper report, for example, we were able to read that the researchers offered a clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in obesity in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation. For example: ‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’ Why was this omitted?

The GMS report is thus missing a key explanatory component and one which, when omitted, denied the SNP-led government due credit. I remind you of your responsibility to inform your audience.



Morbid obesity complaint

Thank you for your e-mail. Your comments under CAS-4941139-HMPVR9 and CAS-4940361-J4C08P were passed to the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs, who has asked that I forward his response as follows:

“Thank you for being in touch about Good Morning Scotland and Reporting Scotland on 26th May. As the complaints are similar I propose to deal with them both here.

The radio item to which you refer lasted less than a minute, including the intro; and less than half a minute in the television report. In that timescale, only the principal points can be made. One of them was that by 2035 obesity levels in Scotland amongst women who had gone to university would have doubled and be higher (40.1%) than levels amongst women who had not gone to university (36.7%). On Radio Scotland, the report (which was longer than the TV report) also made the point that Scotland was likely to fare better than England and Wales over the next seventeen years.

However, as you rightly point out, the report on television also said that new research suggested that more than one in three women in Scotland would be morbidly obese by 2035. The reference should have been to general obesity. (Although you do not mention this in your radio complaint, the same reference was also made there.) I have investigated this and I believe that there was an honest mistake made under customary newsroom deadline conditions: the table for general obesity (which was mistaken for morbid obesity) was included in a research file marked “morbid obesity” in amongst information about morbid obesity. However, to explain is not to excuse and I have ensured that your detailed comments are being taken on board by my team in order to help prevent such an occurrence again.

The compilers of the research stated: “Our study reveals a worrying picture of rising morbid obesity across England, Wales and Scotland that is likely to weigh heavily on healthcare systems and economies.” They also pointed out that “the limitations that apply to the quality, precision and availability of the data demand cautious interpretation” and they also noted that “uncertainties always exist when making predictions as past trends do not always predict future trends. In addition, the study cannot predict the effect that future interventions or policies will have on social inequalities in obesity.” These are in our view important caveats, entered by the authors themselves, and we took these and other factors into account in reporting this story.


Second complaint in cases CAS-4941139-HMPVR9 and CAS-4940361-J4C08P.

  1. Your conflation of the two complaints is not really acceptable and, I suspect, contrary to the regulations for dealing with such as it seeks to confuse and to obscure them.
  2. Regarding the factual error in your use of the term ‘morbid’, whether the mistake was honest is not the issue. This was a serious error which may have caused upset and anxiety and requires correcting publicly in Reporting Scotland. Please let me know when you will do this.
  3. Your excuse of timescale does not justify a failure to inform accurately. Three principal points – that morbid obesity is expected to plateau at 5%, that the authors have identified Scottish government policy initiatives as responsible for this in Scotland and that no Scottish 15-24-year-olds are expected to fall into this category compared to 6% in England – were central for Scottish viewers, you audience. Please let me know when you will make these corrections public on both Good Morning Scotland and Reporting Scotland.




7 thoughts on “BBC response and Complaint 2 re ‘Reporting Scotland make major arithmetical error or attempts to panic Scottish women’ and ‘Good Morning Scotland miss key facts’

  1. Alasdair Macdonald June 11, 2018 / 10:55 am

    You are right to pursue the matter further.

    The point about conflating the issue might be deemed by some to be ‘procedural’ rather than ‘substantial’, but the fact that the protocol probably requires each complaint to be dealt with separately is there for good reason, one of which is the blurring which the conflation has allowed.

    Secondly, you are right to call for a formal correction to be broadcast.

    Thirdly, since, by their own admission the data for Scotland indicated a significantly better prospect than that for England and Wales, that, by itself, ought to have made any half-decent journalist ask the question, ‘Why?” The answer, as you pointed out was in the report itself. It was action by the Scottish Government. That is, indeed, something which is in the Scottish public interest. NHS spending is a real concern, not just in Scotland but for most health services in the developed world. As a population we have to take more personal responsibility for our own health, such as ensuring that we eat a good diet, that we get sufficient exercise, that we take the medications prescribed, that we improve housing and the environment.

    Obesity is for most people a ‘lifestyle’ problem. And so, a substantial part of the solution lies in personal behaviour. It is not solely a personal responsibility because I think that the food industry is a major contributory factor. Wages and discretionary spending are major factor.

    All of us have to contribute actively to this debate since it involves public expenditure and the fact that the main body responsible for public expenditure – the Scottish Government – has set out a policy which has had a significantly beneficial effect, is a matter for self-congratulation and is evidence that public decisions can be made and are being made which are for the common good. That kind of information informs the discourse.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gavin June 11, 2018 / 11:02 am

    “Honest mistake”. Honest!

    “The *alternative take on news* promulgated by the BEEB in Scotland is entirely representative of the best in “Scottish” journalism.
    Honest! Stuff you can read daily in the Daily Heil or Torygraf. Not to mention the Hootsman and Glesca’ Herod.
    Our mission statement is to allow Scots to bask in the glow of London-knows-best in all things.
    We do this by bigging up on some IMPORTANT items, and relegating other items to the dust bin of history. News items that on face value would seem to show Scotland in a positive light, are immediately suspect, as any fool would know that Scotland is second best, at best.
    Its why most Scottish licence fee money is spent in England or on England centric programs, to represent best value for Scots.

    So, while we are sorry to have to waste time in replying to you, we hope it enlightens you to the truthiness of the Union in all its glorious wonderousness!
    God bless Ruthie, and goodbye!”
    Sir Tobias Glundy, esq.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. stewartb June 11, 2018 / 6:47 pm

    That there is a clear public interest in Scotland in learning that a Scottish Government initiative in public health is working should be self-evident to a BBC Scotland editor. After all, BBC Scotland is quick enough to present any whiff of a ‘bad’ outcome – albeit often contrived – in any area of Scottish Government responsibility because the editors deem it to be in the public interest.

    This is yet another example of the BBC in Scotland failing to live up to its charter obligations. And their reason for this editorial decision? – time pressure from deadlines and time pressure on broadcasting slots. So time issues are now more important than journalistic quality and a balanced, informative service to audiences! And I see a response that neatly seems to avoid addressing the issue of missing out any attribution to a successful Scottish Government policy!

    Thanks for your efforts, John. This is all getting out of hand!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian McGowan June 11, 2018 / 7:20 pm

    Yes, you are absolutely right to pursue this. The response you recvd was an arrogant, high handed “lets see if we can get away with this” reply.
    You may have more clout due to your public profile. I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

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