To: BBC Executive Complaints Unit:
BBC Complaints – CAS-4952019-6JPNYG
Complaint Summary: Reporting of research on Organised Crime
I write to continue my complaint after my second complaint was met with this on 18.6.28:
‘Thank you for taking the time to contact us again about Reporting Scotland on 4 June at 6.30pm. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response. We have discussed your comments with the Editor of Reporting Scotland but she has nothing further to add. For this reason, I’m afraid we cannot correspond with you further at this first stage of the complaints process. If however you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). The ECU is stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process.
To keep within your 1000-word limit, I have had to shorten both my complaints and the one response I did get.
Initial complaint 4th June 2018
Full Complaint: Extended, headlined, report, with 24 long, compound, sentences on organised crime. Despite, the length, RS failed to mention the researchers’ own repeated warning against generalising the findings beyond their small sample to the national situation in Scotland. This is a key responsibility in reporting research. As early as page 3 in the report, ‘Community Experiences of Serious Organised Crime in Scotland’, we see this: ‘188 individuals participated in the study, which mostly involved semi-structured qualitative interviews, but also a small number of focus groups, unstructured interviews and observational research.’ So, this is a small-scale piece of qualitative research. Such research can be very useful in explaining the complexity of social situations and, in particular, helping professionals, such the police, to develop effective strategies. However, such research, cannot be used to tell us how common something is or how widespread it is. For that, you’d need a much bigger sample, randomly selected and spread across the country. The researchers are not to blame for Reporting Scotland’s misuse of their findings. On page 3 and again on page 25, in the methods section, they say: ‘While the case study areas had traits that were similar to other communities in Scotland, however, it should be noted that these findings should not be read as a generalised picture of SOC-community relations in Scotland.’ Given their prominence in the report, it’s difficult to explain the failure to mention the declared limitations on interpreting these results, as other than deliberate and then we’re left to wonder why.
Reporting Scotland editor’s response: 14th June 2018
I am afraid I am not clear about what your complaint actually is, because you produce not a single example of what you are complaining about. The closest I can get to understanding your point is your statement: “Such research cannot be used to tell us how common something is or how widespread it is”. As we did neither, your complaint – if that it be – is without foundation.
The reporter Reevel Alderson spoke to three people with something to say about serious crime in Scotland – Chris Kerr of Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse, who amongst other things are organising activities to keep young children away from crime groups; one of the leaders of the study, Dr Alistair Fraser of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, who outlined how a map of organised crime in Scotland correlated closely to a map of economic disadvantage and who emphasised how ripe such communities were for exploitation; and the Scottish Government Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who agreed with the finding that more needed to be done to win over communities with high levels of mistrust in the police, with all-round cooperation by interested parties being “an important element” of a wider package of measures.
The research findings paper 67/2018 published on the Scottish Government website concluded “Serious organised crime has deep roots in Scotland and extends the corrosive reach into a wide range of communities, businesses and institutions.” That sobering assessment is reason enough to report an issue of concern to most Scots and that was what we did using three important players in this story.
In view of what I have written above I hope that you will understand why I find wholly without foundation your statement ‘it’s difficult to explain the failure to mention the declared limitations on interpreting these results, as other than deliberate and then we’re left to wonder why’.
Second complaint 15.6.18 CAS-4964526-MV7QNQ (case number changed by BBC)
Full Complaint: Yours is quite a tetchy wee response. I know it can be upsetting when you don’t or are not allowed to understand something but that’s no excuse. Luckily, it’s simple. My complaint is that by giving headline attention at some length to research about organised crime without mentioning the researchers’ own clear and repeated warning about the extent to which their small number of cases can be generalised to the wider Scottish context, you suggest to your viewers that it may well be widespread. I know that you did not explicitly state that it was widespread (duh) but it was your responsibility (in your charter) to make sure viewers were aware that you were not saying that, by referring to the researchers’ warning. There is a serious danger than many viewers, trusting your coverage, will now think that this is a more common phenomenon than it is – see your own website which reveals that there are only 164 gangs in Scotland yet according to a BBC Salford broadcast on May 14th, there are 4 500 in the UK as a whole. Thus, Scotland has, per capita, far fewer gangs than the rest of the UK. Indeed, Scotland has 8% of the population yet only 3.5% of the gangs. Try again?
Please deal with this complaint seriously. In reporting on research which may have a significant effect on both policy development and levels of public anxiety, it is essential that any limitations on the conclusions made by the researchers themselves are clearly stated in the report. They were not, nor was the research put into context in terms of the number of gangs in Scotland as opposed to the level across rUK. What then remains is a scare-story of the kind we might expect in a tabloid, but which should not appear in a state-funded organisation, guided by a charter. Please insist on a correction broadcast at the same time of day.