Initial complaint 31.5.18 – CAS-4946918-F6LDN5
Full Complaint: We heard, six times between 6 and 9am: ‘Scottish Fire and Rescue has a backlog of almost £400 million in vehicle and property maintenance.’ According to the BBC report, Audit Scotland have described the funding gap as ‘insurmountable’. The above information was extracted from the 5th statement in the summary on page 5 of the report. Missing from the BBC broadcast was any reference to statements 1 to 4 or the opening to statement 5, which include these key points: 1. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) continues to deliver emergency and prevention services while progressing a complex and ambitious programme of reform. 2. The board continues to work well, with real strengths in the quality of discussion and scrutiny and challenge of management. The board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues facing the SFRS. 3. The SFRS has an ambitious vision that involves significant changes to make it a more flexible, modern service. Progress with developing and implementing the plans for transformation has been steady but slow, due to a range of contributing factors. 4. The SFRS has continued to make progress with integrating different ways of working but has not yet achieved full integration. Harmonised pay and conditions for firefighters were agreed in April 2018, placing the SFRS in a good position to complete integration of the service. 5. The SFRS has strong financial management and has developed a good approach to long-term financial planning. It is now in a position to progress with transformation. This is a classic scare story, based on bias by omission, which was likely to be all the more scary given the time of broadcast and the repetition of one negative aspect, from a more complex and balanced document.
BBC Reply 18.6.18
The story to which you refer lasted for twenty-six seconds. The early team took the view – one that I share – that the most important and interesting point for our viewers was that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service had a backlog in maintenance of vehicles and property approaching four hundred million pounds, an insurmountable position without further transformation and investment. The other points, including information such as “the board continues to work well” and “the board and management display mutual respect, a constructive tone and genuine shared ownership of the issues”, were not considered as being of comparable interest in a news story of limited duration. This was therefore not “a classic scare story, based on bias by omission”. You do not explain why the time of broadcast has anything to do with it. You talk of the “repetition of one negative aspect”: what we reported was the story and it can bear any number of repeats as long as it is accurate and fair – which it was.
Second complaint 19.6.18
It is essential when reporting on an important document to give viewers a representative and balanced account. Your report picked out the one negative and ignored five positive statements. That this was an example of bias by omission is quite clear. Repetition of this, unbalanced with any positive statement, six times in the early morning is likely to have scared viewers into thinking their lives may be at risk. Your mention of the 26-second length of the broadcast suggests you think this excuses imbalance. If it cannot be done professionally in the time available, then you should not do it at all. While this is a specific complaint about one issue, it is important to note that such imbalance is not uncommon in your reports. Your selection of the one negative aspect, ignoring two important positives, in the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service press release on Hate Crime in Scotland, 2017/18, on 16.6.18, on access to Higher Education on 13.6.18 and on the Scottish economy on 12.6.18 are the basis for other complaints.