Back in 2014, I was often asked why I focused on identifying bias in what BBC Scotland was reporting and not on what they were not reporting. I understood the concern but pointed out that identifying bias in actual reports can be quite objective if done scientifically but trying to draw attention to bias in deciding not to report something was inevitably more subjective. A news agency can always say that they didn’t report on something because they missed it, had too little time or resources for it or that it seemed less important than the stories they did report. Only when a story is collectively viewed as very important, covered widely by other agencies and then ignored by the one being researched, is it possible to make a strong case for bias by omission.
Recently, I’ve noted four good examples to show that it can be seen:
- Boris Johnson’s tax cuts for the well-off: When Tory leadership candidate, Boris Johnson made his offer yesterday to raise the threshold for the higher rate of tax in England, Wales and N Ireland and to pay for it with Employee National Insurance contributions, collected from across the UK including from Scottish employees, he presented the SNP with an open goal and the Scotsman and the Herald reported the injustice. Though regularly fed pro-Union messages by these two newspapers, Reporting Scotland ignored the story this time.
- Energy bills used to subsidise submarines: This stunning report actually appeared on the BBC UK website and was picked up by the Scottish press but once more ignored by Reporting Scotland. Based on a report from an academic suggesting that ‘the government is willing to burden householders with the expense of nuclear energy because it underpins the supply chain and skills base for firms such as Rolls Royce and Babcock that work on nuclear submarines’, the story was another gift to the SNP though they too failed to run with it.
- Carers in Scotland get more support: This report from the Scottish Government telling us that carers in Scotland were to receive £452 per year more than their equivalents in the rest of the UK was ignored by all of the Scottish MSM including by Reporting Scotland despite being posted prominently on the Scottish Government website, familiar to all journalists.
- Britain’s Number 1 Teacher Education Faculty is in Scotland: Though St Andrews University hitting second place in the overall Guardian rankings got some attention, BBC Scotland ignored it an went for the giant fatberg in the town’s sewers instead. None seemed to see or care about the fact that the University of the West of Scotland’s School of Education in Ayr had come out at the very top of its category in a stunning result.
I’ve said many times before that no conspiracy is required to produce this kind of bias. Years of conditioning in an education system and in first media jobs, produces journalists who just know what to do to satisfy those above them in the news agency they work for. It comes naturally.