Balance failure in BBC Scottish independence referendum coverage ‘wrong and not acceptable’ says Channel 4’s Stuart Cosgrove

Channel 4’s director of creative diversity, Stuart Cosgrove, has slammed the lack of journalistic scrutiny of Scottish independence referendum ‘scare headlines’ and called for a re-think at the BBC on the nature of balance and due impartiality.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Cosgrove said misreporting over claims the Royal Bank of Scotland would move jobs to England in the event of a Yes vote had been shown to be lacking substance and scrutiny after RBS issued a clarification to the media confirming any move would be relevant to “operations, not people”.

He told BBC presenter John Beattie: “I think elsewhere in the media and elsewhere within this organisation, the last 24 hours have allowed people to assume that this is about job losses in Scotland and the loss of great, significant investment.

“It’s clearly now is not, and yet another story when investigated the day after is proved to not have anything like the substance [it seemed].”

“The lack of scrutiny of this and the idea that people just wanted scare headlines I think is an outrage, particularly at this stage in the referendum when there’s so much to talk about and where journalism should be coming alive.

“Let’s just take the BP example; we are being told that BP are moving to London. Really? What exactly are they going to do given the £200m they’ve recently invested in offshore drilling technology – where are they going to be drilling? Hemel Hempstead? Of course they’re not.”

The comments came amid a media storm when Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond challenged the BBC’s Nick Robinson in a heated press conference exchange, and accused the Treasury of leaking sensitive financial information regarding RBS to the BBC.

Cosgrove added that following the referendum there should be an examination of how the BBC measured balance and impartiality in its coverage, saying that applying election coverage models to the referendum when the main parties are unionist could limit time given to voices from the Yes side.

“One of the things I’d like to challenge, and I think it’s something we’ll need to talk about once the referendum’s over – and I think it has a significant impact on this institution, the BBC – is the nature of balance and due impartiality,” he said.

“Yesterday, I was watching the rolling BBC News very closely and it was clear that notions of balance were being predicated on a party political basis. It would go from Cameron to Miliband to Clegg and back.

“If you look at it as a different premise – it’s a yes/no question – then Patrick Harvie of the Greens, who is not the leader but is a significant political person within the Yes campaign, should have had exactly the same coverage as Ed Miliband.

“Do you think for a second he got that? Of course he didn’t. I think there’s been a failure of the understanding of the nature of balance and due impartiality. It’s simply wrong and not acceptable.”

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