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TV News from the River Clyde

The River Clyde’s differential effects on the news editing process: or, now you see Ruth Davidson, now you don’t.

Here’s a strange thing. Two broadcasting organizations sit side by side on the Clyde, both offering news websites for the purpose of informing the public and nurturing Scottish democracy, as public service broadcasters should. Nothing odd there. But on the same day at the same time, one website leads with a large photo of Ruth Davidson and the headline ‘Ruth Davidson holds Downing Street talks’. The other has an equally dominant headline – ‘Sturgeon questions May’s ability to form government’. Ruth Davidson is nowhere to be found on the latter site, not anywhere. Can the priorities of Scottish politics look so different on the Clyde, between such close neighbours in the TV business? Can Ms Sturgeon be so much more important in the news sense of one organization, and Ms Davidson so dominant in the other? It’s the 12th of June 2017 in the afternoon, and it’s raining on both buildings – so it can’t be the weather. Both buildings relate to the Clyde in much the same way, so it’s probably not the feng shui.

What’s the press saying at the same moment? The Herald news website leads with ‘No 10 brushes aside Nicola Sturgeon’s call for cross-party “four nation” approach to Brexit talks’. No article on Ruth Davidson can be discerned. The Scotsman leads with ‘Nicola Sturgeon to seek “four nation” approach to Brexit’. A Ruth Davidson search comes up empty-handed! This is surprising (not least in the Scotsman) given her high visibility these days, but the fact must be faced. No Ruth Davidson at all.

Let’s call the broadcasting site with Ruth Davidson ‘website A’. We’ll call the other broadcasting news site (without Ruth Davidson) ‘website B’. The Herald (no Ruth Davidson) we’ll call ‘website C’, and the Scotsman (no Ruth Davidson!) ‘website D’. It turns out that B, C and D have something in common. They’re not BBC Scotland.

Could BBC Scotland have developed a thing about Ms Davidson? For example, could its highly prominent piece headed ‘Davidson says Scots Tory MPs will argue Scotland’s case “forcefully” (from the day before) hint at some sort of pattern? Such as perhaps the ‘Ruth Davidson given DUP gay rights assurance’, also from the BBC news website 48 hours earlier? Is it in any way significant that a visitor to the BBC Scotland news website in the few days after the general election might gain the impression that Ms Davidson was leading the Scottish party with the greatest electoral support?

Before 12th June is quite out, they’re at it again: another top headline with another big Ruth Davidson photo, ‘Brexit offer “could change” – Davidson’. It’s now officially a few minutes into 13th June, and I can barely keep up with all this Ruth Davidson coverage. STV aren’t keeping up either, because she’s not yet on their news website at all. STV just aren’t paying attention.

UntiI quite recently I had been haunted by the unhappy thought that Ms Davidson was, for the Scottish media, merely the new Jim Murphy. Recent events have proved her to be made of much more serious stuff. Jim was an illusion, but Ruth is very real. Yet much as Mr Murphy’s features for a while dominated Scottish news pages before the 2015 election (only Theresa May has managed the same range of expressions for photographers), Ms Davidson became the camera star on whom unionism was seen to depend. For the Scottish media in the main, pretty much anyone who might represent an alternative to Salmond and Sturgeon could become the acceptable face of unionism.

There’s a limit to how often Gordon Brown can be hauled back out of Jurassic Park. (Well, maybe there isn’t).

But Ms Davidson has been a godsend. The Herald and the Scotsman, of course, are published by commercial organizations, and owe no-one any editorial favours, so they can splurge on Ms Davidson at will. Should they wish to publish coverage more or less favourable toward any individual politician, or political party, or constitutional policy, that’s their business. It’s what we expect from the press in the UK, which with few exceptions on either side of the border has seldom made political impartiality part of its mission.

But the BBC, which as we know has an unshakeable commitment to impartiality, can’t be doing all this Ruth Davidson coverage for any reason other than its robust pursuit of objective political circumstance. Which throws the focus back on the clearly guilty party, STV. Has Ms Davidson offended STV? Are valiant efforts by STV journalists to get Ruth Davidson stories onto the STV news website being cruelly suppressed by STV executives? Is the STV building just along the quay from the BBC throbbing with resentment at the ruthlessness of it all?

By the same token, has anyone at the BBC risk-assessed all this Ruth Davidson coverage?

If Nicholas Witchell and Peter Hunt are assigned to provide more thorough coverage of Ms Davidson, will the Duchess of Cambridge be jealous? Could this jeopardize BBC access to the Palace? Can Ruth Davidson completely replace the Royal Family in BBC News output without offence to monarchist sensibilities in other parts of the UK – such as Northern Ireland? Could this imperil the Conservative’s power-sharing arrangement with the DUP?

Someone on Pacific Quay should investigate before this gets out of hand.

Comments (10)

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  1. Bert Logan says:

    When I added my bit to Batemans post earlier, I hadn’t read this.

    More clarity on the B BC.

  2. Ann Rayner says:

    Love ‘the ruthlessness of it all’! Would it were true.

  3. Mark Rowantree says:

    Thing is apart from the obvious propaganda value for brand Tory, there is absolutely nothing of news value in the BBCs coverage.

  4. IJM says:

    Two statements I read “The Herald and the Scotsman, of course, are published by commercial organizations, and owe no one any editorial favours” and “But the BBC, as we know has an unshakeable commitment to impartiality” Pure dead brilliant.

    Couldn,t have put it better myself. Keep up the good work. I,m still laughing!!!!!

  5. Mach1 says:

    The pro-Davidson bias is concerning, but methinks it reflects a willingness to work up press releases into news at speed which characterises an organisation both divorced from the viewers it serves and ill-equipped to fully cover real news stories, or develop them, as a branch office of the mighty, post-Birtian Beeb. They simply do not have the resources, in depth or quality, to deconstruct whatever the Scottish Unionist press office is pamping out.
    STV is a more modest, but fully integrated organisation, sensitive to its viewers/readers since THEY ACTUALLY HAVE A RELATIONSHIP with the product. Hence a more nuanced and locally sensitive approach, that balances the pro-indy, pro-Labour bias among the population on its doorstep with the needs to address issues of importance to the general SCOTTISH population.
    It is sad to see how far the BBC has fallen, but let’s not blame the frontline journalists, as much as the management and specifically those determined to cut, and cut, and cut… even if it is real news that ends up on the cutting room floor.
    Finally, Ruth “Arlene Foster” Davidson is surely on the cusp of disappearing up her own two-piece suit, or else acquiring a bowler hat to hide under, as the leader of a new progressive Scotland. She fully knows that a DUP coalition spells doom for the Unionists’ surprise gains. Anyone would think she was a member of the Liberal Democrats at heart.

  6. Welsh Sion says:

    The facts that Kim Jong Davidson is an ex-BBC employee who has been enjoying the jollies of various appearances on Bake Off and Have I Got News For You (both on BBC) are purely coincedental, of course.

  7. John says:

    She’s calling in all the favours she’s owed by her former employers , or else she has something more sinister to hold over them . Regardless of what it is , The Ruthie Show was a big hit at the elections , she was never of the screen and loving every minute of it , and it paid off bigtime !

  8. w.b.robertson says:

    so the outcome of the election in Scotland was all down to the media? and I have just seen something with a snout and four legs flash past my window.

  9. Mach1 says:

    So the media was impartial and not towing the Scottish Tory party line? Methinks not. Influence is always difficult to gauge, but getting your message across is the basis of any political campaign. The biased coverage was so one-sided as to help skew the basis of the public debate. Now we have a media keen to make a deal with the DUP seem like the act of a ‘strong and stable’ prime minister, while allowing Ruth Davidson to claim victory, but deny responsibility for Mrs May cosying up to the backwoodsmen of Ulster politics. Truth is, her party’s influence depends on that coalition. A toxic coalition which, given the threat it poses to the Good Friday agreement, could reverse decades of political advance. If Ruth had any principles, she would criticise any DUP deal, like those other radicals, Michael Heseltine and John Major.
    But then, she doesn’t really have any influence, does she. And being plastered over BBC Scotland might gull a few farmers and fishermen’s leaders, but it won’t progress the ideal of a fair and open Scottish society, led by a democratically elected government with the welfare of the people as its watchword, one jot.

  10. jack elliot says:

    – – – – – – A wonderful day to enjoy the Clyde.





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