Truth and Trust – Correcting the Record and Andrew Neil

I’m a student of history and I know that truth isn’t always easy to identify, but when the truth is observable then it must be shared correctly. Any misrepresentations should be corrected, especially when the person doing the misrepresenting is a figure who people will trust. Sadly, Spectator TV host Andrew Neil, someone who has built up a trusting audience through his years of broadcasting under BBC partiality rules, needs to offer a correction over his comments about the Scottish Government and the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine.

I was watching the most recent episode of The Week in 60 Minutes on YouTube and while I disagreed with much of the right-wing analysis, including that of the recent insurrection at the US Capitol, I don’t mind that. How could I? Analysis is fine and subjectivity is OK too. It is important to broaden the analysis and views you see and hear. However, I draw the line when it comes to the distortion of facts. And sadly, that is exactly what happened when host and Spectator Chairman Andrew Neil took aim at the Scottish Government over the Oxford/AstraZeneca Vaccine.

In his own words, “It is interesting that the Scottish Government doesn’t refer to the Oxford vaccine. It refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

He continued sarcastically, “I wonder why? I will just leave that to ponder in the air.”

Unfortunately for Andrew Neil, he is wrong and is therefore misleading the viewers of Spectator TV. The Scottish Government, in press releases and official publications, does refer to Oxford when talking about the vaccine. Does it do it all the time? No, it does not, but then neither does the UK Government who refers to the vaccine as “the AstraZeneca vaccine”. Again, not all the time, but the point is clear to see.

Andrew Neil’s assertion was false, and that is a problem. When it comes to analysis, we can all differ and that is legitimate and right. It is important for people to air their opinions, but facts and truth are important also. The integrity of an argument should be based on facts. Of course, it is no secret that Andrew Neil is critical of the SNP government. He has criticised them on Television, in print and on Spectator TV. It is his right and I defend that right. It is perfectly legitimate and fair, until the criticisms are provably false as this example is.

I can’t speak to whether Andrew Neil knew he was deliberately misrepresenting the truth of the matter, or if he was the victim of human fallibility. What I do know is that the viewers of Spectator TV deserve a clarification and correction. This is important because Neil is seen as “forensic and unbiased” by lots of the people who consume his content and follow him on Twitter. One glance at his Twitter timeline and you will see lots of retweets of praise from his fans.

In a 2017 tweet about “passport fake news” as Andrew Neil tweeted:

“Those who’ve tweeted about the £500m cost of changing passport colour should delete their tweets and correct the record.”

He was correct then and the same now applies to Andrew Neil and Spectator TV. It is important that Spectator TV corrects the record about the Scottish Government referring to the Oxford Vaccine. It should also be pointed out, for balance, that the UK Government does not always mention Oxford when referring to the vaccine.

Why should this throwaway jibe matter so much, you might ask? Well, like it or not, Andrew Neil has a reputation built on his years at the BBC. This, at face value, gives him a credibility which is a powerful tool. When he spreads misinformation for whatever reason, it is more likely than not to be taken as researched and correct. It is therefore important that there are checks and balances, and that he is called to account for falsehoods in the same way he calls out others.

I’m reminded of Scottish Football broadcaster Archie McPherson using his celebrity profile to spread falsehoods to pensioners during the 2014 independence referendum. That was damaging to the independence campaign (the extent to which is open for debate) and damaging to the truth. McPherson is totally entitled to oppose independence and the SNP government, as is Neil. But what they are not entitled to do is to spread misinformation. It is particularly egregious when it piggybacks on trust they have built up with the public.

Neil has tarnished the trust his audience invests in him by misrepresenting the facts and, as Neil likes to tell others, he should correct the record. For the sake of his reputation, credibility and, most importantly, the truth.


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Comments (17)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Is there anyone on the BBC who’s pro-independence? I can’t say I’ve ever come across one.

    McPherson was also telling old-firm supporters that if Scotland became independent they should give up all hope of ever getting into the English Premier League. He’s just another little Englander trapped in a Scotsman’s body.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      ‘Is there anyone on the BBC who’s pro-independence? I can’t say I’ve ever come across one.’

      Perhaps they keep it hidden under a cloak of impartiality.

      Unionists are forever making the same complaint; only, they can’t find anyone who’s anti-independence.

      Maybe all BBC employees should have their political sympathies stamped on their foreheads.

    2. Chas Gallagher says:

      Tom, there was at one time but the EBC have gradually got rid, probably under orders from the English Nationalist Establishment at Wastemonster and MI5!!!

    3. Derek says:

      “Is there anyone on the BBC who’s pro-independence?”


      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Yes, but do any of them stick their head above the parapet? I get the impression that would be a demotion offence.

        1. Craig P says:

          Isobel Fraser, though she was moved off the political programmes, after a complaint by Labour’s Ian Davidson. Lesley Riddoch, back in the pre-digital age. Derek Bateman, though he only aired his politics post-retirement. I’m sure there’s others…

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            I rest my case Craig.

  2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    And you’ve corrected his mistake; he stands corrected. Where’s the problem?

    But you’re right: we need to remain vigilant and critically evaluate what others would have us believe. Nothing should be taken on trust. ‘Sapere aude’, as Horace used to say.

    1. Julian Smith says:

      The problem is that the misinformation has to be corrected by the person who was the source so that the audience who heard it can have the opportunity to revise their perceptions. Correction by a third party is entirely unsatisfactory.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        Why? Are audiences incapable of doing this themselves? Are they too stupid and gullible or just too lazy to correct the falsehoods they hear? Do they need the edifying spectacle of a public confession?

        Sapere aude, as Horace used to say.

        1. Grant McKenzie says:

          Basics of good and honest journalism are that if you get it wrong you front up and correct it.

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            That’s all very idealistic, but it hardly reflects the pluralistic ‘post-truth’ nature of today’s broadcasting, where the onus is on the consumer to separate the wheat from the chaff of available content. The days of ‘trusted’ sources are long gone; the truth-value of news and analysis is now entirely dependent on the discrimination of the consumer rather than the honesty or other moral niceties of the broadcaster. Scepticism is the order of the day: we need to be a lot more active (critical) and a lot less passive (trusting) in our information consumption. The moral probity of Andrew Neil or Archie MacPherson and other ‘ad hominem’ considerations is, in this day and age, even more irrelevant to the value or otherwise of what they would have us believe.

        2. Julian Smith says:

          I just find the idea of the audience of Spectator TV heading straight to Bella for corroboration somewhat unlikely.

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Grant McKenzie managed to independently evaluate Andrew Neil’s claim. Why do you think others are incapable of doing so? Why do lesser mortals need Bella – or, indeed, Andrew Neil himself – to tell them what he said wasn’t true?

  3. gercon says:

    I was blissfully unaware of Spectator TV until I read this. Can’t undo it.
    Neil v Hunt? Lifes to short.

  4. Squigglypen says:

    Plus Johnson misrepresenting the Scottish National Party as the Scottish Nationalist Party(twice) in a bumbling speech in Westminister..not reprimanded by the Speaker who told off an MP for using the word wilful when describing the government’s handling of an issue.Ok for Johnson to insult the party that governs Scotland and who were voted in by that nation then?. Don’t they realise they are being watched…

    Thank you for your article Grant…totally agree with you.

  5. John S Warren says:

    Mr McKenzie,

    A point worth making. I had spotted the British Government’s own website referring to the AstraZeneca vaccine (no reference to Oxford). I confess I am slightly more robust in noticing that the preposterous slights adopted at the exclusion of the term ‘Oxford’ so conveniently permit a particular and very specific political interpretation, than you are generously incline to offer. In this 21st century world, those of this ilk to whom you offer an inch, will take a mile. I doubt if Neil would qualify his deconstruction of the supposed intent; indeed he didn’t.

    I confess I am also less forgiving of the BBC. My reasons are less the particularities of the independence debate, although (largely for the reasons below) I can understand the public scepticism in Scotland. Rather, my reservations regarding the BBC are twofold. The first below is even more important than the second, but may be a consequence of the second.

    1) The Saville affair. It was not even just Saville, it went further. If you wish to understand the appalling nature of the Saville affair, and the failure of BBC management, I suggest the reader follow this link to the Dame Janet Smith official report on the sordid matter: The conclusion I draw from this is that in all conscience the BBC should never have been allowed to renew its Charter. At least for me, some failures are ‘peyond the pale’.
    2) The BBC was never expected to provide a medium of communication independent of government, as soon as the Government understood the nature of the public reach the Corporation it had recently set up was capable of attaining. I refer the reader to Tom Mills, ‘The BBC: Myth of a Public Service’ (2016). I would draw attention, just for example the importance of JCC Davidson (pp.13-18), a particularly notable Government operator who functioned in the shadows; he had particularly close connections to the intelligence and security services, and was responsible for promoting such ‘princes of darkness’ in the 1930s as MI5’s (and the Conservative Party as First Director of Research), Sir Joseph Ball (1885-1961) whose elusive activities I invite you to read about (where you can).

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