On 23 August, the BBC issued an apology live on air. BBC News at One had incorrectly covered findings from the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report on 22 August, claiming that the Scottish government had “spent nearly 13 and a half billion pounds more than it raised”.
SNP strategist Ross Colquhoun took to Twitter to highlight the apology:
📺 @BBCNews has apologised for how it covered #GERS yesterday. They reported @ScotGov spent £13.5 billion more than it raised. This is incorrect as that figure covers *all* public sector expenditure in Scotland, including areas controlled by @number10gov and other public bodies. pic.twitter.com/dcR8fgKDYv
— Ross Colquhoun (@rosscolquhoun) August 23, 2018
BBC News originally claimed the Scottish government had spent £13.5 billion more than it had raised in revenue. However, that figure includes [paywall] all public expenditure in Scotland. It takes in all reserved areas that the UK government is responsible for and spending from other public bodies.
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The BBC‘s apology came after SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse called out the inaccuracy on 22 August:
This is disgraceful @BBCNews – Your presenter clearly states that GERS says “…the Scottish Government last year spent nearly £13.5Bn more than it raised…”. This is a really serious factual error & I expect to see a equally prominent/high profile apology to @DerekMackaySNP! pic.twitter.com/GbAgpSw5vV
— Paul Wheelhouse MSP🏴 (@PaulWheelhouse) August 22, 2018
So, Wheelhouse tweeted his appreciation of the BBC‘s “classy approach” and thanked the team for writing to him privately:
Fair play to @BBCNews for correcting yesterday’s mistake & doing so in a way that’s equally likely to have been seen by the same audience. I appreciate that move -a classy approach & thank the team also for writing to me privately to explain how they have addressed my concerns.👍 https://t.co/IwheUmo8Jy
— Paul Wheelhouse MSP🏴 (@PaulWheelhouse) August 23, 2018
Scottish independence supporters were surprised by the apology being delivered in such a prominent way. The BBC‘s news coverage is often met with cynicism by SNP voters after a catalogue of accusations of pro-UK bias. In February 2017, the Herald conducted a poll which found [paywall] only one quarter of those asked felt the BBC was impartial on “issues surrounding [Scottish] independence.”
The reaction on Twitter echoed these findings:
Wonders will never cease. All it took was it being called out by an elected representative & an issue made of it. Imagine if we did that EVERY TIME they pull this kind of shit? How many apologies before people started to see that they're at it?
— PoliticsScot (@PoliticsScot) August 23, 2018
One voter demanded to know who made “that mistake” in the first place:
Who made “that mistake”? Who loaded the autocue with drivel? We pay their salaries. If a @scotgov representative came out with guff like this he/ she would be mercilessly pilloried. It’s long overdue to #BBCSwitchOff
— John McKay #DissolveTheUnion bot 🏴 (@johnmcinroe) August 23, 2018
And another expressed concerns about how BBC News allowed such an “error” to be broadcast:
Its amazing how an organisation this size can make an error like this with all the technology and staff that should be scrutinised information before being past on to the public what disgrace. But they knew what they were doing lets not be fooled.
— AL De Melo (@X6ALV) August 23, 2018
Most noteworthy, one voter highlighted how BBC Scotland apologised for a similar error in 2016:
— Rhys 🏴+🏴in🇪🇺=👍 McBot (@RhysWat1985) August 23, 2018
Elected members and voters have held BBC News to account. However, Scottish Conservative elected members and the tabloids have also made similar statements.
The Tories and tabloids
After BBC News admitted fault [paywall], some felt Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson should do the same.
Davidson had tweeted similar claims about the GERS report:
— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) August 22, 2018
On 23 August, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie took to twitter to call out Davidson on the need for an apology:
— Christina McKelvie (@ChristinaSNP) August 23, 2018
Right-wing tabloids, including the Scottish Daily Express, had also joined in:
— Scottish Express (@ScotExpress) August 22, 2018
And the Scottish Sun said:
— The Scottish Sun (@ScottishSun) August 23, 2018
But interestingly, the Scottish Sun did manage to cover the BBC apology:
BBC apologises for mistake on ScotGov overspend – and Indy supporters are stunned https://t.co/FNWJN2edhD
— The Scottish Sun (@ScottishSun) August 23, 2018
The Scottish Conservatives should be as bold as BBC News and admit they made a mistake. But as McKelvie said, many voters will not be holding their breath.
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