The BBC has upheld a complaint about an edition of its Sunday Politics show, specifically relating to claims from its former host Andrew Neil. And it concluded that Neil used false Conservative Party claims that could not be “referenced” in fact or “justified”.
Fool me once…
Neil was interviewing former SNP MP and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond. During a discussion in which the host was asking Salmond about budgets in Scotland, Neil said:
If services have been so well protected, why after a decade of SNP rule do one in five Scots pupils leave primary school functionally illiterate?
Neil made the claim not once but twice:
Neil’s claim was also quoted in a BBC article. But the BBC says a viewer complained that “there was no basis for this claim”, and on 29 November the corporation agreed. It said in a statement that the complaint was “upheld”, noting:
The figure had originally been put forward by a spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, as being based on the 2009 Scottish Survey for Literacy and Numeracy. That survey, however, contained no reference to “functional illiteracy”, and no data which would have justified the claim in question.
But this is not the end of the story.
Fool me twice…
The Scottish Survey for Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) did not exist in 2009. It was the Scottish Survey of Achievement, a different report. But as the BBC said, the 2009 report [pdf] makes no mention of “functional illiteracy”, nor are there any statistics which would back this up. There was, however, a report commissioned by the Labour Party in 2009, which The Telegraph claimed found that 18.5% of Scottish children were leaving primary school “without being functionally literate”.
Also, the first record of any mention before 30 April of the ‘one in five’ figure is from Brian Monteith, a former Conservative MSP who was Head of Press for the Leave.EU campaign. He said in an article for The Scotsman:
That after nearly ten years of the SNP managing Scotland’s education one in five pupils leaves primary school functionally illiterate is as damning as it gets.
Monteith does not give a source for his figure.
The first mention of the ‘one in five’ figure from the official Scottish Conservatives was on 9 May, when they quoted the latest SSLN survey released on that day as showing 16% of primary school children were “functionally illiterate”. But even this claim was quickly debunked by the Ferret.Scot website as false.
In concluding the complaint, the BBC said:
The Sunday Politics team has been reminded of the need to establish the evidential basis of claims that are quoted in its questions.
The Canary asked the BBC for comment but received no response by the time of publication.
It is always unfortunate when any journalist gives out incorrect information. And it is concerning when they repeat the falsehood twice. But when a public service broadcaster parrots propaganda put out by the governing party, the implications for democracy are deeply worrying.
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