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I wrote yesterday, to Donalda MacKinnon, outgoing but still in Director of BBC Scotland, to complain about the Good Morning Scotland [GMS] broadcasts of 25th and 26th July 2020:

Tuesday 27th July 2020

I write directly, to make three complaints of serious breaches of the BBC editorial guidelines, in two broadcasts.

The BBC online complaints system allows neither the capacity nor the speed of response required by these serious and extensive matters.

a) GMS 25th July

The programme on 25th July featured an interview with Ben Nimmo of ‘Graphica’ at approximately 9.40am presented as an authority on Russian “interference” in the Scottish referendum on the basis that he was mentioned as an “open source” in the Intelligence and Security Committee report.

No attempt was made to inform listeners of Mr Nimmo’s well documented and paid links to the Integrity Initiative and Institute of Statecraft. No attempt was made by the interviewer to challenge Mr Nimmo’s views or by the programme to interview someone with a different perspective.

No attempt was made to question, contrast and compare the supposed “interference” of Mr Nimmo’s claimed tweets AFTER the poll with the well documented pro-Union public interventions DURING the campaign of President Obama, Prime Minister Rahoy, Prime Minister Abbot, President Baroso (on BBC Marr Show) and President Putin himself (on BBC Marr Show) and the reports that these views were expressed after lobbying from the U.K. Government.

b) GMS 26th July

The paper review broadcast after 9am regular contributors Penny Taylor and David Leask which inter alia promoted Mr David Leask own article in the Sunday Herald newspaper on supposed Russian “interference” and then in the period to 10am the programme subsequently interviewed Luke Harding author of a recent book on Russia, then Mr Leask himself and then a Ms Mueller and then finally Ann Applebaum, all accepting the premise of Russian interference.

All of these contributors are from one side of a debate and little or no attempt was made by either interviewer over the period to obtain balance by questioning their views.

In particular Mr Leask is presumably a paid contributor to the programme in which he then promoted his own articles and views after being asked  for “expert” commentary.

The three complaints are as follows:

  1. The first complaint refers to the content and treatment of the issue of both GMS programmes of 25th and 26th July as in breach of point 1 of the BBC’s public purpose and editorial guidelines:

‘To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”

  • In terms specifically of the programme of 26th July it is a breach of impartiality for a paid contributor to promote his own paid journalistic work and for the programme to air his views unchallenged as an expert on the same subject. In terms of editorial balance Mr Leask should be asked by the programme to choose between his role as a contributor and interviewee and if the latter his views require to be balanced with another journalist or commentator with a differing view.
  • In addition, the general guidelines, and even more so the stricter news and current affairs guidelines, make it clear that clear that there are particular responsibilities on objectivity for those with a presenting role. Mr Leask has been a (presumably paid) fixture on the Sunday GMS programme for the last four months. Meanwhile Mr Leask has been promoting (as he is entitled to do) his particular views as a paid freelance Russia phobic journalist. It is the interaction between the two in the programme of 26th July which is the clear breach of BBC guidelines on Conflict of Interest.

“News and current affairs output may deal with any issue, cause, organisation or individual and there must be no doubt over the integrity and objectivity of editorial/production teams and those who support them.  For this reason, there are specific constraints on those working in, or contributing to, news and current affairs output. 

Those with on-air roles in BBC news and current affairs must not undertake any external activities which could undermine the BBC’s reputation for impartiality.”

Professor John Robertson

University of the West of Scotland, Research Ethics Chair, until January 2016

27th July 2020