On 7th January, wrote to BBC Complaints:
14 days later, today, I received this astonishing exaplanation:
We carried an item lasting just over a minute about official figures relating to neonatal abstinence syndrome. We accurately reported the numbers of such infants notified to the authorities over the previous five years. We also carried what the Scottish Government had to say on the issue, namely that it was investing a further £250M in drug treatment and recovery services and that it was providing support to families to tackle drug use. We also carried a short clip of Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, who had obtained the information under an FOI request.
We finished the report by clearly signposting that there would be more on the story on the programme at 6.30 that evening. At that later time, we ran a report almost three times as long.
All this accords with our commitment to fairness, accuracy and impartiality.
You say that, over that five-year period, numbers had been falling from the first year to the last year. That paints an incomplete and potentially confusing picture, because earlier data shows totals from all Scotland sitting at 190 to 200 births a year, with 2017/18 looking like a ‘spike’, before returning to levels seen in 2015-2017, before another drop of around 20 in the years 2019-21.
Because the report at 6.30 p.m. was complementary to the one at lunchtime, I should note for the record that the presenter conducted a studio live interview with our Social Affairs Correspondent, in which he said that, where babies were exposed to substances in the womb, such as heroin, alcohol, codeine or cannabis, they were effectively born dependent on these drugs, and that that might manifest itself in symptoms such as seizures, trembling, vomiting and fever. He noted that the figures might be even higher, because some health boards had not responded to the FOI request. There was then a clip of the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (who, as I said before, made the FOI request).
A third of that interview was devoted to comments from the Scottish Government, which revealed details of their plans for family support, including a residential service in Ayrshire to help women addicted to drugs through their pregnancy and motherhood.
This was a distressing and complex story which was told in both editions fairly, accurately and impartially. I believe that your criticism of our treatment of the figures is without foundation and further that your suggested ordering of the figures in that period would have distorted the wider context of these events, the relevant figures for which were clearly indicated by our correspondent in his interview.
I therefore cannot accept that we had misinformed our audience, as you claim, and that, contrary to your opinion, I believe that we provided the service as a public service broadcaster that our audiences have come to expect over the last hundred years.
Breath-taking stupidity or dishonesty?
My second comment emailed to them minutes age:
The long-awaited response to my complaint is long but does not deal with the facts which I presented. First, your report was presented based entirely on the Lib Dem FoI request and the 852 babies born addicted to drugs IN the last 5 years. The data for those year were added up to provided that large figure and the trend IN those years, downward, was not revealed nor was it revealed in any of the later more extended reports. A five-year trend is statistically meaningful. Your suggestion that the early morning report was only 1 minute long is a feeble excuse in the light of the failure of longer reports to reveal it. Astonishingly, you suggest that the five-year pattern, the basis for your report, might be incomplete and confuse because the first of the five years, 2017-18, looks like a spike. In 2017-18 there were 249 cases. There were 190 in the previous year and 203 in 2015-16. This is just fluctuation but the consistent fall every year for four years is at least an emerging trend which your audience has a right to know about. I’d be really interested if your statisticians at BBC HQ are prepared to support the views of an editor who clearly does not know what a spike is and apparently does not even know that data are plural making comments such as ‘data shows’ embarrassing.
They’ll just say they disagree, have no more to say and direct me Ofcom who will circle the wagons.
Footnote: My suggested ordering? The order in which the years occurred?