BBC Scotland has come under more fire over its reporting of an interview given by Irish European Minister Lucinda Creighton, after Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop highlighted an accusation by Ms Creighton that the broadcaster had “misconstrued” her comments.
Following the interview in Dublin, broadcast last Friday, it has emerged that the Irish politician has claimed variously that her comments were "misconstrued or perhaps manipulated by some quarters" that they have been "spun" and "seem to have been presented or taken out of context."
The accusations followed several BBC Scotland reports that suggested Ms Creighton believed that an independent Scotland would no longer be a member of the European Union, and would have to re-apply.
However, speaking on the Sunday Politics Show, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “I think it’s unfortunate for the BBC that a minister from another government has stated that the BBC has misconstrued her position.”
The comments from the Scottish Government Minister is an indication of the growing anger over the reporting of the interview where Ms Creighton was asked to give her views on the hypothetical situation should Scotland become independent.
Responding to a question from BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan, the Irish Minister was heard to say that “Scotland would have to apply for membership” and that “there would be an application and a negotiation process”.
The interview led to bulletins on BBC Scotland throughout Friday which focused on the membership application issue. These were followed by sustained attacks on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by the Better Together campaign who claimed Ms Sturgeon had been “humiliated” by Ms Creighton.
However, following questions by Newsnet Scotland and others, the Irish Minister complained that her comments had been "misconstrued or perhaps manipulated by some quarters" and that they "seem to have been presented or taken out of context."
In an email to Newsnet Scotland, Ms Creighton added: "I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU.”
In a blow to the BBC’s interpretation of her words the Irish Minister also made it clear that in her view Scotland would be taking part in post-referendum negotiations from a position within the European Union.
Ms Creighton said she agreed with SNP MP Angus Robertson who said that: “Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence”
The Irish Minister also said that Mr Robertson had summed up the situation quite well, when he said: “The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries”.
The accusations against the BBC by a senior Irish Minister are embarrassing, but have thus far resulted in no news reports from the Scottish media. Yesterday, the BBC’s stance was defended by BBC Scotland presenter Andrew Kerr who hosted the Sunday Politics Programme.
According to Mr Kerr, Ms Creighton had referred to Scotland having to “apply” for EU membership twice during the interview. Mr Kerr also highlighted a lack of any reference to membership application in a subsequent clarification email to Nicola Sturgeon.
However, Newsnet Scotland has now been forwarded several responses sent by Ms Creighton to concerned Scots seeking clarification on her views. In the emails it is clear that the Irish Minister’s views are at one with those of the Scottish government – and not, as claimed by the BBC with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore who believes an independent Scotland will find itself "outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in".
In several clarification emails, Ms Creighton appears to suggest that the ‘application’ she spoke of was a reference to the negotiations that will take place immediately after a Yes vote – a time when Scotland will still be part of the UK, and technically a member of the EU.
Another correspondence makes clear Ms Creighton’s view that an independent Scotland will be welcomed as a partner by all current EU members:
“I did go on to say that a newly independent Scotland would be welcome as an EU partner (and I think that applies to all EU member states including Ireland). My understanding is that the Scottish Government has already committed to a negotiation with the EU between 2014 and 2016, if you vote for independence in 2014.
“If my interview suggested something other than that, this was not my intention. I think my comments have been misconstrued or perhaps manipulated by some quarters. I sincerely regret this.”
Ms Creighton repeats her claims that her words were not reported accurately, saying: "I regret that my words seem to have been spun or taken out of context."
The dispute will have done little to quell growing fears that BBC Scotland is ill equipped to cover the independence debate in anything approaching the kind of quality driven in depth manner required.
The rift will also call into question the motives of some editors and producers at BBC Scotland who exhibit a tendency to cherry pick and headline those aspects of an interview many might deem unhelpful to the pro-independence campaign.
There is sure to be pressure on BBC Scotland bosses to back up recent boasts that they would send reporters “anywhere, anytime to any place” in order to ensure the referendum debate is covered properly - a clarification interview with Ms Creighton would be welcomed by critics. The 'anytime, anywhere' boast was made by BBC Scotland Head of News and Current Affairs, John Boothman.
Mr Boothman had previously cited Raymond Buchanan’s trip to Dublin as evidence of BBC Scotland’s quality coverage.