BROADCAST regulator Ofcom has slammed the BBC and Andrew Neil for misleading Scottish voters during a 2017 General Election interview with Alex Salmond.

The Sunday Politics programme, hosted by Neil, came under fire over a claim that one in five Scots pupils leave primary school "functionally illiterate".

The presenter repeatedly pressed Salmond during an interview at the time on protected public services, asking "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?"

READ MORE: READ: Full Ofcom decision slamming Andrew Neil and BBC over misleading claim

The statistic was challeneged by a primary school teacher who had watched the broadcast, prompting the BBC to provide a source for the claim.

However, in its first substantive response, the BBC claimed the statistic had come from research completed almost a decade prior to the broadcast, in 2009.

When challenged on the source, the state broadcaster backtracked and apologised for providing "incorrect statistics" before claiming that the numbers had actually come from the Scottish Government's 2014 Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numbers.

The complainant escalated the complaint, resulting in the BBC backtracking for the second time and accepting that the statistic was "not accurate".

They responded: "The figure was drawn from the 2009 Scottish Survey for Literacy and Numeracy (which was not the most recent research into school attainment) and it was not accurate to say that this allowed the conclusion quoted in the programme. It should have been made clear that the phrase ‘functionally illiterate’ was not used in that report and that its source was the education spokeswoman of the Scottish Conservatives."

On 28 November 2017, the BBC ECU published its findings upholding the complainant in the case, concluding that the "Sunday Politics team has been reminded of the need to establish the evidential basis of claims that are quoted in its questions".

In its 18-page ruling, Ofcom highlighted that during the process the BBC had "pointed to a range of sources for the statement that was made during the broadcast, none of which provided a proper basis for the statistic used.

"In their latest representations, both the BBC and Andrew Neil have accepted that the presenter’s question was not accurate and was not based on an official statistical source."

The regulator heavily criticised the BBC over their handling of the case, ruling that they were "greatly concerned" over how it had been dealt with – and the fact that the BBC had kept changing its explanation for the claim.

The report reads: "Ofcom is greatly concerned about the BBC’s handling of this case, where at different stages of dealing with the complaint and during Ofcom’s investigation, the BBC provided conflicting explanations on the source from which Andrew Neil’s statement was derived. Notably, the BBC was still maintaining the accuracy of Andrew Neil’s statement in its second substantive response to the complainant on 17 May 2017 and continued to provide different explanations on the source for Mr Neil’s question at all the different stages of Ofcom’s investigation. The length of time it took the BBC to admit there was no factual source to support Mr Neil’s statement is deeply unsatisfactory and we expect better standards from the BBC, both in its handling of viewer complaints and in its interactions with Ofcom.

"As the BBC acknowledged, the figure cited by Andrew Neil was quoted by Ruth Davidson in the Scottish Parliament three days after the broadcast. Therefore, given the apparent salience of this figure in Scottish political debate it would have better mitigated the potential harm which arose from this broadcast if the BBC had publicly corrected this misrepresentation ahead of the UK General Election that took place on 8 June 2017. By failing to establish the full facts on the basis for Andrew Neil’s statement at that time, the BBC was not able, as it should have been, to take a view as to whether it was materially misleading and to take steps to remedy or mitigate this inaccuracy. This, in our view, exacerbated the potential harm caused in this case."

Ofcom also pointed out that despite the incorrect statistic featuring in the show, the content remained available on the Sunday Politics homepage until March 2018 without any clarification or correction. When asked why it had not been corrected in accordance with their own policy, the BBC said: "Regrettably, the policy was not followed in this instance because of an oversight."

A BBC spokesperson said: "The BBC has already upheld a complaint on this issue in 2017 and we will study Ofcom's findings."

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