Ofcom urged to probe Sturgeon over impartiality
Nicola Sturgeon: accused of using briefings for political gain
Broadcast regulator Ofcom has been asked to investigate whether Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus briefings breach impartiality rules.
Labour peer George Foulkes said the First Minister is using the briefings to her political advantage and regularly criticises UK government policy.
He said the briefings should not continue in their present form as the election campaign builds in the new year with no opportunity for other parties to respond.
According to The Herald, Mr Foulkes said he would prefer public health officials rather than the First Minister present updates on the coronavirus and wants Ofcom to order BBC Scotland to restrict the briefings to its news bulletins. Political statements should be made in the parliament.
However, he claimed BBC Scotland wouldn’t do so “because they feel intimidated by the overbearing attitude of the Scottish Government”.
Lord Foulkes said if the live briefings continued into next year’s Holyrood election campaign it would be an “outrageous breach of the impartiality rules which Ofcom has a responsibility to uphold”.
Labour has already objected to what it claimed were “increasingly political” briefings on the outbreak. The Scottish Tories also accused Ms Sturgeon of using the briefings “to promote SNP policy and stir up resentment”.
In a letter sent to Ofcom on Saturday, Lord Foulkes said he had already expressed his concerns in a meeting with new BBC director-general Tim Davie last month.
Lord Foulkes told Ofcom: “As you will appreciate, I am not a supporter of the current UK Government, but I am a supporter of adherence to the rules of political impartiality at both a UK and Scottish level.”
He said Mr Davie arranged for him and Edinburgh Labour MP Ian Murray to meet the new BBC Scotland director Steve Carson.
He said that it was clear that “BBC Scotland broadcast the briefings whenever asked to by the Scottish Government. They could not give us any instance when they had refused to do so.”
He added that BBC Scotland refused to cover the event as if it were a news conference, and so confine it to news bulletins “because they feel intimidated by the overbearing attitude of the Scottish Government.”
He said: “Can I therefore ask Ofcom to now investigate this with a view to insisting this with a view to insisting that BBC Scotland alter the format of the coverage of the epidemic to conform with the rules.”
The Government said the live media briefings by the First Minister are used to disseminate the latest public health guidance on coronavirus, as well as important information about services and support for people and the economy.”