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Attack on briefings

BBC Scotland ‘stacking poll in SNP’s favour’ say Tories

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon is accused of using the briefings for politcal gain

BBC Scotland has been accused of stacking the 2021 election in the SNP’s favour by allowing Nicola Sturgeon to continue to hold briefings throughout the short campaign period.

The Scottish Conservatives say Nicola Sturgeon has consistently used the BBC briefing platform to launch political attacks, particularly at the Conservative UK Government.

The Tories say the SNP leader has used the platform “to spin her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, including selectively quoting key lines from a damning report on care home deaths in Scotland.”

BBC Scotland director Steve Carson has written to Tory leader Douglas Ross confirming that coverage of the briefings will continue during the election campaing, with “additional coverage” to allow other parties to respond.

“There is no area of broadcasting where the BBC’s commitment to due impartiality is more important,” he said in his letter.

“Our goal, in short, is to ensure our commitment to providing key public health information to our audiences continues to be fulfilled without compromising our duty to fairness and impartiality across our news and political coverage on television, radio and online.

“In order to achieve this, we will be adapting our approach to briefings’ coverage in Scotland and Wales.”

He said the Scottish and Welsh Governments have already indicated that they expect to significantly reduce the number of ministerial briefings held over the election period.

Steve Carson

Steve Carson:

“Where a live television briefing by the Scottish or Welsh Government is ministerially-led, we’ll continue to invite members of the other main parties to contribute to our coverage.”

But the Scottish Tories say the SNP are intent on using Ms Sturgeon’s performances at the briefings as a key part of its election campaign and is running adverts on Facebook to that effect.

The Tories say BBC Scotland is allowing the SNP leader “to frame the election on her party’s terms at select moments and give undue coverage to one political party at the expense of all others in Scotland.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP have repeatedly tried to exploit these briefings during the pandemic to gain votes and push for another referendum.

Douglas Ross

Douglas Ross: ‘shameful decision’

“We have argued for months that public health officials could and should lead these briefings to deliver essential public health messages without SNP ministers using Covid-19 for political point scoring.

“The shameful decision to let the SNP continue these briefings will have deeply damaging consequences for democracy in Scotland.

“BBC Scotland are stacking the 2021 election in the SNP’s favour and allowing Nicola Sturgeon to dictate what they air and when, while the Scottish Conservatives have to fight for every minute of coverage.

“The SNP leader will be able to manipulate the media cycle at will to cover up more damaging revelations about the Alex Salmond case or to hide that she’s pushing for indyref2 as early as this year.”

It emerged at the weekend that the BBC received 244 complaints that Nicola Sturgeon spent 11 minutes discussing the Alex Salmond affair during one of her televised updates on the coronavirus crisis.

The First Minister, who has always insisted that she sticks to the public health message, concluded the 68 minute briefing on 24 February with an apology to those who were expecting the live conference to be solely about the Covid-19 crisis.

Earlier this week the broadcast regulator Ofcom dismissed claims that the televised updates were a platform for SNP views.

But the watchdog reminded all broadcasters to “take care” about bias as the Scottish Parliament elections approach. 

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