SNP urges BBC to retain live coverage of Covid briefings in Scotland


Scottish National party leaders have urged BBC Scotland to continue live broadcasts of every coronavirus briefing by Nicola Sturgeon, after the corporation announced it was scaling back coverage.

John Swinney, the deputy first minister, and Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said they were surprised and disappointed the BBC would no longer screen every briefing by the first minister in full on its terrestrial channels.

Sturgeon did not directly endorse their demands when she was asked about it during Friday’s live briefings, arguing it was “not up to me as a politician” to direct the BBC on what it should or should not televise.

However she backed up complaints that the live screenings were needed, particularly with cases rising and winter approaching, and given elderly or vulnerable viewers did not use digital devices.

“We are in unique circumstances right now and the ability for me and for my colleagues to communicate directly with the public has never been more important than it is right now,” she said.

The BBC said on Thursday that from Monday 14 September it would broadcast the briefings live on its BBC Scotland and BBC 2 Scotland channels only on days when Sturgeon had a significant announcement, based on editorial merit.

It would still be streamed live each day on the BBC Scotland website, and covered on its television and radio news bulletins, live blog and website. The broadcaster said it had to take a “consistent approach to coverage of the various government briefings across the UK nations”.

Blackford retweeted the front page of the pro-independence National newspaper which accused the BBC of “caving into the Tories”, claiming it was an astonishing decision. “As a public service broadcaster the BBC have a duty to impart this information,” Blackford said.

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Nationalist activists launched Twitter campaigns urging non-payment of the licence fee, and called for viewers to complain and sign an online petition accusing the BBC of censorship and “banning” Sturgeon’s broadcasts. A Twitter hashtag #BBCScotlandSwitchOff urging people to stop watching the BBC trended in Scotland.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Friday, Swinney said: “I think it has been a really important channel of public communication for the Scottish government and the first minister to be able to speak directly to members of the public about the very difficult issues with which we are wrestling.”

Opposition parties have complained the live broadcasts, which last for over an hour and include extended questioning of Sturgeon and other government figures by reporters, have given her an unfair political advantage, and say the BBC rarely asks opposition spokespeople to respond or comment.

Sturgeon’s personal ratings have shot up during the pandemic and the SNP’s support is as high as 55%.

Donald Macaskill, the chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents care homes, tweeted that switching off live broadcasts on terrestrial channels was another example of age discrimination.

He said: “I’m very disappointed that in the midst of the largest public health emergency ever that BBC Scotland has decided to cut back coverage of the daily briefing. Older people, especially at this time depend on this info – yet another example of age discrimination during Covid-19.”

That was echoed by the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, an academic public health organisation, which said the BBC should reverse its decision. “People use these to make informed decisions about Covid-19,” it tweeted.

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