SNP complain to BBC that they do not get enough coverage during Sturgeon's daily TV briefings

Dan Sanderson
·4-min read
The SNP leader has been given a TV show almost every day since March by the BBC - AFP/AFP
The SNP leader has been given a TV show almost every day since March by the BBC - AFP/AFP

The SNP has been accused of attempting to turn Scotland into a “one party state” after complaining that its politicians do not feature prominently enough on Nicola Sturgeon’s televised coronavirus briefings.

In a letter to the broadcaster, the SNP’s deputy leader Keith Brown claimed it was “deeply unfair and misrepresentative” that nationalist politicians were not being invited onto a show to react to their party leader’s performance.

The claim was described as “madness” by the Scottish Tories, who believe that Ms Sturgeon’s prominent platform on national television has put opposition parties at an unfair disadvantage ahead of May’s Holyrood elections.

In an effort to address fears that broadcasts every weekday are a breach of its impartiality obligations, the BBC has begun inviting opposition politicians onto a daily BBC1 show, which runs Ms Sturgeon’s opening speech before cutting away for interviews with public health experts and MSPs.

The full briefing, including responses to questions from journalists after Ms Sturgeon delivers an opening speech, continues to be broadcast uninterrupted on the BBC Scotland channel.

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However, Mr Brown claimed he was “deeply concerned” that SNP politicians were not being invited onto the BBC1 show to respond to Ms Sturgeon’s pronouncements.

“To not feature the SNP in that political space is grossly misrepresentative and deeply unfair,” Mr Brown said, claiming the new format “is now overtly political with a stark bias against the largest party”.

He added: “Why is the BBC enabling non-SNP politicians to have a ‘free hit’? I urge you to reconsider the format of and our exclusion from this programme as a matter of urgency.”

Opposition parties were incredulous at Mr Brown’s claim. The Scottish Tories, the main opposition party, said that Ms Sturgeon received approximately 10 times more coverage than any of their politicians who were featured to add balance.

Tory, Labour, LibDem and Green politicians have been included since around October. In the six months before then, only SNP politicians - Ms Sturgeon or cabinet ministers - appeared.

“Not content with leading a daily televised briefing, the SNP now want the right to reply to themselves,” Miles Briggs, the Scottish Tory chief whip, said.

“It’s madness and it would be laughable if the result of their pressure and lobbying of the BBC wasn’t so serious.

“They are determined to turn Scotland into a one-party state where only SNP voices are heard. On the current evidence, they’re succeeding.”

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, often appears on the BBC1 show after Ms Sturgeon - Getty/WPA Pool
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, often appears on the BBC1 show after Ms Sturgeon - Getty/WPA Pool

He added: “Nicola Sturgeon has used the pandemic as a campaign platform and has disrespected and bypassed the Scottish Parliament on a number of occasions. It’s clear that the First Minister is happy to turn the briefings political whenever it suits the SNP’s agenda.”

In the summer, plans emerged for the BBC to scale back live coverage of Ms Sturgeon’s daily briefing. However, the broadcaster backed down following a furious backlash from the First Minister and her supporters.

While Ms Sturgeon often says she wants the broadcasts to be non-partisan, she has used the platform several times to discuss non-Covid matters, such as Donald Trump and Brexit.

A spokesman for the BBC said: “The BBC continues to deliver on multiple platforms the Scottish Government’s Covid Briefings – particularly at this time given the state of the pandemic.

“We are also committed to delivering on our obligations around impartiality and we therefore hear from a range of other voices – either political or public health experts – on the BBC1 Scotland offer to our audiences.”

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