Tories demand BBC stop showing Nicola Sturgeon daily briefings as they are 'SNP political broadcast'

Simon Johnson
·4-min read
Nicola Sturgeon speaking during the Scottish Government's daily briefing - AFP
Nicola Sturgeon speaking during the Scottish Government's daily briefing - AFP
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

The Scottish Tory leader has demanded the BBC stop broadcasting Nicola Sturgeon's daily Covid-19 briefing after publishing an analysis claiming to show they have descended into an "SNP party political broadcast."

Jackson Carlaw said the First Minister was "quite right" to conduct daily televised press conferences in the first months of the pandemic as Scots sought the latest information about the disease and the government's restrictions.

But he said that they have more recently contained less of substance, as the virus receded, and Ms Sturgeon has reverted to "increasingly partisan" attacks on the UK Government.

He said Ms Sturgeon should stop her "political point scoring" or the BBC should stop "indulging" her by broadcasting the briefings, which, until recently, were conducted seven days a week.

Among the examples the Tory analysis highlighted were Ms Sturgeon's using the briefings to attack the UK Government's revised 'Stay Alert' message, which she criticised as vague only to adopt 'Stay Safe' a few weeks later.

The First Minister also used the broadcasts to attack the UK Government's "shambolic" approach to air bridges and last week accused Boris Johnson of politicising the pandemic.

His intervention came after Labour wrote to Donalda MacKinnon, BBC Scotland's director, arguing that that the briefings were "increasingly political" and broadcasting them every weekday was inappropriate "given the drastic improvement in case figures."

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's deputy leader, said she felt "very strongly" this could not continue "with less than 10 months to go" until the Holyrood election.

The BBC said the briefings attract an average of 275,000 viewers per day but has declined a Labour request for a breakdown of how much airtime has been given to Ms Sturgeon and Scotland's other political leaders.

While Boris Johnson's daily briefings ended a month ago, as restrictions in England were eased, the First Minister's addresses continue to be shown live on BBC One Scotland.

She has won widespread praise for her presentation skills during the crisis, with her personal approval ratings and support for Scottish separation increasing.

Ms Sturgeon has temporarily scaled back the briefings to three days per week but they are scheduled to move back to five days next week, in the run-up to schools reopening.

Mr Carlaw said: “It was quite right for the First Minister to embark on these daily briefings at the outset of this crisis, and for them to continue in the months that followed.

“But increasingly, as the statistics have improved and there’s inevitably less to say about them, the First Minister has turned to political point-scoring."

He added: "Either Nicola Sturgeon reverts to this being purely a factual event, or the corporation takes a stand and refuses to give her the airtime.”

The Tory analysis highlighted her July 16 briefing, which it said she used to "spread further misinformation on the UK internal market."

It also flagged up her press conference a week ago in which she attacked the UK Government over the Russia report, in response to questions from journalists.

Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader - PA
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader - PA

But Humza Yousaf, the SNP's Justice Secretary, tweeted: "Imagine in any other country Political opposition trying to stop leader of the Government giving daily public health information in the midst of a global pandemic. "And also taking (often challenging) questions from the press. How absolutely pathetic & petty minded are this lot?"

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Daily media briefings continue to be the most used source of information about the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland and are used to disseminate the latest public health guidance as well as essential information about services and support for people and the economy.

“The briefings also provide an opportunity for rigorous scrutiny from the media with 15 to 20 journalists participating every day.”

A BBC Scotland spokesman added: "We are broadcasting Scottish Government briefings on the pandemic and the easing of lockdown because these are matters of significant public interest.

"While cases of infection may be decreasing from their peak during the pandemic, there remains a valid editorial justification for reporting public health information and asking questions on new developments, such as the recent clusters in the Borders and Lanarkshire."

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