BBC and politicians should compromise over Covid briefings – Scotsman comment

Given the row over the BBC ending routine live coverage of Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus breiefings, politics should not be allowed to get in they way of important public health information.

Saturday, 12th September 2020, 12:30 pm
Nicola Sturgeon holds a Covid-19 press conference at St Andrew's House in Edinburgh

In the row over live BBC broadcasts of Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus briefings, the corporation is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t.

On the one hand, with just eight months to go to the next Scottish Parliament election, opposition parties were growing increasingly concerned about a daily platform offered to the SNP leader.

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Speaking about the decision to stop showing all the briefings live, she stressed she had taken “great care” to avoid straying into political territory.

However, usually in response to journalists’ perfectly reasonable questions, there were times when things did get understandably political. And merely by being given the chance to address the nation, the First Minister was able to present herself as a leader doing the best she can for the country in this time of crisis, while opposition leaders were left watching from the sidelines.

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But, the SNP also made the fair point that the briefings provide important public safety information and that they are particularly valuable to those who do not have access to the internet, including many older and vulnerable people. Summaries in later news programmes might not be able to cover all the details.

While now is a time when many people want to hear from their leaders, the solution could be to take politicians out of the main daily briefings, which could instead be led by experts like Professor Jason Leitch. However, there would still be questions that do need to be answered about the political choices made by the Scottish Government. To address those, the First Minister could hold a separate political press conference – perhaps once a week – in which she could be scrutinised over the Government’s strategy.

The profile of the daily briefings might suffer without her presence, but it would be better than to have something than nothing.

As a public service, the BBC is constantly having to make difficult decisions about political balance and the usual idea is that if they are being criticised from all sides, then they have probably got it about right.

But, rather than attacking the broadcaster, politicians need to help it find an acceptable middle ground over Covid – something that will be increasingly important as the 2021 election campaign heats up.

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