BBC Scotland: Gary Smith discusses coronavirus briefings

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Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly criticised the broadcaster for giving the SNP free air time. They claim the Scottish government has exploited the coronavirus pandemic to host regular televised briefings.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has regularly fronted the Covid updates, giving her the opportunity to put forward the SNP-led Scottish government’s view.

Speaking to the Scottish affairs select committee at Westminster today, the BBC admitted every press conference held by Ms Sturgeon had been broadcast to the public.

Gary Smith, head of news and current affairs, BBC Scotland, said: “When we heard from the Scottish government that there’s a briefing planned, either for the next day or later in the week, I will discuss with my colleagues whether we should broadcast and where we should broadcast.

“We have these discussions, we agree and then we make the arrangements to put the briefings on the air.

“Of the Scottish government Covid briefings, we have broadcast almost all of them.

“I think there was one briefing during the election which we didn’t broadcast on either BBC One Scotland, or BBC Scotland.

“It was broadcast, at least part of it, on the news channel.”

Defending the decision to put every briefing on TV, the BBC executive said editorial discussions were held before the broadcast of each press conference to determine its news worth.

He said: “We have conversations with the people that organise them within the Scottish government beforehand about the main themes, in exactly the same way as my colleagues in network news has about what is going to be in UK Government briefings.”

At the peak of the pandemic, as many as half a million people would tune in to watch Ms Sturgeon give an update on the latest Cover situation.

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Tories were left infuriated when the BBC continued to show the broadcasts in the run up to the Scottish parliament elections in May.

At the time Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross described the decision as “shameful”.

He said: “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.”

Appearing in front of MPs today, Mr Smith admitted there had been complaints from some members of the public for showing too many briefings from the Scottish government.

He said: “Through the past 16-17 months there have been quite a number of complaints, but not all saying the same thing.

“We’ve had some people complaining that we’re broadcasting the briefings, we’ve had some people complaining we haven’t broadcast long enough of the briefings.

“We’ve had some audience interest and complaints in different directions.”

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