A LABOUR peer has written to the Director General of the BBC to warn that if Nicola Sturgeon continues her daily briefings during the Holyrood election campaign it will go against inpartiality rules.
The Scottish Government’s daily media conferences on the pandemic are fronted, most days, by Ms Sturgeon – to set out the latest news and issues around the fight against the virus and the vaccine rollout.
But in the pre-election period, known as purdah, when Holyrood is dissolved and campaigning begins, restrictions are placed on what civil servants can do and the use of public resources.
Recess at Holyrood is set to begin on March 25, six weeks ahead of the election scheduled for May 6, with no regular parliamentary business expected in between.
Ms Sturgeon has stressed that “what the BBC broadcasts is not a matter for me, it’s a matter for the BBC”.
Sturgeon asked if briefings will continue during election campaign
The First Minister said: “At a time like this, I’m not going to stop doing my job because it is really important as we steer the country through this pandemic.”
She added: “I am not going to stop doing my job for as long as I’m in this job that I’m doing.
“How people report that and how people take account of the election campaign, I’m sure will become clearer as we go on. We’re not there yet.
“We’re in this pandemic, we’re undertaking a massive logistical exercise with the vaccination programme – that will continue to be what I focus on.”
Lord Faulkes has now written to the BBC’s Tim Davie, highlighting Ms Sturgeon stressing “it is up to the BBC whether to continue broadcasting” her daily briefings.
He added: “This would be totally against both BBC and OfCom rules on impartiality and I urge you to now intervene personally and immediately to make it clear this is not going to continue.”
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael has called for health professionals to take over the leading role at the briefings during the campaign.
He said: “I am sure the First Minister would not want to use sober and serious press briefings for her own narrow advantage during an election campaign.
“There are able communicators like the national clinical director, chief nursing officer and the chief medical officer who could take on the heavy responsibility of the daily briefing for the period of the election. That would be the sensible way to proceed.
“In April and May if the virus is so out of control that the First Minister judges she must do the daily briefing herself it does beg the question as to whether you can have a valid and safe election.”
National clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, insisted that “public health information is crucial during a pandemic”.
He added: “You could argue it’s crucial even when we’re not in a pandemic. “Particularly just now, I do think people do need to know what the rules are, how to follow them and the progress of the pandemic.”