ScotGov Coronavirus Updates …. My Letter to the BBC

Marlene Halliday, of Glasgow Pensioners for Indy, writes:

A few weeks ago, BBC announced that they will no longer include live broadcasts of the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus updates. I submitted a complaint and received a response from BBC which I was not satisfied with. I have just submitted this second letter, called a Level2 complaint.

Dear BBC Scotland

During public health emergencies, World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines advise that people need accurate information, provided early, often, and in channels people understand, trust and use, to make choices that can protect them from health hazards threatening their lives and well-being.

WHO have praised ScotGov’s handing of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clear and repeated messaging is of the utmost importance in communicating public health info. By limiting live broadcasts you are decreasing the opportunities available to the Scottish public to have early, frequent and clear messaging about what they need to do in the current pandemic.

You are restricting access to info for those who don’t have ready access to internet. This will disproportionately effect the less well off, the elderly, and those with hearing difficulties who depend on the signing provided in the updates.

You say you will apply criteria based on “news value” and “editorial merit”.

I have some questions for you:
How do you define “news value” and “editorial merit” for public health info in the context of the needs of a global pandemic?

Who will make editorial decisions & what qualifications do they have for making them?

How will they know in advance of a live broadcast what might arise in it that will be of merit? You can’t know in advance what questions will be asked and therefore you can’t know in advance what comments and information may emerge.

You say you wish to achieve a consistent approach to coverage across the UK nations. But there is no consistent approach in government messaging across the four UK Governments. England has abandoned regular live updates. Since your own Charter instructs you to “meet the needs of the United Kingdom’s nations, regions and communities” please explain to me how looking for consistency is a possibility at all? Far less one which would provide a fair and equable result for Scotland as one the UK four nations?

And lastly, how do you interpret your obligations under the BBC Charter in the context of the WHO Guidelines for good practice in public health communication in an emergency?

I look forward to receiving your considered answers to my questions.

Is the BBC decision to end live broadcasting of the Coronavirus Briefings the result of political pressure?

I watch the daily updates and I know that the First Minister is scrupulous in avoiding any party political statements. This despite often being asked overtly party politic questions by journalists at the briefings.

But there has been a lot of surmise on social media that the BBC have given in to pressure from Labour and Conservative politicians in Scotland to axe the live broadcasts on the basis that they are giving the SNP/ Nicola Sturgeon an unfair political platform. It is true that such approaches have been made to BBC.

People have also surmised that the visit to BBC Scotland by Tim Davie, the new BBC Director General, in the week before these change were announced indicates that he was influential in the changes being imposed.

There is no evidence that either of these happenings have been instrumental in the BBC’s change in policy. No matter how much it may seem so, the fact that something happens after something else does not mean that the something else was the necessary cause.

So I made no reference in my letter to party politicking, or visits by the Director General. There are better points to be directed to BBC, ones which are much harder to be deflected.

What you can do

If you want to send in your own complaint and comments to BBC, use this link: BBC Complaints

There is a petition demanding that BBC reverse their decision. It has 55,000 signatures currently. If you want to add you name, you can do that here: Reverse BBC Decision to Stop Broadcasting ScotGov’s Updates