Nicola Sturgeon’s COVID briefings helped spark 600 percent surge in BBC complaints

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Figures released by the corporation revealed overall 37,255 complaints were made in the 2020/21 financial year to BBC Scotland – with the spike “mainly” coming from interest in the “coronavirus pandemic and associated briefings”. This is compared to 5,474 in 2019/20.

The figures were revealed in a letter written by BBC Scotland Director Steve Carson to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

Mr Carson said: “The spike in complaints in year 2020 – 2021 relates mainly to high levels of contact and audience interest in how the BBC was covering the coronavirus pandemic and associated briefings, but levels of contacts in this year were still proportionate to Scotland’s population.”

Overall, the complaints to BBC Scotland last year made up eight percent of the total of 462,555 received by the BBC.

At a normal level, Mr Carson made clear: “Volumes of complaints about BBC Scotland content generally then make up between one and three percent of the overall volume received by the BBC.”

The data also revealed that between April 1 and July 21, which falls under the beginning of the 2021/22 financial year and includes the 2021 Holyrood election, BBC Scotland has already received 2,860 complaints

The BBC received criticism from Scots last year after Ms Sturgeon was accused of using the Scottish Government coronavirus briefings to attack political rivals.

The SNP-led Scottish Government have been holding the COVID-19 briefing sessions, televised on the BBC, since March 2020.

Ms Sturgeon is typically joined by cabinet members and medical experts.

Viewers complained after the Scottish First Minister used the majority of a February briefing to criticise her predecessor Alex Salmond.

A March 2021 fortnightly report for the BBC complaints service revealed 244 complaints were received by BBC Scotland titled “Inappropriate to discuss the Alex Salmond inquiry”.

The BBC also faced backlash from political parties for broadcasting the briefings without offering a reply from opposition parties during the Scottish Parliament election period.

A Scottish Tory source said: “These figures are not surprising.

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“The SNP seemed determined to turn Scotland into a one party state where only their voices were heard during a crucial time for the country.”

But Mr Carson stressed in the letter: “I would note that not all audience members who contact us do so to complain.

“Our Audience Services team is also pleased to receive, daily from our listeners and viewers, a range of appreciations, enquiries and general correspondence.”

A Scottish Government source said: “The Scottish First Minister has been effectively leading the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The briefings are a key part of our response to the pandemic and keeping the public informed.” 

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