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July 27, 2020updated 29 Jul 2020 10:23am

BBC rules Panorama NHS report and News at Ten Nicola Sturgeon interview breached guidelines

By Freddy Mayhew

The BBC’s internal complaints unit has ruled that not mentioning the political ties of a doctor interviewed as part of a Panorama report on NHS personal protective equipment was a breach of its editorial standards.

The report, titled “Has the Government failed the NHS?”, drew criticism from seven viewers for what was perceived to be a left-wing bias among its contributors, which they said was not made clear.

The Executive Complaints Unit found that one of the six contributors to the programme, which was broadcast on BBC One on 27 April, should indeed have had their political affiliations explained to viewers.

BBC guidelines on impartiality state: “Appropriate information about [contributors’] affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

The Panorama film did not mention that contributor Dr Sonia Adesara is a Labour Party member and a former party Labour candidate, having appeared in an election broadcast for the party in 2019.

The BBC issued a clarification on 14 May which acknowledged that mentioning Dr Adesara’s political affiliations “would have helped viewers make their own assessment about her comments”.

In a ruling handed down on Thursday, the ECU said it agreed that the “nature and extent” of her political affiliations “might have been relevant to the audience’s evaluation of her contribution insofar as it was critical of the Government, and that it was a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards not to have given viewers appropriate information about it”.

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But, it added: “Her criticism of the Government was in keeping with what might be expected from a doctor with experience of inadequate PPE provision, and that information about her political affiliations would not have called the validity of her concerns into doubt in the minds of viewers.”

It concluded that the earlier clarification by BBC News was enough to resolve the issue of editorial standards raised by the complaints.

BBC Nicola Sturgeon complaints

In a separate ruling last week, the ECU also ruled on an interview with Nicola Sturgeon aired on BBC News at Ten on 18 May in which Scotland editor Sarah Smith said the First Minister had “enjoyed the opportunity to make her own different lockdown rules” during the pandemic.

The BBC said 13 viewers complained that the phrase “enjoyed the opportunity” was an “inappropriate expression of opinion” showing bias against the SNP leader.

Shortly after broadcast, Sturgeon tweeted in response: “Never in my entire political career have I ‘enjoyed’ anything less than this.”

Smith apologised via her own Twitter account, saying: “I do not believe that @NicolaSturgeon is enjoying this crisis. I had meant to say on the 10 o’clock news that she has ‘embraced’ the opportunity to make a policy unique to Scotland. I said ‘enjoyed’ by mistake. Not suggesting she is enjoying crisis but embracing devolution.”

She issued a further clarification and an apology in two more tweets the following day and a press release was sent out by the BBC pointing out that the First Minister considered the matter closed.

The ECU said it agreed that “it had been appropriate to issue apologies and that, although it would be more usual for apologies for an error on air to be broadcast rather than offered via Twitter, the fact that the First Minister had registered her objection in a tweet made a BBC Twitter account (supplemented as it was by a press statement) a more appropriate medium in this instance”.

It said the action taken was “sufficient to resolve the issue of editorial standards raised by the complaints”.

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall

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