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by Andrew Learmonth
07 April 2021
SNP says Boris Johnson COVID briefings are 'abusing BBC neutrality' during election

Boris Johnson coronavirus update 17 July PA

SNP says Boris Johnson COVID briefings are 'abusing BBC neutrality' during election

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus briefings are “abusing BBC neutrality”, the SNP has said.

The criticism from Nicola Sturgeon’s party came after the Prime Minister attacked the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, during a Downing Street press conference.

On Monday, Johnson blamed the “current Labour mayor” of “blowing” Transport for London’s (TfL) finances. Khan later accused Johnson of lying. 

John Nicolson, the SNP’s media spokesman at Westminster, accused the Prime Minister of going on a “political rant”.

It’s the latest salvo in the battle of the briefings. Last month, the Scottish Conservatives criticised the BBC for continuing to broadcast the Scottish Government’s COVID updates during the Holyrood election campaign.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the press conference should be led by “public health officials”.

Reports on Tuesday morning suggested the BBC has now held internal talks over what to do about the Prime Minister making political attacks on opposition politicians during his coronavirus press conferences. 

There are strict impartiality rules for broadcasters during an election. 

A BBC insider told Politico’s London Playbook: “A one-off can probably be forgotten but if it becomes a regular and deliberate theme then the issues are obvious.”

Nicolson said: “Boris Johnson’s political rants on live television are abusing BBC neutrality.

“His briefings are meant to be about public health advice not party politics. 

“The First Minister quite rightly remains apolitical during her health briefings.  

“These briefings were set up to give the public impartial health advice to help keep people safe and understand the COVID restrictions. 

“The PM is putting the BBC in an invidious position. But if he won’t behave it must enforce its own rules over impartiality and electoral law."

Last month Ross said allowing the SNP to continue broadcasting the First Minister’s briefings would “have deeply damaging consequences for democracy in Scotland."

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