The BBC was found guilty of breaching impartiality rules when it allowed Scotland’s then Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to accuse the Scottish government of on-air corruption.
Broadcasting regulator Ofcom said BBC Radio 4’s World at One news program had failed to properly balance Davidson’s claims, made during a lengthy interview last year about controversies surrounding the investigation Alex Salmond by the Scottish Parliament.
Ofcom said World at One was guilty of three breaches of the Broadcasting Code because it “failed to maintain due impartiality in its coverage of relevant issues of major political controversy and major issues relating to current public policy.
The regulator launched its investigation after the BBC’s complaints unit dismissed a listener complaint that the article, which aired in February 2021, had been biased because it failed to find interviewees to dispute Davidson’s claims.
She had been questioned at the height of a complex battle involving the Scottish Parliament, Salmond, the Scottish Government and the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecuting authority, over the disclosure of evidence to MSPs investigating the treatment by the government of allegations that Salmond had sexually harassed her. Prime Minister. Salmond had previously been acquitted of 13 sexual assault charges.
Salmond had pulled out of an evidence session with MSPs the day World at One aired Davidson’s interview, after the Crown Office said certain documents could not be released.
Sarah Montague, the presenter of World at One, had prefaced the interview with Davidson, who was leading the show that day, by referring to Salmond’s “potentially explosive evidence”; Montague also described the Crown Office decisions as “unprecedented and highly irregular”.
Davidson went on to allege controversies over the evidence suggested the country’s public institutions and democracy had been corrupted under Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s successor as First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party.
“[At] at the moment the government is on a rampage and denying parliament its right to scrutiny and there is no liberal democracy in the world that should allow the executive to become too powerful and to sulk, especially in such cases serious like this, to parliament and to those who are represented to defend the country,” Davidson said.
The BBC said it tried hard to find a Scottish National Party speaker to go on the air, but was unsuccessful, and subsequent Radio 4 news programs provided the necessary balance including counter-arguments and additional reporting.
But Ofcom said that was insufficient due to the seriousness of Davidson’s allegations; the fact that World at One aired them at length without alternative perspectives, such as Sturgeon’s position; and his failure to tell listeners they might hear more later today on Radio 4.
The BBC said it took note of Ofcom’s decision, but is not obliged to broadcast it or make it public.
The Scottish government said it took note of Ofcom’s decision, but the SNP went further. A source said: ‘We welcome this decision which must be a wake-up call for BBC bosses. It is high time the BBC started reporting on Scottish issues with consistent fairness and accuracy and stopped giving credence to the savage claims of unelected Conservative members of the Westminster system.