We received complaints about the BBC’s decision not to include an appearance from Scotland’s First Minister in its coverage of the Scotland v England Calcutta Cup.
Whenever politicians of any party ask to go on non-political BBC programmes, as was the case with the First Minister’s office before Saturday’s Calcutta Cup match (or, on other occasions, when such programmes decide they want themselves to invite politicians) there is an obligation under the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines to consult the Chief Political Adviser (CPA) for advice before a decision is taken. This is to ensure that all parties are treated with due impartiality and that one particular party does not receive undue prominence, or indeed that a party does not receive too little coverage in comparison to others.
In advising programme-makers about whether such appearances are appropriate, the CPA has to take account of the political context at the time. It is part of the BBC’s normal editorial process in its task of ensuring that political impartiality is achieved across all its output.
On this occasion, having been approached by the First Minister’s office, BBC Sport asked for advice and with the full agreement of both the Head of TV Sport and the Director of BBC Scotland, the judgment was made that the Scotland-England match was not an appropriate setting in which to give one single political leader that level of prominence. The topicality of the current political debate over the future relationship of Scotland with the rest of the UK – and with England in particular – was one of the factors taken into account.
A similar suggestion that the First Minister might take part in BBC Radio Scotland’s rugby coverage had already been declined. Radio Five Live also turned down the offer of an interview with the First Minister following advice from the CPA.
The key factor, in advising on such occasions, is the importance of ensuring that other political parties have the opportunity to receive coverage of appropriate prominence over a reasonable timescale. That timescale can be affected by the proximity of elections, when such appearances would certainly not normally be appropriate.
Given the singularity and high profile of the Calcutta Cup match, as well as the fact that it is now less than two months away from the election period before local government elections throughout Scotland, it was clear that leading politicians from other parties in Scotland would not have been able to enjoy coverage of appropriate prominence in the circumstances.
We are satisfied that the judgment made on this occasion by BBC Sport and BBC Scotland, acting on the CPA’s advice, was consistent with similar editorial judgments which are regularly taken in relation to other political parties and other political leaders by programmes across the BBC.
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