The BBC's Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has issued a ruling following a report by Scotland editor Sarah Smith which said the First Minister had “enjoyed the opportunity to make her own different lockdown rules” during the coronavirus pandemic.

The BBC confirmed that 13 complaints had been made about the use of the phrase "enjoyed the opportunity" during the broadcast at 10pm on May 18 which was an "inappropriate expression of opinion" showing bias against the First Minister. 

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”.

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

The ECU also noted that, in a similar interview in the 6pm bulletin on 18 May, the same day as the 10pm broadcast Sarah Smith had said: "It’s been obvious how Nicola Sturgeon has embraced the opportunity to make her own different lockdown rules and not have to follow what’s being down in England the other UK nations.

The ECU "regarded the word “embraced” as a term which described the First Minister’s approach without imputing motive and viewed its use in this earlier bulletin as corroborating Ms Smith’s statement that she had simply misspoken in her later interview, rather than offering an opinion on the First Minister’s state of mind."

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The complaint was considered by the ECU in the light of the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality, which say: "Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area." 

Following the broadcast, the First Minister tweeted: “Never in my entire political career have I ‘enjoyed’ anything less than this.”

Responding, Sarah Smith apologised via her own Twitter account, saying: “I do not believe that Nicola Sturgeon 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.”

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She added in another tweet: "For the avoidance of any doubt. I am sorry that by mistake I said on the news last night that @NicolaSturgeon was ‘enjoying the opportunity’ to set lockdown policy in Scotland. That was not what I meant to say and I apologise to her for my error."

The First Minister responded saying: "I’ve made clear my view on this report. I’m not ‘enjoying’ or ‘embracing’ an ‘opportunity’. I’m just doing what I judge best in very difficult circumstances. That said, I understand the scrutiny that comes with it and accept Sarah’s clarification. For me, the matter is closed."

A spokesperson for the BBC said in a statement to the press: "Following complaints received on remarks by Sarah Smith, Sarah has since clarified her remarks, acknowledged where there were errors and has apologised to the First Minister, who has accepted those clarifications and has indicated that she regards the matter as now closed.

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