THE BBC’s in-house watchdog has upheld a complaint of “pro-SNP bias” over the serialisation of a book by Professor Devi Sridhar.

The Edinburgh University public health expert was one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key advisors during Covid.

She drew on her experiences in her book, Preventable: How a Pandemic Changed the World & How to Prevent the Next One, which was broadcast as part of Radio 4’s Book of the Week between 18 and 22 April, just two weeks before the local elections in May.

One excerpt discussed the damage done to public health by Dominic Cummings’ visit to County Durham and its repercussions. 

According to a report, a listener contacted the corporation’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) to complain of "pro-SNP bias."

They said that the broadcast “contained material which was politically partial in relation to the Scottish local authority elections, which were less than two weeks away.” 

An internal investigation sparked by the complaint found that the programme “could have given the impression of favouring one party over another.” 

The report said that “the ECU noted that the programme-makers had sought appropriate advice from BBC Scotland and were advised that the handling of the pandemic in terms of public health policy by the Scottish and UK Governments (which was Professor Sridhar’s main focus in the 19 April instalment) had not become a significant issue in the election campaign.  

“Consequently, they judged that the proximity of the elections was not a bar to scheduling what was regarded as an evidence-based appraisal by a respected scientist of the relative success of the public health measures taken by the two Governments.  

“However, the ECU also noted that the 19 April instalment included material (dealing with Dominic Cummings’ visit to County Durham and its repercussions) which, in its view, went somewhat beyond that description and, in the context of a campaign in which an invitation to compare Nicola Sturgeon with Boris Johnson was a prominent part of the SNP’s strategy, could have given the impression of favouring one party over another.  

“To that extent, it fell short of the BBC’s standards of impartiality.”

“The finding was reported to the management of BBC Radio and discussed with the programme-makers concerned.”

The ECU also upheld a complaint that an edition of Reporting Scotland had shown "bias against Brexit."

The package on the programme, broadcast in December last year, included a report about the effects of new trading arrangements on exporters and businesses in Scotland.

A viewer complained that, by focusing only on firms “apparently damaged” by the new arrangements, "it had conveyed an unbalanced view of the impact of Brexit." 

The ECU said the programme should have "maintain[ed] impartiality by exploring other aspects of the topic within a reasonable timeframe."

The report went on to say that the watchdog "noted that the reporter had conducted research across all sectors of the Scottish economy in preparing the report, which had led him to conclude that improved performance in some areas was attributable to factors other than Brexit." 

"It is generally agreed, however, that Brexit has had a differential effect, bearing hardest on the kind of small businesses featured in the report, so there was at least a need to reflect areas where its impact had been less negative, whether on this occasion or in an appropriately linked programme."