U.K. media regulator Ofcom has found that the BBC’s News at Six program breached its rules and made “significant mistakes” in reporting on a Scottish political scandal.
The incident, which took place in Feb 2021, saw BBC Scotland editor Sarah Smith reporting live on a segment about former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond. The story related to a number of sexual harassment claims against Salmond (which he denies) and how they were handled by his successor Nicola Sturgeon.
During the segment, Smith reported: “Alex Salmond said he believes Nicola Sturgeon has misled Parliament and broken the Ministerial Code, which he thinks means she should resign.”
However, Salmond had explicitly said it was not for him to say what the consequences should be for Sturgeon.
The BBC did not apologize for the error but acknowledged it in a number of other ways including posting a summary on the BBC complaints website and issuing a clarification via Smith’s Twitter page.
Nor did the BBC’s internal complaints body, the ECU (Executive Complaints Unit), uphold a complaint from someone who had asked them to examine the issue.
However, Ofcom has now found the report broke its broadcasting rules.
“News must be reported with due accuracy,” said a spokesperson for Ofcom. “This program broke our rules by including a significant inaccurate statement that was not acknowledged or corrected on air.”
“Our investigation also uncovered differences between the BBC’s published final decision on the program and its response to a particular complainant. The BBC must be transparent in how it handles and resolves complaints, and we will consider this case as part of our review of BBC regulation”.
“Our investigation found the BBC’s editorial guidelines do not clearly reflect our requirements around on-air corrections and the BBC should amend its editorial guidelines to tackle this. We intend to discuss this matter further with the BBC as a priority.”