BBC colleagues have moved to support ‘bullied’ BBC’s Scotland editor who faced calls for her resignation on social media after she apologised for a news report saying Alex Salmond called for Nicola Sturgeon to resign.
Sarah Smith move to clarify her error on Twitter after making the statement on the six o’clock news.
Mark Urban, the BBC Newsnight’s diplomatic editor suggested Ms Smith had been bullied.
Her comments generated a storm, particularly amongst Nationalist supporters on social media, with hashtag ‘sack Sarah Smith’ trending on social media.
It came seven months after a furore over Ms Smith suggesting in one bulletin that Nicola Sturgeon had “enjoyed” taking a separate lockdown approach from England.
The BBC’s executive complaints unit (ECU) took no further action over complaints over the comments by Ms Smith, who is eldest daughter of the late former leader of the Labour Party John Smith.
In her report on Mr Salmond’s explosive Scottish parliament appearance, widely shared on social media, she says: “He [Salmond] believes Nicola Sturgeon has misled Parliament and broken the ministerial code which he thinks means she should resign.”
But during his evidence before MSPs, Mr Salmond had taken great pains to skirt around the issue, merely saying it was for others, including parliament, to decide his successor’s fate if she was found to have breached rules.
Alex Salmond on whether FM should resign
When asked by Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser if Nicola Sturgeon should resign if she is found to have broken the ministerial code, Salmond actually said: “Not for me. I believe the First Minister has broken the ministerial code but it is a finding that can be discussed, at least by this committee, by Mr James Hamilton. It’s not the case that every minister who breaks the ministerial code resigns, your party [the Tories] had an example of that very recently, it depends what is found.”
Smith later moved to correct her on-air comments on Twitter saying: “On the 6 o’clock news headline tonight I said that Alex Salmond had claimed the First Minister had ‘broken the ministerial code and that he thinks she should resign’. I would like to clarify that Mr Salmond did not say that the First Minister should resign.
“He said, ‘I’ve got no doubt that Nicola has broken the ministerial code but it’s not for me to suggest what the consequences should be.'”
The BBC issued a statement that mirroring Ms Smith’s own clarification.
Her comments sparked a row on Twitter with some calling for Ms Smith to resign.
Among those leading the calls for Ms Smith’s resignation yesterday was Scottish author Cameron McNeish, who tweeted: “You really need to resign over this. One apology too many.”
Mr Urban, was one of those who defended the Ms Smith saying: “Solidarity with my colleague @BBCsarahsmith who does an excellent job amid a cacophony of people trying to bully her.”
And Martin Patience, the BBC Middle East correspondent added: “She made a mistake and immediately admitted that mistake. You know what? It happens. But the difference is when you do it on the telly everyone knows about. There’s no hiding. So, honestly, ask yourself: have you ever made a mistake at work?”
Mr Salmond was making a long-awaited appearance before the committee, which is probing why £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash was spent on a flawed investigation into harassment claims against him by two female civil servants.
The ECU said last summer that 13 viewers complained after Ms Smith said the First Minister had “enjoyed” taking a separate lockdown approach from England.
At the time, the Scottish government had decided on a slower approach to easing elements of the lockdown in Scotland, in contrast to changes in England.
In response to the comment, Ms Sturgeon took to Twitter, telling followers: “Never in my entire political career have I ‘enjoyed’ anything less than this.”
BBC’s Sarah Smith on Mr Salmond’s testimony.
The ECU said it “agreed that viewers of the 10pm bulletin might well have formed the impression that Ms Smith was expressing an opinion about Ms Sturgeon’s motives, and that giving such an impression was out of keeping with the BBC’s standards of due impartiality.”
But the ECU also said that Sarah Smith had apologised for the statement on three separate occasions, saying on Twitter in one instance: “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 the crisis but embracing devolution.”
The ECU also said that an earlier interview in the 6pm BBC One bulletin on the same day, “corroborated” Ms Smith’s explanation.
In it she 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 and the other UK nations.”
But the ECU maintained that it had been “appropriate to issue apologies,” noting that it would be “more usual” to broadcast them rather than post them on 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.
“The ECU therefore found that the action taken was sufficient to resolve the issue of editorial standards raised by the complaints.”