Professor Linda Bauld supports keeping the Daily Nicola show on BBC TV
By Bill Heaney
BBC Scotland has said it will no longer be providing live coverage of every coronavirus briefing from the Scottish Government.
Labour seems to be grateful that the Beeb are putting Nicola Sturgeon’s gas at a peep since they claim the information dispensed on the Daily Nicola does not merit the air time given to it.
They claim that despite the fact the First Minister promised at the outset of the pandemic that politics should not be brought into to this unprecedented debate, as it unquestionably has been, frequently, both by herself and her Scottish Government colleagues plus the journalists who are there to hold her to account.
There has been criticism that the First Minister, who puts all her SNP colleagues in the shade when it comes to media handling, has put one over on the opposition parties.
Labour in particular are furious that Ms Sturgeon has been “given more air time than East Enders” on the eve of the Holyrood elections, which will take place next May.
They are convinced that the daily briefings have given the SNP and unfair advantage in the elections since Ms Sturgeon’s profile figures have recently shot through the roof while Labour leader Richard Leonard’s figures have gone through the floor.
Things are so bad for Labour that there was a move by Mr Leonard’s own colleagues to have him ousted from the leadership, but the motion of no confidence designed to bring that about was thrown out at a meeting of their Scottish Executive on Saturday.
Now Labour are bitterly divided and despite the fact that the SNP have more than a dozen MSPs, some with prominent profiles, who will be standing down in May – they include Gil Paterson, who took the seat from Labour’s Des McNulty in Clydebank – are still considered by the bookies to be odds on favourites to increase the Nats’ majority.
Even the Dumbarton seat, which is currently held by Jackie Baillie MSP, pictured right, by a slim margin of 109 votes, is thought to be vulnerable to the SNP.
The only light at the end of Labour’s tunnel is the hope that the public will turn their fickle backs on the SNP basket case West Dunbartonshire council administration led by the eccentric and controversial Cllr Jonathan McColl. He could snatch defeat for them from the jaws of victory.
So far as Nicola Sturgeon and BBC Scotland are concerned, the discontinuation of the FM’s daily briefing, a decision that is yet to be implemented, has been a long time coming and is taking place now because there have been changes at the top in their Pacific Quay headquarters.
It is understood that from today, the broadcaster will decide whether the daily briefings from Nicola Sturgeon will be televised based on “editorial merit”.
However, thousands of Nationalists have signed a petition urging BBC Scotland to reverse the decision that has yet to be taken to stop broadcasting these daily briefings
Since March, at the beginning of the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon’s briefings have been shown live on both BBC One Scotland and the BBC Scotland channel, with some coverage also included as part of BBC Radio Scotland’s Lunchtime Live programme.
However, six months down the line, the corporation has decided to start scaling back its coverage as business at Holyrood has returned to a more normal basis.
The briefings will still be available to stream live on its news website.
BBC Scotland has stressed it will take a “consistent approach to coverage of the various government briefings across the UK nations”.
A BBC Scotland spokesman said: “We will continue to provide extensive coverage of the government press conferences across our news services, including live streaming online.
“We will of course consider showing press conferences live when any major developments or updates are anticipated.”
One person, who won’t agree with the BBC move is Professor Linda Bauld, who specialises in public health at the University of Edinburgh.
Professor Bauld, answering a question from former Health Secretary Shona Robison at Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee, if she was content with the way communication to the public was being carried out at a time when things are changing almost weekly.
“What is your view of the level of public support for those measures? There is a view that there are differences relating to age and a question as to whether young people, for example, are adhering to the guidance and regulations,” asked the former Health Secretary Shona Robison.
“Can the Government or the agencies do more to get the message across during this challenging period that we are entering into,” Ms Robison added.
Could Government or the agencies do more to get the message across during this challenging period that we are entering into, she asked.
Professor Bauld replied that support from the public would be “an ongoing issue”.
She added: “The first thing to say from a public health perspective is that, as you are all aware, the main reason why some of these changes are introduced rapidly is that time is crucial when we are dealing with a virus that is highly infectious and moves incredibly quickly.
“The reason why measures are introduced often with just a few hours’ notice, or 24 hours’ notice, is that, as soon as the data suggests that one person could spread it to another—our R number is now up to between 0.9 and 1.4, so there is potential in some communities for active spread—we need to shut down those chains of transmission as soon as possible.
“That is the reason for speed, but I do not think that the public understand that as well as they could.
“They probably understand it better here, in Scotland, because we have continued to have daily briefings, but they understand it far less in England.
Richard Leonard and Nicola Sturgeon.
“From a behavioural perspective, it would be helpful if, in one of the briefings [led by Nicola Sturgeon on TV], one of our colleagues said clearly why things such as local restrictions are being imposed with just a few hours’ notice and commented on, for example, countries being added to or taken off the quarantine list, although they have already mentioned some of the reasons for that.
“That is because, again from a behavioural perspective, clear communication and explaining the evidence precisely are very helpful.
“I was quite rightly asked why the measures are coming in next Monday, which is several days’ delay, in contrast to Bolton, which was given 24 hours’ notice of a new and quite restrictive local lockdown
“Better communication on that is key. That said, it is crystal clear from the University College London social impacts survey and others that public support for the Government’s approach in Scotland is significantly higher than it is in England and other parts of the UK.
“Scotland is at the top of the graphs for that, and that has been the case since early in the pandemic.
“In recent months, across the UK, including in Scotland, we have seen a declining gradient.
“Public support for the measures that are being put in place, and for the Government’s messaging, is declining.
“Support is lower among men than among women, although not in all groups of men, and it is slightly lower among young people, and compliance is lower among young people.
“That is not unusual. If you look at any risk behaviour or patterns in understanding Government policies, you will see that that is often the case.
“We need to take a nuanced approach to communicating to different groups in order to maintain support.”
Professor Bauld added: “I am very concerned about the next few months and about potential unrest. We are seeing that around the world.
“Groups are spreading misinformation and are gathering—as we have already seen in Scotland—to express distaste for, or distrust of, the messaging and the guidance that has been given.
“We will have to be very careful to keep on top of that.
“History shows that, following pandemics, there is social unrest.
“There is research on that issue and we need to be cognisant of it.
“Shona Robison, pictured left, asked how we enhance engagement. We need a stratified, targeted approach to communicating to different groups in the population.
“How we might communicate to older people who are shielding will be different from how we communicate to young people in school or to those who have just left school, and it will be different from how we communicate to people from different ethnic minority backgrounds.
“We need to support our third sector and community groups and others to make sure that they have adequate resources to diffuse or disseminate the public health messages appropriately to their communities, and we need to build engagement and ownership.
“Research shows that having a tailored, segmented approach rather than national campaigns is important.”
The Scottish government spent £3 million on a national campaign in local media alone and many, many more more £millions in advertising on radio, television and national newspapers.
In England, the government even recruited at considerable cost actors who appear in the popular Love Island series on television.