On Thursday afternoon it was announced that the BBC were planning to withdraw The First Minister of Scotland’s Daily Coronavirus Briefing from terrestrial television. The BBC is a public service broadcaster and within that title surely there is no more important public information currently, than what is going on within Scotland with regards to the Coronavirus Pandemic. I was able to establish that the Scottish Government briefings would continue to be broadcast online and on the radio, with anything of importance being reported on the Scottish News. This immediately rang alarm bells for me; what about people with no internet access, what about people who relied upon the British Sign Language interpreter to keep them informed who would not be able to hear the radio.
I would suggest that this decision adversely affects those within our society that may be the most vulnerable, whose need for accurate up to the minute information is paramount.
I am therefore going to let some of the people that this decision affects the most speak for themselves.
We spoke to Neil Ferguson, an electronic engineer who as he said himself happens to be deafblind; he told us “My immediate reaction was complete disbelief – “surely the BBC can’t be that stupid?” Of course, I went looking for the details and found it was true, so now I’m feeling a kind of weary anger and disgust that the UK’s institutions keep doing this sort of thing to Scotland and apparently thinking it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s like the BBC didn’t even think about their viewer demographics and how those people would get access to the briefings if the BBC dropped them.”
Neil who also writes informative Twitter threads told us “In my thread I’d focused on elderly people who might not use the Internet, but deaf people relying on sign language are being left even worse off, because the video broadcast is the only way to get sign language interpreted access. You can’t just say read the web page or buy a paper, the grammar of British Sign Language is completely different to English. It’s like asking people to read the rules in a foreign language.” He went on to say: “The BBC are supposed to be a public service broadcaster. It’s bad enough that they didn’t even consider these aspects to start with, but they’ve repeatedly been told about the problems now and they’ve had plenty of time to change their minds. The fact that they haven’t is inexcusable. The whole point of a public service broadcaster is to make sure no one gets left out. I also have a more general problem with this, which is that very few journalists are medics and very few have experience of government. If we don’t get an uncut live broadcast of the briefing, we’re relying on unqualified people to decide what we need to know when they write their articles or record their TV reports. The whole point of the briefing is that the Chief Medical Officer and the First Minister have already done that, so the resulting briefing should be shown in full. When I came across the BBC viewer numbers, I thought “right, people need to know about this” so that we could put concrete numbers on the damage the BBC are doing. You can’t just dismiss 280,000 people, that’s like saying half of Edinburgh shouldn’t be told about the coronavirus. It’s ridiculous.”
We also spoke to an 82 year old lady who has no Internet access who told us “I watch ‘Nicola’ most days and have got into a routine of switching on my TV at 12.15pm on Channel 9.” She went on to say ” I felt very disappointed with the BBC decision as this is my only means of getting the daily updates which I feel are vital, not only for myself but for all others who are shielding and rely on their television for all up-to-date Cornavirus information.”
Julie Ferguson Chair of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) Disabled Workers Committee “I am appalled by BBC Scotland’s decision to stop showing the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 briefings. This is directly discriminatory against deaf/Deaf people like myself. The Scottish Government has always provided a BSL interpreter for briefings which means that Deaf people have been able to access vitally important information during this pandemic. BSL is one of Scotland’s three official languages, and for many Deaf people BSL is their native language. English is a second language for native signers which means BSL is essential for reliable acquisition of information. We all have the right to receive information in our native language. Deaf people already face discrimination in the lack of signing on tv and in daily life. Now the BBC is removing accessibility, not promoting it. In a time of stress and anxiety, our source of information is being taken away by the public service broadcaster that we deaf people pay for.”
Blair Jenkins former head of Broadcasting at STV & BBC Scotland; stated on the BBC Radio Scotland’s Drive Time show on Friday evening “Around 250,000 people on BBC Scotland every day are paying attention to these briefings, what I haven’t heard yet from the BBC is what exactly is the BBC replacing the coverage of the health briefings with, what is more important than the health of the Scottish public? I think the general public will find this very hard to understand”
Donald Macaskill CEO of Scottish Care put out a Tweet stating “I’m very disappointed that in the midst of the latgest public health emergency ever that BBC Scotland has decided to cut back coverage of the ScotGov Daily Briefing. Older people especially at this time depend on this info-yet another example of age discrimination during Covid19”
The BBC have slightly rowed back and said that their decision is under review; perhaps in no small part due to an online petition, which at the time of being published was sitting at 51,560. You can sign the petition here
Reporter Helen Armet