BBC Nicola Sturgeon Edinburgh International TV Festival

What Nicola Sturgeon thinks about the BBC, Twitter and the media's portrayal of women


By Jason Stone, Editor of David Reviews

August 28, 2015 | 5 min read

Such was the demand to hear Nicola Sturgeon's alternative MacTaggart lecture that dozens of delegates had to be turned away from the assigned venue at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Nicola Sturgeon at the Edinburgh TV Festival

Scotland's first minister didn't disappoint those who managed to squeeze in, giving an interesting contribution to the debate that's dominated this year's Festival – the future of the BBC.

Sturgeon suggested that the controversy surrounding the BBC's coverage of the referendum provided evidence that the broadcaster ought to make a greater commitment to Scotland by providing a dedicated TV channel and an additional English-language radio station for listeners north of the border.

She was careful not to throw a further accusation of bias against the corporation, once again acting very much good cop to Alex Salmond's bad... but argued that the ongoing grievances of those who believe the BBC to be inherently pro-union should be enough to prompt a rethink about its approach to its broadcasts in Scotland.

She spoke eloquently of her adoption of social media and how empowering it is to be able to sidestep the mainstream media when she has something important to tell the public. When, for example, she was accused during the general election campaign of having confided to the French ambassador that she wanted David Cameron to remain prime minister, her swift assertion that it was untrue appeared to limit the smear's damage.

Although reconciled to the sexist abuse she receives as a prominent woman in politics, Sturgeon worries greatly that talented young aspirants will look at what she and others have to put up with and be "driven away from pursuing a career in politics or public life".

She accused the media of fuelling sexist attitudes by asking questions of female politicians that they would never put to their male counterparts: "For an industry that prides itself on being creative and innovate, an industry that is driven by new technology and the need to anticipate the changing values and tastes of its audiences, it genuinely surprises me how – dare I say it – old fashioned the media can sometimes feel. The portrayal of women is a case in point."

Moving on to the issue of the BBC charter renewal, Sturgeon pointed out that the recent decision to make the broadcaster responsible for the free licence fees for the over-75s was similar to the 2010 move – also made without consultation – to lay the financial burden of the World Service at the BBC's door. It's a decision which was criticised at the time by the relevant select committee – chaired then by the man who was made minister for culture in May of this year, John Whittingdale, who then said it "undermined confidence in both the government’s and the BBC’s commitment to accountability and transparency".

She pointed out that these secret decisions "represent a serious breach of the terms of the UK government’s memorandum of understanding with Scotland" as does the appointment of an advisory panel to guide charter renewal "without any prior consultation".

By contrast, the Scottish Government has begun consulting broadcasters, independent producers, the creative industries and the public. Sturgeon says they are speaking regularly to the BBC and want to understand its views on "what is desirable and achievable, as part of identifying the best proposals for Scotland".

Sturgeon expanded on some of her themes in a Q&A session with the Guardian's new editor Katharine Viner. The SNP leader's ability to talk with an unfiltered voice and without the dissembling hesitancy which characterises other politicians' public utterances gives her remarks a welcome humanity.

When Viner coyly observed that Sturgeon's comments about the BBC were quite nuanced when compared with others in the SNP, the first minister trod a careful path which made it clear that she didn't agree with Salmond's outspoken comments of the broadcaster without actually criticising him for making them. To much laughter, she then pointed out that if the BBC wanted to end Salmond's boycott of its output, all it had to do was broadcast some horse racing.

Among the questions generated by a Twitter request Viner had posted earlier in the day was one asking if the SNP was willing to field candidates in the north of England. Although the question was dealt with quite lightly, Sturgeon's reply suggested it isn't something she or her party has entirely ruled out. And as she reiterated her determination that the SNP participate as fully and constructively as possible at the Westminster parliament, it's worth bearing in mind that having English MPs would massively increase the party's chances of participating in a UK government.

Jason Stone is a media writer and editor of David Reviews. Follow our live coverage from the Edinburgh International TV Festival

BBC Nicola Sturgeon Edinburgh International TV Festival

More from BBC

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +