Around a quarter of a million Scots tuned in to watch Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus briefings at the height of the pandemic, MPs have been told.
While opposition MSPs criticised BBC Scotland over its broadcasting of the briefings – which at one point took place every day – head of news and current affairs Gary Smith said the corporation had “decided it is right to put these briefings on the television because we think they contained important public health information”.
Mr Smith said that audience numbers for the briefings, in which the First Minister is questioned by journalists on coronavirus issues, had “varied”.
But he told MPs on Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee: “At the peak of the pandemic we had something like quarter of a million people watching the live coverage of the briefings, that has dropped off quite a bit now.”
Throughout the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon has conducted regular coronavirus briefings, with these being broadcast on BBC 1 Scotland, the BBC Scotland channel, and on BBC Radio Scotland.
Mr Smith added: “I think when a formal announcement I anticipated, and the public and audience know it’s due to happen on a particular day, and there are going to be changes announced or confirmed to restrictions, more people will tune in.”
He also accepted there had been “quite a number of complaints” about the briefing – but said not all of these were “saying the same thing”.
He told the committee: “We have had some people complaining we are broadcasting the briefings, some people complain we haven’t broadcast long enough of the briefings.”
BBC Scotland has already changed its coverage of the briefings, so that these now feature comments from health experts and opposition politicians.