Nicola Sturgeon defends BBC journalist from online abuse

BBC Scotland headquarters in Glasgow. Picture: John DevlinBBC Scotland headquarters in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
BBC Scotland headquarters in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
Nicola Sturgeon has defended a BBC journalist who was left feeling “upset and embarrassed” after being sent dozens of abusive messages from pro-independence supporters.

Emma Clifford Bell, a television and radio producer, faced an online backlash after making a request to find a pro-Union voice willing to contribute to a segment being filmed in Dundee last week.

The journalist was accompanying senior BBC Scotland presenter James Cook for a piece in the city to gauge public reaction to the First Minister’s announcement on a possible second referendum.

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But the request led to Bell receiving a furious response, with many accusing her of bias.

BBC news coverage must meet strict impartiality rules, with competing viewpoints required on all political stories.

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“I had already organised filming with a couple of fantastic indy supporters and so put out requests for someone with a different perspective...someone supportive of the union,” the journalist said in a thread shared on social media. “I did mention we were looking for a variety of opinions.

“And that’s an essential part of any decent journalist’s job. Social media is a great way to find new contributors, especially young people who aren’t always represented well on the news.

“I really wasn’t prepared for what followed: Hundreds of Facebook comments, as well as private messages, emails and tweets. Many of them vile and sexist - telling me to f*** off and accusing me of bias.

“I was told that I’m not welcome in Dundee, that I’m scum, a clown of a lassie and a stupid bint. I should go f*** myself and stop spinning my own agenda

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“I sat and read all the messages feeling upset and embarrassed. Yes, 57% of people in Dundee voted in favour of independence which was the starting point for our report - but it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the other Dundonians who opposed it. We have to represent all of Scotland.

“I love my job. It’s a privilege doing what I do and with that comes a massive responsibility to get stories right - which I take very seriously. To be attacked publicly for that is hugely frustrating.

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“With another referendum on the horizon, I’m really hoping this won’t be the tone. Let’s please try to treat each other humanely and with respect.”

Responding, the First Minister described Bell as “talented, professional and scrupulously impartial. A real credit to journalism.”

Last week, the SNP’s former Westminster leader admitted the party could not control its most aggressive online supporters.

Angus Robertson said the party was “never going to be able to manage” some of the so-called ‘Cybernats’.

He added that he would not advise spending too much time on Twitter as it tended to be “a lot of people shouting at one another.”