BBC’s Sarah Smith relieved to escape Scottish ‘bile and hatred’ – The Guardian

Former Scotland editor says she repeatedly experienced gendered abuse while doing her job
Last modified on Thu 17 Feb 2022 14.02 EST
Sarah Smith, the BBC’s former Scotland editor, has said she feels relieved to have left the country after enduring years of misogynistic “bile and hatred” while covering Scottish politics.
Smith, the recently appointed North America editor for BBC News, said she repeatedly experienced gendered abuse while doing her job, which led her to significantly reduce her use of Twitter and to fear she had become a visible target.
Born and educated in Edinburgh, she said she believed much of the abuse came from nationalists because her father was John Smith, the UK Labour party leader who died in 1994. He was a notable critic of Scottish independence.
In remarks published by the Reuters Institute, Smith said: “He was a very well known politician, he was a unionist, people like to therefore assume that my politics must be the same as my father’s, despite me being, one, a different person, and him having been dead for 27 years.”
People would “roll their car windows down as they drive past me in the street to ask me ‘what fucking lies you’re going to be telling on TV tonight, you fucking lying bitch’,” she told Rhys Evans, a BBC Wales executive.
That “vitriolic attention” occurred routinely while she prepared for live broadcasts in public. Smith said she “pretty much stopped tweeting” because she feared attracting “shit I can live without”.
An experienced reporter for the BBC, 5 News and Channel 4 News, including a stint as US business correspondent, Smith was appointed as the corporation’s first Scotland editor in 2016, following the 2014 independence referendum. She also anchored current affairs programmes, including Sunday Politics.
Named as the BBC’s North America editor in November last year, succeeding Jon Sopel, Smith told Evans she was relieved to be leaving Scotland. In the US she would be “gloriously anonymous”.
“Nobody will have any idea who my father is. So the misogynistic idea that I can’t have any of my own thoughts anyway, or rise above my family connections to report impartially, will no longer be part of the discourse.”
Attacks on Smith escalated after she suggested during a live 10 O’Clock News broadcast in May 2020 that Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, “enjoyed” being able to distinguish herself in combating the Covid pandemic. Sturgeon furiously denied that on Twitter, and said she found the Covid crisis stressful and unpleasant; Smith said her choice of words was a mistake.
She also wrongly reported that Alex Salmond had called on Sturgeon to resign over the mishandling of an official sexual misconduct investigation against him, and retracted that on Twitter.
Evans said Peter Smith, ITV News’s Scotland correspondent, and Ciaran Jenkins, who covers Scotland for Channel 4 News, were also regularly abused on social media for alleged bias, which appeared at times to be coordinated. “Absolutely horrendous” abuse came from unionists, Peter Smith said, but the majority was from independence supporters.
There have been a series of incidents in which BBC journalists have been abused or attacked. Three men were charged after Nick Watt, Newsnight’s political editor, was chased in the street by anti-lockdown protesters in June 2021.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The safety of our journalists is paramount and while we wouldn’t comment on individual cases, we have a range of measures in place to support our staff, both online and in person.
“No journalist should have to put up with the kind of abuse described by Sarah. There should be no place for it in journalism or any other aspect of public life.”


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