Sturgeon pulls out of conference in far-right row

21 October 2018, 08:01 | Updated: 21 October 2018, 08:05

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland's First Minister has pulled out of a conference after learning that former White House strategist Steve Bannon will speak at the event.

Nicola Sturgeon had been scheduled to attend News Xchange 2018 in Edinburgh next month, but said she "would not be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far right, racist views".

Mr Bannon, who worked on Donald Trump's successful presidential election bid, has championed right-wing political causes since leaving the White House.

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: "I believe passionately in free speech but as Scotland's First Minister I have to make balanced judgements - and I will not be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far right, racist views."

News Xchange is a gathering of journalists and media operators from around the world. Mr Bannon is scheduled to be interviewed by the BBC's Sarah Smith.

BBC News and BBC Scotland are listed as host partners of the event at Edinburgh International Conference Centre November 14 and 15, and Ms Sturgeon said "I regret that the BBC has put me and others in this position".

It is understood the First Minister was due to speak at the opening reception at the National Museum of Scotland on November 13.

She tweeted: "The email the BBC sent to my office justifying Bannon's inclusion described him as a 'powerful and influential figure ... promoting an anti-elite movement.' This kind of language to describe views that many would describe as fascist does seem to me to run the risk of normalisation."

A spokesperson for the event organisers told journalists at The Ferret: "News Xchange is a journalism conference which seeks to explore the main industry trends and challenges delegates to understand the wider political and social context.

"Steve Bannon is a key influencer in the rise of populism - one of the dominant political trends of our times. He has been invited to speak at News Xchange this year because his views are relevant to today's society at large and therefore to the media industry.

"We also consider it our journalistic responsibility to share and scrutinise a range of relevant viewpoints within the framework of a balanced debate."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Steve Bannon was invited on behalf of the EBU's News Xchange committee.

"Good journalism in a world of fake news and disinformation is more vital than ever. Journalism is about asking tough questions and understanding what is happening in the world and why.

"A conference designed to analyse the big issues impacting that world isn't an endorsement of anyone or anything - it is a function of what journalism is."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie commented: "Steve Bannon has been centrally involved in the attempt to re-boot the far right, both in the US and in Europe.

"To normalise such dangerous extremists and give them media platforms of this kind only serves to give them a veneer of legitimacy.

"When the rise of fascism threatens so many people across the world, there must be a clear line drawn between democratic politics and extremism and the BBC must recognise that line."