BBC Scotland questioned over £5m funding for referendum spend


  By Lynn Malone
Questions are being asked over the way BBC bosses are divvying up the extra £5m set aside for next year’s referendum output.
The National Union of Journalist (NUJ) are concerned about cash being spent on the recruitment of up to 15 trainees who will work on a “raft of programmes” on the referendum – but will have no jobs at the end of it.

BBC Scotland plan to recruit the trainees, supported and provided by the BBC’s College of Journalism, for mainly research purposes.

In their recruitment ad, BBC Scotland, who recently released their annual review, say they are more concerned with “…potential and passion to achieve great things” rather than academic background.  But trainees have only one year to achieve great things as it is a fixed term contract which appears to lead nowhere.

The BBC is offering one year’s paid work and trainees will be taught “Online, Radio and TV based skills at Pacific Quay” and will work mainly in a “Referendum Unit”.

Scotland NUJ boss, Paul Holleran, who fights the cases of experienced staff facing redundancies and discrimination at the corporation, is angry about the lack of consultation with the union about the prospective posts.

Speaking exclusively to Newsnet Scotland, he said: “There has been no consultation with the union on this.  I have concerns about them taking on 15 trainees for a year with no guarantee of a job at the end of it.”

Mr Holleran is also concerned that about the quality of reporting from the potential candidates.  He added: “It appears they don’t need to have any journalistic skills or qualifications.  This certainly raises the question of quality and ethics.”

Alarm bells are also ringing over presenter James Naughtie’s role in the referendum coverage.  He will present the ‘Good Morning Scotland’ radio programme – two days a week.

The respected broadcaster, although born in Scotland, has been based in London for over twenty years.

There have been whispers of Tokenism, and accusations of Labour links amid claims that he is out of touch with Scotland.   Two former Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both feature in books Mr Naughtie has had published.

But BBC Scotland’s director, Ken MacQuarrie, stands by the corporation’s decision to have the long term London based presenter spearhead the event and represent the Scottish people, saying: “The referendum story is of huge significance for BBC Scotland and I’m delighted James will be contributing to our coverage of it as part of the Good Morning Scotland presenting team.”

In contrast, the recent BBC’s annual report shows that most Scottish people do not think they are well represented and that BBC Scotland does not reflect their lives.

Paul Holleran has said in the past that the BBC is the worst employer he has ever dealt with.  Newsnet Scotland understands that some experienced Scottish reporters have been targeted for compulsory redundancy and that calls by the NUJ for the lay-offs to be postponed until after the referendum have been rejected by the BBC.

The corporation recently came under fire from the NUJ’s Scottish chief when an internal survey showed staff morale was at an all time low.  Mr Holleran told Newsnet Scotland of his hopes that a change at the top level, following the Jimmy Savile scandal, would lead to improvements at BBC Scotland.

He said: “The report reflects Scottish staff being at an all time low with management.  We put a lot of faith in new Director General Tony Hall to make changes and are looking for Scottish management to take the direction Lord Hall wants the BBC to go.  That includes more equality and diversity and less bullying and cronyism.”

The BBC failed to answer any of Newsnet Scotland’s questions.

[Edit – The following statement was provided by BBC Scotland one day after publication of this article]
“We will be offering high quality training provided and supported by the BBC College of Journalism and senior BBC News staff, as well as the chance to learn on the job. These posts represent an excellent opportunity for trainees to gain valuable experience and to make a contribution to the BBC’s coverage of such a significant story.”


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