By Lynn Malone and Martin Kelly
New BBC supremo Tony Hall has backed trade union demands for more money for Scotland.
At a meeting in Pacific Quay in Glasgow last Friday, Hall also told hundreds of staff that a bullying management culture isn’t acceptable and said he will take steps to address the problem.
In a question and answer session the new Director General had to field a number of questions from at least four senior management figures before addressing the important issues demanded by journalists from the hard pressed newsroom.
The National Union of Journalists has been privately, and more recently publicly, calling on BBC Scotland Director Ken MacQuarrie to make a case for additional resources to cover the 2014 Commonwealth Games and more importantly the independence referendum.
Sources say the BBC Scotland chief has been trying to avoid the question, and earlier this year refused to attend a meeting of the Education and Culture Committee at Holyrood, only appearing after being instructed to attend by Chris Patten, chair of the BBC Trust.
Under questioning MacQuarrie appeared extremely reticent to make more than minimal demands for more resources. His head of news and current affairs John Boothman was almost dismissive of the need to properly resource the independence referendum, which has been described as “a one-off event” and “just another election” by senior management, it’s been claimed.
With the recent job cuts across BBC Scotland’s newsrooms journalists are speaking out about being under increasing pressure amid claims staffing levels are insufficient to meet the daily needs of filling rotas. One senior manager has suggested it would be “business as usual” after the cuts, however a series of strikes and a work to rule by the unions has highlighted the growing disaffection between staff and management culminating in a recent vote of no confidence in local management.
News that Hall has effectively bowed to demands from unions will increase pressure on BBC Scotland management and follows an announcement by Holyrood’s Education and Culture Committee that they are to monitor output from Pacific Quay.
In a report, MSPs on the committee highlighted conflicting evidence from unions and BBC management as to whether the broadcaster could deliver the “comprehensive, authoritative” coverage which had been claimed.
The committee of MSPs will now monitor BBC Scotland output at six-monthly intervals.
Welcoming news that BBC Scotland is to be monitored, Mark Piggott who is one of the organisers of a rally calling for balanced broadcasting said he hoped it would lead to an improvement in referendum coverage.
Speaking to Newsnet Scotland, Mr Piggott said: “This is a welcome move by our MSPs. Our campaign has been calling for an improvement in the quality of coverage from both STV and the BBC.
“One area that needs to be addressed quickly is balance and we hope now that the monitoring will force BBC Scotland management to ensure equal participation for both sides in all debates and discussions on the referendum.”
Mr Piggott also expressed concern at what his campaign felt was an unwillingness of BBC Scotland to report news evenly, and added.
“BBC Scotland gave widespread news coverage to the Susan Calman online abuse story but completely ignored the racist comments from Labour blogger Ian Smart, who is a regular guest on the BBC’s own political programmes, one week later.
“It’s very worrying that the BBC appears to be showing favouritism to one side in the referendum debate.”
A rally calling for a balanced all inclusive referendum debate from broadcasters is being held in Glasgow on Saturday May 18th. The rally will assemble at Strathclyde University Student’s Union on John Street at 12 noon and will march to St Enoch Square.
Speakers already confirmed include head of the Scottish NUJ Paul Holleran, Lynda Williamson of Newsnet Scotland, former MSP Tommy Sheridan, Robin McAlpine of the Reid Foundation and John Paul Tonner of Labour for Independence.