Calls for alternative broadcasting model for Scotland as BBC axes jobs and programmes

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by Martin Kelly

An SNP MSP is calling for Scotland to have greater accountability for broadcasting following reports that one third of BBC Radio Scotland production staff will lose their jobs in a cost-cutting exercise.

Staff at the BBC’s Scottish HQ in Pacific Quay, Glasgow were informed on Monday that eight radio production journalists out of 27 are to lose their jobs; three more jobs are to be axed at the BBC’s base in Edinburgh.

by Martin Kelly

An SNP MSP is calling for Scotland to have greater accountability for broadcasting following reports that one third of BBC Radio Scotland production staff will lose their jobs in a cost-cutting exercise.

Staff at the BBC’s Scottish HQ in Pacific Quay, Glasgow were informed on Monday that eight radio production journalists out of 27 are to lose their jobs; three more jobs are to be axed at the BBC’s base in Edinburgh.

BBC Scotland has also announced that two current affairs radio programmes – Newsweek and Scotland at Ten – are to be targeted as part of the cutbacks.

The news has angered licence payers and politicians and led to fears that the cutbacks will harm the national debate that is currently underway as Scotland considers its constitutional future.

SNP MSP Sandra White has now urged other Scottish politicians to support her calls for changes to the way broadcasting is handled in Scotland.  Ms White has lodged a motion expressing her concerns at the cuts and has called for a debate on alternative broadcasting methods.

The SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin said:

“It is vital that as we have a historic political debate in Scotland the BBC maintain a suitable amount of space to keep people informed of new developments.

“It is extremely concerning to hear one third of radio production staff in Scotland will lose their jobs and that we will lose two Scottish political programmes.

“I hope the BBC is open to discussion with staff and that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

“I have lodged a motion to encourage a debate in parliament with an aim to finding an alternative model for broadcasting in Scotland.

“We are at an historical point in Scotland’s history so we must ensure these cuts are not counterproductive to the aims of a thorough and informed debate on this country’s future.”

Speculation has been rife for weeks that the highly respected Newsweek Scotland, hosted at 08:00 am each Saturday by Derek Bateman, is to be replaced by an extra day of Good Morning Scotland.

Mr Bateman’s show was considered by many to be far and away the best current affairs show BBC Scotland produced.  It’s balanced; informative and non-partisan approach to political issues made it a hit with politically aware listeners of all hues.

The announcement that two political programmes are to be axed follows BBC Scotland’s controversial decision to prevent online comment on two of its political/current affairs blogs.

Controversy is still raging at the decision which singles out Scottish political coverage and prevents online challenges to BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser.  Political blogs by BBC reporters in the rest of the UK are not affected.

The controversy escalated last week when BBC Scotland’s then Online Editor Daniel Maxwell refused to appear on the BBC’s own UK wide media watch programme Newswatch to explain the bizarre decision.

Mr Maxwell has since been moved from his online role and is now the editor for Newsnight Scotland and Politics.

BBC Scotland’s coverage of political news items and discussions has led to charges that the broadcaster is institutionally biased in favour of the Union, in particular the Labour party.

A few years ago its current head of News and Current Affairs, John Boothman, was censured along with new Online Editor Tom Connor, for offering media training to Labour candidates.

Discussion programmes are very often loaded in favour of Unionist leaning guests which is leading to skewed and loaded debate – a worry given that the independence debate is currently raging.

Concerns have also been expressed after the BBC asked for people to apply to take part in a forthcoming referendum debate.  The broadcaster has insisted that applicants reveal their political leanings in order to ensure a “balanced audience”.

According to the Herald a BBC insider said: “People are angry and disappointed. They are worried about their jobs and they are worried about the programmes themselves – these are the staff that produce GMS and Newsdrive and John Beattie’s show – and they are the programmes that are important and which they are proud of.

“Obviously this is an important time in Scotland, there is a huge political debate and the timing of these cuts couldn’t be worse.

“People concerned about public service broadcasting will find this a worry.”

A spokesman for BBC Scotland’s head Ken MacQuarrie said: “These are part of the plan that will save 100 to 120 staff positions over the next four or five years, and we hope to do that, as much as is possible, through voluntary redundancy.

“We already broadcast a great range of political coverage. Scotland at Ten has a small audience. We are now trying to concentrate on speech programmes during the day, and music at night, and this change fits into that plan.”