The head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland has been accused of acting at the behest of a special advisor to the Scottish Labour party who it is claimed regularly complained about the political content of BBC Scotland programmes.
According to a former BBC broadcaster Derek Bateman, BBC Chief John Boothman questioned the political output of radio broadcasts after receiving complaints from Paul Sinclair.
Sinclair, who is the special advisor to Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, is said to have had a special relationship with Mr Boothman through both men’s links with the Labour party, and regularly contacted the BBC man directly to complain about political coverage.
Writing on his blog, Mr Bateman claimed that Boothman was “famous for his unrivalled network of contacts in the Labour movement.” adding that, “…Sinclair had a name for trying to interfere in BBC news decisions to influence output.”
Such attempts at interference were, according to Mr Bateman, something all parties tried to do. However, according to the former BBC presenter, Sinclair and Boothman developed an unhealthy relationship with the Labour advisor calling the shots.
He added: “But what I didn’t like about Sinclair-Boothman was the informal and insidious way it developed, so instead of old pals, it became almost one of master and servant.
“Sinclair seemed to assume the right to call the BBC head of news to account. It was going on right up to the final weeks before my departure.”
Mr Bateman also claimed that Boothman had, on more than one occasion, questioned him about the political content of his radio programme after receiving complaints from Sinclair.
Describing an episode in March when his Saturday morning programme had covered a leaked memo from John Swinney, he wrote: “I was presenting the Saturday Good Morning Scotland and we dissected this in the first item after the 8 am news. We gave it a good 10 minutes looking at all aspects.
“The following Monday John Boothman called me over and asked what the programme had done with the Swinney report. I checked and said it had been the lead item, given top billing.
“He explained in exasperation that he had received an email from Paul Sinclair demanding to know how we had covered it and said he was always receiving these demands from him.
“He was at that moment framing his reply.”
Mr Bateman added: “Why should the head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland be personally drafting explanations of editorial decisions to Johann Lamont’s office?
“When did anybody at the BBC, let alone an executive on £100,000 of public money, become an agent of the Labour Party, offering a personalised service no other licence-fee payer or political party gets?”
The former presenter also recalled another similar episode when Boothman demanded Bateman include an item on the No campaign in order he said, to balance the output after the show had run an item on the Yes campaign.
“As soon as we were off air there was an email from John Boothman asking bluntly how were going to balance it with the No side.”
John Boothman is a former Labour party activist whose partner is former Labour MSP Susan Deacon. Boothman, along with another BBC Scotland editor Tom Connor, was once censured for offering media training to Labour candidates.
The claims that the head of BBC Scotland news and current affairs has attempted to influence political content follows growing concern about the ability of the broadcaster to cover the independence debate even handedly.
Last month it emerged that the BBC Trust is to investigate BBC Scotland following the broadcaster’s selective reporting of comments made by then Irish European Minister Lucinda Creighton, who complained that her views had been “misconstrued”, “manipulated” and “spun”.
In May senior management at the Scottish broadcaster were found guilty of having distorted the news on Radio Scotland after a similar investigation by the BBC Trust.
Following a complaint from a member of the public, an investigation by the Trust found senior management at Pacific Quay in Glasgow had issued false information after it was alleged they had interfered in the editorial decision making of a morning news programme.
The Trust also found that decisions taken by senior management had broken guidelines on conflict of interest and that statements issued on behalf of BBC Scotland had “misled” the complainant who had to endure an “extremely long time” before his complaints were addressed.
Newsnet Scotland tried to contact Mr Boothman for a response to the claims made by his former colleague. However despite emailing Mr Boothman directly and phoning the media department, we have yet to receive any reply.
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