Pressure mounts on BBC Scotland as former editors mount attack on management


  By G.A.Ponsonby
Five former senior editorial staff members at BBC Scotland have criticised the station’s planned job cuts and demanded that plans to shed many senior positions be shelved.
Writing in the Scotsman newspaper the five, who include former reporters and editors, attacked what they called “highly damaging decisions by BBC Scotland management”.

Former reporters David Calder and Eric Crockart, former news editor Carole Bentley and former political correspondent Kit Fraser were joined by former editor of Good Morning Scotland Douglas MacLeod.

In their letter, the five write of their “concern at the real damage being inflicted on BBC Scotland’s news and current affairs operation.”

Criticising the decision to axe the dedicated education correspondent role, they add: “It is barely credible that BBC Scotland believes this bastion of Scottish society no longer merits the dedicated scrutiny and analysis of a senior journalist.

“Elsewhere, the department is losing more than a dozen of its most experienced and respected reporters, presenters and editors.

“And all this is happening at a time when Scotland faces one of the most pivotal political decisions in its history – the referendum on Scottish independence. When was BBC journalistic excellence, in depth, more essential?”

The quintet also expressed their concerns that the damage caused to the broadcaster in Scotland is being overshadowed by the scandal of the Jimmy Savile affair.  The letter follows an announcement last August of job losses at BBC Scotland.

BBC Scotland is set to shed up to 120 of its 1250 staff over the next five years after London bosses announced it was to slash the station’s £102m budget by £16m.

The letter coincides with a blistering attack on BBC Radio Scotland by Historian Tom Devine who has called on the station’s current head to be replaced.

Writing in the Scottish Review, Professor Devine repeated many of the criticisms he made when participating in a debate on broadcasting last month.  The Historian highlighted falling standards at the radio station and talked of “rampant demoralisation” which he said was “obvious to any aware observer”.

He said: “Scotland’s quality print media are in dire financial straits at one of the most momentous periods in the history of the nation.  Hence the responsibility of the broadcast media has never been greater for information, comment, debate, the clash of opinions and the investigative power of first-class journalism.”

He added: “There remain presenters and interviewers of weight and authority, such as Derek Bateman, Izzy Fraser and Brian Taylor, but they are unrepresentative of the whole.”

Professor Devine highlighted the recent U-turn on the part of BBC Scotland management, who initially refused to appear before Holyrood’s culture committee but have now agreed to appear after the head of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, intervened.

He said: “They should be treated courteously but experience a hard time as they are subjected to incisive and robust interrogation. The committee should be briefed by individuals with relevant expertise before the grilling.”

According to Professor Devine, BBC Scotland “should be devolved asap”.  He said that the station needed, “A new head of Radio Scotland appointed with leadership qualities and a commitment to defending the station against cuts demanded from south of the border.”

The criticism followed similar highlighting of failures at BBC Scotland from leading journalists, Union representatives and politicians at a recent debate into Scottish broadcasting held at the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking at the debate Professor Devine claimed that many of the staff were regularly looking for opportunities to leave the station.

The full debate can be seen HERE.