Salmond locks horns with BBC as Patten confirms changes to how corporation covers Scottish politics

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
The BBC will be forced to change its approach to Scottish politics in the run up to the referendum, the Chair of the Corporation’s Trust has said.
 
Lord Patten, who yesterday met with First Minister Alex Salmond, has confirmed that the reputation of the BBC is at stake and cannot be allowed to be undermined by perceptions of bias.

By a Newsnet reporter
 
The BBC will be forced to change its approach to Scottish politics in the run up to the referendum, the Chair of the Corporation’s Trust has said.
 
Lord Patten, who yesterday met with First Minister Alex Salmond, has confirmed that the reputation of the BBC is at stake and cannot be allowed to be undermined by perceptions of bias.

The former Tory Minister explained that in light of the independence referendum and to ensure balance was maintained, there would be new guidelines issued to BBC presenters.

“It would be hugely damaging to our reputation and to our continuing viability as a great broadcaster if we did anything which chipped away at the reputation that we have.

“So yes, we want to handle the issue of the referendum and its coverage as sensitively as possible.” he said.

Mr Patten was commenting following the growing row over the BBC’s decision to block First Minister Alex Salmond from appearing on a rugby programme last weekend.

Yesterday Mr Salmond revealed emails that proved claims from the Scottish Government that an invitation had been offered by the BBC who had then overturned the decision following an intervention from a London based political advisor.

The BBC has defended its decision claiming that local elections and the referendum meant that “heightened tensions” existed in Scotland and that to allow Mr Salmond to appear would provide an advantage to the SNP leader. 

However critics have pointed out that only days after Mr Salmond was prevented from speaking about a high profile sporting fixture, UK PM David Cameron was allowed free reign by the BBC to give his views on the resignation of England football manager Fabio Capello.

It has also emerged that in a BBC Radio programme this week, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell was allowed to promote Labour and attack the SNP despite being invited onto the programme in order to talk about his new book and his love of bagpipes.

The meeting with Mr Patten also saw the SNP hand over a dossier of evidence they claim demonstrates inappropriate broadcasts by the BBC with many presenters adopting pejorative Unionist-coined terms and phrases in news reports.

The standoff between the Scottish Government and the London controlled broadcaster follows a string of complaints from viewers angry at what they see as political bias from many high profile BBC reporters.

BBC Scotland has come under fire following a decision to block Scottish licence payers from commenting on the blogs of BBC Scotland reporters Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser when all other UK blogs allow online interaction.

There are also concerns over the handling of political debates and discussion programmes where Unionist leaning commentators often outnumber their independence supporting counterparts by as much as three to one.

The announcement of new guidelines from the BBC Trust Chair will be seen by some as criticism of the performance of BBC Scotland Chief Ken McQuarrie and his head of News and Current Affairs John Boothman.

A recent Holyrood Committee that looked at the performance of the BBC in Scotland saw Boothman, who has links to the Labour party, defend his department’s handling of political coverage in Scotland.  The committee though, unhappy with some of his answers, have invited McQuarrie to appear in order to face further questions.