Strike action looms at BBC Scotland after top presenter told he is to lose job

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The BBC is facing the threat of industrial action in Scotland after one of the broadcaster’s most high-profile presenters was told his contract would not be renewed.
 
Gary Robertson, who is best known for anchoring the flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland, is to lose his job after bosses informed the presenter his services would not be required beyond August.

The news has stunned colleagues at the Pacific Quay HQ and resulted in a threat of industrial action.

According to the Sunday Post, bosses at BBC Scotland are due to meet with union representatives today in a bid at averting a strike.

Morale at BBC Scotland is said to be at an all-time low with staff questioning the decision to import London based figures at the expense of home grown talent.  Significant amounts of cash have been spent on parachuting in presenters Jim Naughtie and Sarah Smith.

One insider told the Sunday newspaper: “You couldn’t make it up.  They must have spent a small fortune getting these big names up and then they tell Gary they need to let him go because of cost.

“Gary is no junior member of staff.  He’s presented our top current affair programme ably for years. He’s widely respected by his journalistic colleagues at the BBC in Scotland. To let him go in such an important year for Scotland is an incredibly bad move.”

If strike action goes ahead it could hit BBC coverage of this year’s Commonwealth Games and September’s independence referendum.

Another source said: “We are very much aware of how important this year is to the BBC. Relations between staff and management are very fragile. Gary’s departure could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s being seen as a compulsory redundancy.”

A study carried out in 2012, leaked to Newsnet Scotland, revealed a lack of trust amongst staff in management decisions, with many saying they simply did not believe what they were being told.

Results showed low morale amongst staff at the Pacific Quay HQ, with less than half (42%) saying they believe internal communications are honest.  The figure plummeted to less than one quarter (23%) in the News and Current Affairs department.

One unnamed insider told Newsnet Scotland that some staff felt “scared and bullied”.

Commenting, an NUJ spokesman said: “There is the real possibility of industrial action during the weeks through to and including September.  We are already close to balloting on industrial action over problems with treatment of the staff.

“There is a huge amount of shock over Gary being dumped because he has worked tirelessly, often on long shifts, for 15 years and is a very talented broadcaster.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The meeting with the union is a general one and we’ve had no indication that possible industrial action would discussed.”

The broadcaster has also come under fire over its handling of the independence referendum with viewers complaining about pro-Union bias.  This weekend hundreds gathered outside the BBC’s Glasgow HQ to protest at what they believed was an institutionalised bias against independence.

Academic studies into referendum output on BBC radio and TV news programmes have found evidence of imbalance, with stories hostile to independence given greater prominence.  Two reports by Professor John Robertson have backed up claims of anti-independence bias.

One of the programmes analysed was Good Morning Scotland, which the study found was more likely to lead with a story favouring the No campaign than one favouring Yes.  The study also found a tendency on the part of interviewers, including Robertson, to adopt a more aggressive stance with Yes figures than when interviewing their No campaign counterparts.

BBC Scotland bosses have dismissed the academic research, insisting the broadcaster is impartial in its reporting.  However Newsnet Scotland has now been passed an additional two studies, one into online news, that support Professor Robertson’s conclusions.

In January this year, the BBC’s own watchdog, the BBC Trust, found BBC Scotland guilty of breaking editorial guidelines after an item on Reporting Scotland, which attacked the Scottish Government’s claims on EU membership after a Yes vote, was found to have misled viewers.