The Mayor of Newham and an uncomfortable moment on Radio Scotland

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By a Newsnet reporter

An article in the Guardian newspaper on Friday drew attention to the difficulty faced by the BBC when it comes to mixing politics and sport.  The piece centred on a 20 minute appearance on a BBC Radio Chat Show by UK PM David Cameron.

Last Thursday’s show saw the Tory leader allowed to piggy back on the success of Olympic athletes, something the BBC’s charter apparently forbids.  According to the Guardian, bosses at the Beeb expected a complaint from Labour leader Ed Miliband.

By a Newsnet reporter

An article in the Guardian newspaper on Friday drew attention to the difficulty faced by the BBC when it comes to mixing politics and sport.  The piece centred on a 20 minute appearance on a BBC Radio Chat Show by UK PM David Cameron.

Last Thursday’s show saw the Tory leader allowed to piggy back on the success of Olympic athletes, something the BBC’s charter apparently forbids.  According to the Guardian, bosses at the Beeb expected a complaint from Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The article caught the attention of Newsnet Scotland, not least because of the candour of the London based BBC itself who issued a statement immediately acknowledging there might be an issue.

“Nobody knew anything until it was too late to do anything about it. It was a huge cock-up,” said one BBC insider.

“The BBC has made huge efforts and spent an enormous amount of time on maintaining its impartiality during the course of the Olympics, and then this screws the whole thing up,” said another corporation source.”

But it was this last comment that caught our attention:

“David Cameron went unchallenged for virtually the entire interview.  It appears the editorial guidelines have got everything covered apart from the possibility that the prime minister might turn up to read listener dedications.”

The PM went unchallenged for virtually the entire interview, says the source.  Something that happened less than 24 hours later when Gary Robertson ‘interviewed’ someone called Sir Robin Wales.

Wales is the Scottish born Mayor of Newham and serves on the board of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games as a non-executive director.  He was apparently on BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland in order to offer an insight into how Newham have benefited from the Olympics.

However the interview saw the Labour mayor use the opportunity to promote ‘Britishness’, attack the Conservative government and praise someone called Gordon Matheson.  Matheson is of course the leader of Labour controlled Glasgow Council, and according to Mr Wales, deserves credit for doing a fantastic job with the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Throughout the interview, Wales was allowed to make his political points unchallenged as Gary Robertson, a man not usually known for his reticence in stepping in to challenge politicians, stayed silent.

The interview cannot be replayed because BBC Scotland programmes have been removed from iPlayer for the duration of these Games, and the forthcoming Paralympics, so you’ll just have to take Newsnet Scotland’s word for it.

It was blatant and highly questionable – surely something that wouldn’t be repeated by the BBC, especially given the impartiality concerns expressed by senior BBC chiefs that same day in the Guardian.

But on Saturday morning, whilst listening to Sport Nation with John Beattie and Rhona McLeod, there was the sound of the same voice.  Sir Robin had wangled another appearance on a BBC Scotland programme and yes, he used it to make the same political points as before.

This time though something very interesting happened – Wales was ‘cut off’ as he tried to heap praise on Gordon Matheson.  A ‘technical hitch’ appeared right at the moment the Scottish Labour politician, and Newham Mayor, mentioned the Glasgow Labour councillor.

Wales voice disappeared, only to reappear minutes later.  Had he been given a ticking off?  We don’t know, but at the end of his second stint, Wales was at it again, only this time signing off with the well-worn Unionist catchphrase “Scottish and British”.

At that point there was what can only be described as a stunned studio silence as Rhona McLeod and John Beattie failed to respond.  In Radio land the two seconds was an eternity and it was telling as the noise of paper shuffling could be heard.

We’ll never know for sure, and the BBC are never likely to confirm what went on, but it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Wales knew his stunt was against the rules and the earlier ‘hitch’ that silenced him was as a result of his political opportunism – a technical slap on the wrists.

However it begs the question as to why a man who had demonstrated clearly his intention to use the Games in order to score political points, was allowed a second bite at the BBC Scotland cherry.

The other puzzle is why the Friday BBC production team allowed Wales to use the morning interview on Good Morning Scotland in the manner he did, unchallenged, and why the Saturday team’s reaction to this man was entirely different.

Here is the Saturday interview