BBC ‘bully’ finally moved out of top news job after staff protests


By a reporter

The head of news at BBC Scotland has been moved to a new post in the wake of a successful grievance complaint by a staff member that resulted in a trade union campaign and an intervention by Director General Tony Hall.

John Boothman: caught on microphone bad-mouthing a colleague
John Boothman: caught on microphone bad-mouthing a colleague

John Boothman was confirmed to have breached BBC rules by abusive remarks he was recorded making about Zoe MacDonald, a camerawoman, causing her distress. It was one of a string of staff complaints made about Boothman, who will now join the corporation’s team preparing for royal charter renewal.

The National Union of Journalists welcomed his departure from the newsroom job he was appointed to just four years ago in June 2011, and suggested there could now be a rapid improvement in staff morale,  described as rock bottom after a staff survey.

But there is still anger that an executive guilty of bullying has been allowed to step aside into another job, one some might regard as promotion, without even a public admonition from the management.

In a letter emailed to BBC Scotland staff, Ken MacQuarrie, the Director, said: ‘We are now entering the most important period of work ahead of the forthcoming charter review discussions as we shape our plans for the future of BBC Scotland.

Ken MacQuarrie: criticised for "inaction" by staff
Ken MacQuarrie: criticised for “inaction” by staff

“I am writing to let you know that John Boothman, head of news and current affairs, will be joining the team working on Scotland’s proposals for charter review. Working [for] Bruce Malcolm, he will play a key role focussing on service development for Scotland including our news offer for audiences for the new charter period. Pete MacRae will take on the role of head of news and current affairs on an interim basis until a permanent appointment is made.”

Bruce Malcolm is a senior manager at BBC Scotland, who was responsible for co-ordinating some of the Commonwealth Games 2014 coverage. He is said to be in strong position to take over from MacQuarrie whenever the latter steps down as Director.

Bruce Malcolm: Boothman's new boss
Bruce Malcolm: Boothman’s new boss

The BBC has been under pressure to counter claims it has been lax about bullying, and shuffling an executive earning around £100,000 when he has been found guilty and forced to apologise will do little to allay concerns. The organisation has made no public acknowledgment of the situation.

Staff say Boothman has been at the heart of a serious decline in relations within the news department and led to some having to go on leave. Unions were threatening to take strike action unless he was removed.

Boothman’s move still leaves in place other executives who have been subject to criticism for forcing through a programme of cost-cutting and job losses. It is believed that Boothman was appointed to the job  despite warnings from some quarters about his approach.

He was caught out when he made several very disparaging remarks about Ms McDonald in a conversation with a BBC personnel executive which took place in an Edinburgh radio studio. Unfortunately for the tough-talking Boothman, the microphones were live and Ms MacDonald, who was sitting outside eating lunch, overheard them and recorded them before lodging a complaint.

The case dragged on for a considerable time, and Boothman made his formal apology to MacDonald only recently, according to union sources.