Salmond demands BBC boss answers blacklist claim
Iain Macwhirter 'banned' for criticising corporation By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor

FIRST MINISTER Alex Salmond will this week demand the controller of BBC Scotland answer claims that the station has banned Sunday Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter from its programmes.

Macwhirter, who has recently been a vociferous critic of BBC Scotland, gave evidence critical of the station to the government's Scottish Broadcasting Commission, which last week delivered a highly praised report after a year-long study of broadcasting in Scotland.

Since giving his evidence, previously regular requests that he appear on the station's political programmes have dried up. Leaked emails suggest programme makers have been told not to use him and the broadcasting commission chairman Blair Jenkins has been told of the ban by BBC insiders.

 Salmond told the Sunday Herald yesterday: I take the suggestion of a ban very seriously and I will be writing to BBC Scotland controller Ken MacQuarrie to get the BBC view on this. It would clearly be intolerable if it were the case that people who give evidence to a commission set up by the first minister could find themselves penalised as a result. That would not be acceptable and would undermine the democratic process.'' Salmond added that any action to punish off-message journalists would be "unprecedented and disgraceful".

Macwhirter, a former BBC presenter who worked for the corporation for more than 20 years, made searing criticisms of the state broadcaster in his submission to the commission.

The journalist stated the BBC was "failing to serve" its Scottish viewers, and hit out at the quality of its political output: "Everything about the programmes, from the poor lighting to the dependence on inexperienced broadcast journalists doing on-camera reports, said inferior'. It had that amateurish quality that has regional' written all over it."

At the time of his submission, in May this year, Macwhirter regularly appeared on a variety of BBC Scotland shows every week.

That changed after his appearance on Good Morning Scotland (GMS), the weekday news programme, on July 28.

After the show, GMS editor Philip Wells sent his BBC colleagues an email which stated: "Folks - could you check with me before we use Iain Macwhirter on our programmes."

The Sunday Herald has been told that on the same day a senior editor at BBC Scotland informed producers not to use Macwhirter on any of his programmes.

On July 29, debriefing notes from that morning's GMS show say: "We won't use Iain Macwhirter for the forseeable - if u need to ask come and have a word."

Macwhirter has not been used at all by BBC Scotland since.

SBC chairman Blair Jenkins told the Sunday Herald he had been contacted by two BBC insiders who said they had been told Macwhirter was not to be used. A third BBC insider he met later also told him of the ban.

Jenkins said: There is a belief among some programme makers inside BBC Scotland that Iain Macwhirter should not be used on programmes.'' A spokesperson for the National Union of Journalists at the BBC said: "The blacklisting of Iain Macwhirter is appalling. Most people find the idea of managers punishing people who express views to a public inquiry deeply disturbing. Most staff agree with the vast bulk of what Iain said. Management are quite happy to have people on air who have made much harsher criticisms of the BBC as an institution or of individual programmes. It seems that Iain's crime is that he has outlined the difficulties caused by underfunding and inept management."

A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: "There is no ban on Iain Macwhirter. If programme producers think he has something interesting to say they are perfectly free to phone him up and ask him on.

"As for Good Morning Scotland, individual programme editors - just like newspaper editors - will choose contributors based on their credibility, their broadcasting skills and the quality of their contributions. We are always looking for new contributors to ensure we don't hear the same voices too often. When a contributor gets used less, they often feel aggrieved."

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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