Listening to Angus McLeod, Scottish Editor of the Times, today cheerleading for Brian Wilson’s slur against Tony Benn the day after his death (‘Three politcal lives of Tony Benn’) and reflecting on the extraordinary evidence given by Ken McQuarry and John Boothman to the Education and Culture Committee this week, I was angered again to think of why McLeod is given this regular slot. It’s media about media churned out regularly through a right-wing Unionist filter, presented as affable commentary. It’s subtly but deeply distorting.
Now it appears that the only BBC Radio Scotland outlet to offer a palliative to this, Sunday morning’s ‘Headlines’ programme with Ken MacDonald, is to be shut down in May. Our source informs us it is “too off message for Auntie”. Given that the show regularly gives space to look at media sources outside the predictable mainstream print circuit, it’s a real blow to Scottish political discourse.
Headlines regularly cites blogs and alternative media – to offer a broader more balanced coverage of the referendum. Not just the likes of Bella, et als but also Alex Massie, David Torrance and other voices. The point isn’t just that this programme was unique in avoiding the re-tread of Unionist editorial, it was also to be applauded for acknowledging the changed new media landscape. All of this done with Ken MacDonald’s relaxed, humorous but knowledgeable anchoring made it widely popular and respected.
The suspicion will be that the shows open editorial outlook and precisely this readiness to hear other voices was deemed politically untenable to the BBC chiefs. That, and the reality that the shows previous presenter was one Derek Bateman, now gone feral, will add to speculation that the cuts are political.
They certainly aren’t financial. You can watch John Boothman, Head of News and Current Affairs (at 13.32 here giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament) explain how BBC Scotland has more coverage than ever and £5 million investment. In fact he claims “Fifty additional staff”. So why axe one of the best regarded radio programmes?
George Adam questioining John Boothman in the Education and Culture Committee points to the NUJ reports of staff feeling under more and more pressure. The reality seems to be full-time journalists replaced with trainees and short-term contracts coming in from outside for a few months.
Readers will make their own minds up going on and we await with interest the response to the news that one of Radio Scotland’s best programmes is to face the axe.
Scottish democracy deserves better from our public broadcaster.