BBC wrong over Major interview

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The BBC showed "insufficient regard to the Scottish dimension" when it attempted to screen a Panorama interview with John Major in Scotland three days before the Scottish local elections, the BBC board of governors admitted last night.

The governors yesterday questioned John Birt, BBC director-general, and the corporation's board of managementover the decision to transmit the programme against the advice of senior staff in Scotland.

Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the board, said in a statementthatnews and current affairs executives had taken care to "consider how best to balance the interview with other programme material in both the Scottish and the UK context".

However, he added: "We regret that overall the BBC showed insufficient regard to the Scottish dimension and there was inadequate consultation with Scottish management."

A BBC spokesman saidthe statementof regret carried the weight of the whole corporation.

Senior BBC Scotland staff had argued that the timing of the broadcast was politically insensitive and a mistake, a view apparently endorsed by three Scottish law lords who subsequently banned the programme. It was finally screened last Thursday night after the polls had closed.

What is now acknowledged by many inside the BBC as anunnecessary controversy raised doubts about the corporation's political impartiality rules; the role of the courts in editorial decisions; and in precisely what regard the BBC's London based executives hold the regions.

Mr Husseysaid "the BBC, and not the courts, has the responsibility for ensuring fair and impartial coverage", while"management consultation" would be strengthened throughout the United Kingdom.

The Scottish National Party pledged to continue with an application for a judicial review of broadcastingin Scotland.