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BBC's staff in Scotland silenced

THE BBC in Scotland has issued a gagging order to stop its journalists and presenters from speaking out on the issue of a news programme for post-devolution Scotland, after eight wrote to The Independent last week rejecting the BBC's plans.

The order reflects the furore that has been generated by the BBC Governor's rejection of proposals for a "Scottish Six". Instead the Governors have suggested a London-edited bulletin of Scottish news to be included in the national Six O'clock News. A final decision will be made on December 10.

Those who wrote to The Independent last week included the presenters Ruth Wishart and Colin Bell, and BBC Scotland's senior political correspondent, Kenny McIntyre.

A BBC Scotland spokesman said yesterday that the memo ordering staff to clear any public statements about the issue with their superiors was designed to ensure the impartiality of reporters.

The memo, issued by BBC Scotland's head of news, Ken Cargill, said: "Over the past few days there has been significant clarification of precisely what our preferred option would and would not be and some staff have gone on the record to correct misconceptions. It's important that we ensure that no-one crosses the line into campaigning for a Scottish Six in order that we can sustain our impartiality. Strictly speaking, anyone wishing to comment on BBC matters should seek advice from their departmental head. Please ask for that advice should you require it."

One BBC Scotland insider said yesterday: "The issue of impartiality can only affect whoever is covering media stories, yet the BBC is using the impartiality excuse to gag the rest of us - the ones who are most strongly arguing for it."