`Panorama'with Major was a mistake, says BBC Scotland chief

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The Independent Online
THE RIFT between BBC bosses in London and Scotland over last week's Panorama interview with John Major has deepened after the controller of BBC Scotland described the decision to schedule the programme three days before the Scottish local elections as "a mistake".

John McCormick said he was "deeply unhappy" at last week's events which saw the BBC suffer three humiliating defeats at the hands of the Scottish Law Lords. "It is something from which we will all have to learn, the worst week of my three years as controller of BBC Scotland."

In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, Mr McCormick said some BBC managers in London were "insensitive types whose minds do not extend beyond the M25". He confirmed that Tony Hall, the BBC's managing director of news and current affairs, and John Birt, the corporation's director general, failed to consult BBC Scotland over the scheduling decision, even though they knew they could face accusations of bias in the run-up to the elections.

The Panorama affair has left BBC staff north of the border demoralised, with many now describing the BBC as the "London Broadcasting Corporation". They accuse Mr Hall and Mr Birt of displaying "breathtaking arrogance and stupidity".

Mr McCormick said the first he and other senior executives at BBC Scotland's Glasgow headquarters knew about the decision to screen the interview was a week ago last Thursday when they read a leaked Panorama memorandum in a London newspaper.

Senior Scottish executives voiced their concern about the scheduling decision to Mr Birt when he visited Glasgow on routine business four days before the programme. Mr Birt was unswayed; Panorama would be broadcast.

On the eve of Monday's court battle, the Reverend Norman Drummond, the BBC's national governor for Scotland, urged Marmaduke Hussey, the corporation's chairman, to postpone transmission. His warning was dismissed.

The BBC's case, page 27