BBC in deal on SNP broadcast

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The Independent Online

Scotland Correspondent

The Scottish National Party yesterday abandoned its legal action over the BBC's Scottish political coverage after the corporation agreed to introduce live broadcasts of the party's conference next week.

In talks with SNP officials earlier this week, the BBC confirmed that the conference speech by Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, will be screened live across Britain for the first time. The assurance prompted the party to drop its legal action.

The deal marks the end of a legal battle which began in April when Scottish opposition parties won a court order preventing the BBC screening a Panorama interview with John Major on the eve of local elections north of the border. The court ruling prompted SNP leaders to apply for the judicial review.

Party officials, who have long argued that London-based programme makers ignore Scotland's four-party political system, said the corporation's determination to screen Mr Major's interview in spite of cross-party opposition north of the border proved that it was breaching its duty of impartiality. Mr Sal-mond said the judicial review will "firmly establish the BBC's responsibilities to Scotland".

In an effort to avoid a second court battle, the BBC chairman, Marmaduke Hussey, met Mr Salmond and the SNP's broadcasting spokeswoman, Roseanna Cunningham, last July over coverage of Scottish affairs.

The talks were followed bymeetings this week between Mike Russell, the SNP's chief executive, and senior news and current affairs editors in London. After the editors pledged to review Scottish political coverage and broadcast Mr Salmond's speech live, Mr Russell said he would drop the legal action.

He said yesterday: "We will be watching developments very carefully, but we are pleased at the progress we have made."