BBC Scotland staff attack `Panorama'

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Indy Politics
Deep divisions emerged yesterday between BBC journalists in Scotland and executives in London over the corporation's handling of the Panorama affair.

Staff at the BBC's Scottish headquarters in Glasgow passed a resolution condemning the decision by Tony Hall, the BBC's managing director of news and current affairs, and John Birt, the director general, to schedule the interview with John Major only three days before local elections in Scotland.

The National Union of Journalists' resolution, approved unanimously, said managers had displayed "arrogance" and "ignorance". They should admit they had "made a mistake".

Reporters expressed angerthat Mr Hall and Mr Birt had not foreseen the furore their decision would cause in Scotland.

One said: "They have displayed breathtaking stupidity. They knew they could face a challenge over our impartiality rules but they decided to press on regardless, in the hope that Scots would just lie down and accept it. Well, ordinary Scots won't, BBC reporters who value the corporation's integrity won't, politicians won't and neither will the most senior judge in the land. "

The former controller of BBC Scotland, Patrick Chalmers, said that the courts had "helped to save the reputation of the BBC",which had "caved in" to pressure from leading Tories.

John Wilson, controller of BBC editorial policy until 1993 and author of the BBC's programme guidelines, said: "No politician or political party should be given a substantial, contrived, one-sided appearance, so close to elections."

He was dismissive of fears that the judgement would compel future programmes to be balanced in the run-up to elections.

Some BBC staff also reacted with dismay: "They have chosen such a bad case to fight on," one political correspondent said. Another senior correspondent said: "Everyone knows Thursday's elections are a referendum on the Government's record."

Critics pointed out that the BBC in previous years had bent over backwards not to be seen as partial.