THE First Minister, Alex Salmond, is expected to be making a formal complaint to the BBC, following an U-turn by the Corporation on him appearing on a rugby chat broadcast last weekend.
It follows a meeting yesterday with the chair of the BBC’s governing body, Chris Patten.
The meeting was the latest chapter in a saga which yesterday saw Salmond – at First Minister’s Questions – suggesting that if he was to be denied access to taking part in a sports broadcast because he was a politician, then a similar restriction would require to apply to the likes of Prime Minister, David Cameron, possibly speaking about the Olympics.
His scheduled appearance from the Scotland-England, Calcutta Cup rugby match on Saturday was shelved, it’s understood, because of upcoming local government elections and ‘heightened tensions’ around the independence referendum in over two years’ time.
Among the widespread reporting in today’s press, The Scotsman devotes almost two pages to the story, plus an ‘Inside Politics’ column from Tom Peterkin.
Patten is quoted as saying: “The First Minister has a specific complaint about the Calcutta Cup and the way his non-interview was handled. I’ve suggested that he should make a proper, formal complaint, or rather the government perhaps should on his behalf.
“It will eventually come to us at the [governing body, the BBC] Trust to adjudicate on. I think that is the way in which we can deal with that.
“It’s not in anyone’s interests that we get incidents like the Calcutta Cup one every week.
“The First Minister has a complaint to make, and it’s legitimate that he put that to us.”
And Salmond is quoted, replying: “On the specific issue of Murrayfield and what Lord Patten described as the non-interview, it was suggested that we take that to a specific complaint. That’s a very helpful way to progress.”
Scottish political correspondent, Andrew Whitaker, writes: “Lord Patten had also promised to hold talks with the BBC director-general, the Scottish Government and the opposition parties at Holyrood surrounding the ‘rules of engagement’ on how the referendum would be covered by the broadcaster.”
Patten is further quoted, as saying: “We agreed it was important for us to agree with the First Minister’s party and others the terms of engagement in dealing with issues in the run-up, not only to the local elections, but to the referendum in a couple of years’ time.
“I’ll be discussing how we can best do that with the director-general of the BBC.”
Political editor, Eddie Barnes, writes in a side panel: “The importance of the broadcast networks to politicians is paramount: the most recent Ofcom data suggests that 74 per cent of people put TV as their main source of news. And despite the rise of the web, this figure is growing, up six per cent from 2005.
“For all political causes, therefore, it is TV – with its strict rules on impartiality – that provides the best chance of punting the message. And with a consummate broadcast performer like Mr Salmond in charge, it is the case with spades for the SNP.”
Meanwhile, Peterkin writes: “What it boils down to is that Salmond – like most other successful politicians – is always desperately keen to get on the telly. That is why the First Minister’s office made it known to the BBC that Salmond would be available for Murrayfield punditry.
“Salmond’s burning desire to take to the airwaves has been evident throughout his political career. His opponents at Westminster were impressed by his habit of going to Victoria Station late at night to pick up the first editions of the Scottish papers. That would enable him to gen up on the next day’s news so that he could offer his services to BBC Scotland’s early current affairs programmes first thing in the morning.
“His obvious delight at finally making it on to Desert Island Discs last year was an indication of how seductive he finds the idea of breaking free from purely Scottish TV and addressing a UK-wide audience.
“Therefore the Calcutta Cup presented a golden opportunity for the First Minister to boost his profile north and south of the Border. Although politics was not to be discussed, his appearance would have been a timely reminder of the constitutional battles on the way.”
And also in The Scotsman’s extensive coverage, Professor of Communications at Glasgow University, Greg Philo, writes: “The BBC’s decision not to include Alex Salmond in their coverage of the Scotland v England rugby match was, for them, the correct one.”
From yesterday’s FMQs, the Scottish Daily Express quotes Salmond saying of the political reasoning that led to the U-turn: “I think Scotland, I think journalists, have the right to expect better from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Or is it just another reason we got to ensure that Scottish broadcasting is free from the diktats of London?”