BBC Defends Not Including Alex Salmond In Rugby Coverage
The BBC has defended its decision not to include Alex Salmond in its coverage of Saturday's Scotland-England rugby clash.
The SNP described the decision not to feature the First Minister as "bonkers" as his appearance on a sport show was cancelled.
However, the BBC said the match is "not an appropriate setting" to give a single political leader "that level of prominence". It said leading politicians from other parties would not have had coverage "of appropriate prominence" in the run-up to local elections.
The broadcaster published a response in the complaints section of its website today after receiving complaints about its cancellation of an appearance from Salmond during its coverage of the Scotland v England Calcutta Cup.
It said: "On this occasion, having been approached by the First Minister's office, BBC Sport asked for advice and with the full agreement of both the head of TV sport and the director of BBC Scotland, the judgment was made that the Scotland-England match was not an appropriate setting in which to give one single political leader that level of prominence.
"The topicality of the current political debate over the future relationship of Scotland with the rest of the UK, and with England in particular, was one of the factors taken into account."
It went on: "The key factor, in advising on such occasions, is the importance of ensuring that other political parties have the opportunity to receive coverage of appropriate prominence over a reasonable timescale. That timescale can be affected by the proximity of elections, when such appearances would certainly not normally be appropriate.
"Given the singularity and high profile of the Calcutta Cup match, as well as the fact that it is now less than two months away from the election period before local government elections throughout Scotland, it was clear that leading politicians from other parties in Scotland would not have been able to enjoy coverage of appropriate prominence in the circumstances."
It said it was satisfied that the decision was consistent with similar editorial judgments which are regularly taken in relation to other political parties and other political leaders by programmes across the BBC.
Salmond had been due to speak about rugby and give his predictions for the first three Six Nations matches on the sport show.
At the weekend he criticised the BBC's decision not to include him in the coverage. He also sparked a row by using a term linked to officials in Nazi Germany to describe a BBC adviser, with opposition leaders calling on him to apologise.
In an interview with the Sunday Herald newspaper, Salmond suggested BBC journalists are "in thrall to Downing Street" and likened it to "tin-pot dictatorships".
He also described one of the corporation's advisers as a Gauleiter, the term given to provincial governors in Germany under Hitler. It also means someone in authority who behaves in an overbearing manner.
At the time a spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "The First Minister was rightly referring to over-officious BBC officials and the real concerns about editorial decisions taken by BBC journalists being overruled by bureaucrats on political grounds.
"As the Sunday Herald copy says, the term has come to mean an overbearing bureaucrat. That is unacceptable and the First Minister will be raising the issue with Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, when he meets him in Edinburgh on Thursday."
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Ministers have real concerns about editorial decisions taken by BBC journalists for interviews with the First Minister about rugby being over-ruled by the BBC's chief political adviser.
"The Scottish government see that as unacceptable, and the First Minister will certainly be raising the issue with Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, at the meeting in Edinburgh on Thursday.
"One of the BBC's excuses for this change of heart was the 'political debate around Scotland's future' - which will be under way for the next two-and-a-half years.
"The question therefore has to be asked of the BBC - does this ban apply for this entire period, for example to David Cameron during the London Olympics this year?
"As Scotland's national broadcaster, these are serious questions which raise important issues about the BBC's coverage of the referendum - which must be fair, impartial and consistent to all participants, and at all times."
Scottish Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, John Park, said: "This is an extraordinary revelation.
"The SNP had us believe that an invitation from the BBC had been withdrawn. Now it transpires that it was actually Alex Salmond who demanded to get his face on the TV in the first place.
"The First Minister's spin is unravelling by the day. Our national broadcaster is not there to give him free publicity.
"Calling BBC journalists tin-pot dictators and fascists was not very clever before this development. Now the First Minister just looks daft."
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "So, now it appears that the BBC is a 'tin-pot dictatorship' populated by 'gauleiters' simply for saying no to the First Minister as he shamelessly hawks himself from programme to programme demanding unfettered access to the nation's airwaves.
"The office of First Minister carries with it many benefits as well as responsibilities, but nothing which states a divine right to pontificate on rugby.
"Alex Salmond's comments and behaviour in this whole unsavoury incident do a disservice to the office of First Minister."
A spokeswoman for the BBC said there had been 152 complaints about the decision not to allow the First Minister to appear.