Alex Salmond yesterday backed calls for a six-month moratorium on BBC jobs cuts, attacking the corporation’s plans to cut news and current affairs staff in Scotland.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions yesterday, he said the National Union of Journalists’ call for cuts to be postponed for half a year was a “positive proposal” .
As the BBC heads towards a summer of industrial unrest, Mr Salmond said it should be prioritising Scottish news as the independence referendum approaches, rather than cutting the number of journalists.
This week, BBC employees walked out on strike against compulsory redundancies, nearly a third of which will be staff at BBC Scotland.
Mr Salmond said Scottish coverage of news and current affairs was particularly crucial in the run-up to the referendum.
“BBC Scotland’s decision to frontload cuts from the licence fee settlement is particularly disappointing while Scotland is debating such a hugely important public decision,” said Mr Salmond.
“The BBC should be prioritising its capacity to cover Scottish current affairs, rather than attacking it or reducing it.”
The First Minister was responding to a question by SNP MSP Jim Eadie, who then asked the SNP leader if it was time to “heed the call” by the NUJ for a six-month moratorium on the redundancies.
Mr Salmond said: “I think that is a positive proposal. I see with dismay no fewer than nine out of a total of 30 compulsory redundancies across the BBC are to be in Scotland, and that should tell us that there is huge disquiet amongst staff, not just about their individual future, but the collective ability of the BBC to serve Scotland.”
The First Minister also criticised the decision not to screen flagship show Sunday Politics Scotland while Westminster is in recess, but Holyrood is not.
News programmes were dropped from schedules on Monday as 200 NUJ members went on strike. Amid warnings that the BBC faces a “summer of conflict”, picket lines formed outside BBC offices and studios across the UK, including Pacific Quay in Glasgow.
Yesterday, the NUJ released a statement agreeing with Mr Salmond’s argument.
Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish organiser, said: “This is one of the most important decisions to be made in this country for centuries and demands the fullest public scrutiny and impartial analysis. It needs skilled, experienced reporters asking searching questions on the economic, cultural and political implications of independence or about retaining the status quo.
“So what does the BBC do? It gets rid of specialist reporters and correspondents.”
Last night, a BBC spokesman said: “The BBC has significant savings targets and as a consequence may have to make a number of compulsory redundancies. We have made considerable progress in reducing the need for compulsory redundancies through volunteers, redeployment and cancelling vacant positions, and we will continue with these efforts.
“There is nothing unusual about the Politics Show being off air this Sunday. It is part of the normal run of this programme.”