A GROUP of former BBC Scotland journalists have warned that cutbacks at the corporation are causing “real damage” to news and current affairs coverage as the independence referendum looms.
Former Radio Scotland Newsdrive presenter Kit Fraser and senior correspondents Eric Crockart and David Calder are among those urging the BBC Trust to have an “urgent rethink” about the proposed post closures.
They have written to The Scotsman voicing concerns about the plans which will see the disappearance of a dedicated education correspondent north of the Border, a move branded “barely credible”.
The corporation has accepted that the reductions are difficult, but said its coverage will remain “authoritative, comprehensive and properly resourced”.
BBC Scotland is set to shed up to 120 jobs by 2017 as part of a drive to cut its budget by 16 per cent. The losses equate to nearly 10 per cent of BBC Scotland’s staff. The freeze in the licence fee has resulted in a need to reduce BBC budgets by £700 million over the remainder of the current licence fee period to 2017.
The cuts have already provoked a storm of controversy, with MSPs accusing corporation chiefs in Scotland of an “outrageous snub” when they refused to appear before Holyrood’s education committee to discuss the issue last year. BBC executives subsequently agreed to face MSPs and will appear before the committee later this month.
The letter to The Scotsman, which also includes former Good Morning Scotland editor Douglas MacLeod among the signatories, warns that the cuts are inflicting “real damage on the news and current affairs operation”, which is based at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay.
It adds: “The department is losing more than a dozen of its most respected reporters, presenters and editors. This is at a time when Scotland faces one of the most pivotal political decisions in its history – the referendum on Scottish independence. When was BBC journalistic excellence, in depth, more essential?”
The post of education correspondent is to be merged with the local government brief under the changes, and the group warns that this is of particular concern at a time when the schools system in Scotland is undergoing major upheaval with the Curriculum for Excellence being introduced.
“It is barely credible that BBC Scotland believes this bastion of Scottish society no longer merits the dedicated scrutiny and analysis of a senior journalist,” the letter adds.
Both The Scotsman and Herald newspapers have dedicated education specialists on their staff.
The latest warning echoes the concerns raised by former Radio Scotland producer Peter Murray, who branded the BBC “irresponsible” over the cutbacks in Scotland when he appeared before MSPs last year.
He said the cuts had led to a fall in the “breadth and depth” of BBC programmes, as well as warning that it could take its toll on the coverage of the 2014 vote.
But a spokesman for BBC Scotland insisted last night that the cuts would be handled with care and will not damage coverage.
He said: “We recognise that our savings targets are challenging following the licence fee freeze. We have to find £16.1m savings from our local budgets by 2016-17, and the effect in the news and current affairs department will be loss of 12 journalist post closures this year.
“We appreciate that the cuts are difficult to undertake, which is why we are doing so with care and in full discussions with staff and unions. Audiences can be assured that our coverage will remain authoritative, comprehensive and properly resourced.”