Wark axed as BBC election night anchor after 'Villagate' row
KIRSTY Wark has been axed as anchor of BBC Scotland’s general election coverage following her controversial Spanish holiday with First Minister Jack McConnell.
Corporation insiders have confirmed that Wark, who has presented the programme since 1987, has been ditched from the role because of "difficulties about impartiality".
Instead, she has been given a role outside the studio. She will appear across the UK network following the movements of Tory leader Michael Howard on election night.
But there was little sign last night of the row dying down. A Tory spokesman said the party remained concerned about Wark’s impartiality.
The BBC has been under pressure to clarify what role Wark will take on election night since her Majorca holiday, dubbed ‘Villagate’, was exposed by Scotland on Sunday in January.
It emerged that the BBC broadcaster had invited McConnell and his family to see in the New Year with her and her husband, television producer Alan Clements, at their villa.
A senior BBC Scotland source told Scotland on Sunday: "Kirsty Wark will not be presenting our coverage at the anticipated general election this year."
He denied that Wark’s move out of the studio was a demotion, adding: "Kirsty is delighted with her new role."
But others disagreed. One well-placed Scottish media source described the decision to drop Wark as "the pragmatic, sensible way out" of a political embarrassment for BBC Scotland.
He said: "Ken MacQuarrie [BBC Scotland’s controller] is a man of principle, and it is my understanding that he thought it would be difficult for Kirsty to anchor the Scottish coverage after she decided to go on holiday with McConnell. Media insiders expect Wark’s role to be filled by either Anne Mackenzie or Gordon Brewer, who share presenting duties on Newsnight Scotland. Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland’s political correspondent is also being tipped.
The move to have Wark "shadow" Howard is likely to lead to friction. The Tories have already written to the BBC raising their concerns.
John Whittingdale, the Tory culture and broadcasting spokesman, said: "Our concerns have been whether she and the BBC think it is appropriate for a prominent BBC political journalist to be so closely associated with one party."
A source close to Howard added: "We shall be watching closely to ensure that broadcasters adhere to strict standards of impartiality, regardless of their personal political views."
Wark refused to comment last night. Meanwhile, it emerged that Wark’s company, IWC, will release the controversial TV interviews from its documentary on the new Scottish Parliament building later this month.
The company and the BBC refused to hand over the tapes of the interviews to the Fraser inquiry into the costs of the 431m building last year.
But last night Wark’s husband Alan Clements said that when the legal rights were transferred to IWC, full access to the interviews will be granted.
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