BBC under fire over screening of TV series on Holyrood

By Hamish Mackay

The controversial BBC Scotland television documentary series on the
building of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is finally to be
screened this month.

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond has attacked BBC
Scotland for showing The Gathering Place in the run-up to a general
election, claiming it is not editorially balanced.

The series,
the cost of which has risen to close on £1m – almost three times its
original budget – will be shown on BBC 2 on 10, 15, 17 and 22 March in
one-hour segments.

The series has been the focus of a bitter row
since BBC Scotland refused to release 200 hours of tapes to the Lord
Fraser inquiry, which is investigating how the cost of the Holyrood
project soared tenfold to £431m by the time it opened last October –
three years behind schedule.

The documentary series has been made
jointly by the BBC and Wark Clements (now IWC), the company run by
Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and her husband Alan Clements. IWC has
been paid £270,000 for its part in the production, which is also
planned to spawn a 90-minute cinema version.

Salmond claims the whole saga of the series has been “disgracefully” handled by BBC Scotland.

“The
extraordinary decision by BBC Scotland controller Ken MacQuarrie to
screen the programme in the run-up to the widely expected general
election shows they do not pay attention to what is in the public
interest and are acting as a fully paid-up subsidiary of the Government
in Scotland,” he alleged.

“The decision not to screen interviews
with critics, but only ‘participants’, renders it impossible to make a
balanced programme.

“It is bad enough for the BBC to broadcast a
programme that by definition is unbalanced, but to do so in the run-up
to the general election is ridiculous.”

MacQuarrie, in a letter
to Salmond, defended the “editorial integrity” of the series, and
pointed out that SNP contributions to parliamentary debates were
recorded as part of the project, along with contributions from other
parties.

He added: “As you know, an election has not yet been
called and, as I have stated before, I am confident that the programmes
will fully meet our requirements for fairness and impartial
broadcasting.”

The Lord Fraser inquiry will not officially close
until it obtains access to the full, unedited version of the 200 hours
of footage shot for the series.

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