McCormick: won’t hand over footage of building work
BBC Scotland controller John McCormick is adamant that only a court order will force him to hand over unseen television footage to the Lord Fraser Inquiry into the building of Scotland’s new Parliament.
His steadfast refusal to hand over the Holyrood tapes has been greeted with anger by opposition parties in Scotland and immersed the BBC in a highly public row with the Scottish Executive.
Lord Fraser, whose inquiry opened in Edinburgh on Tuesday, is said to be “dismayed” by the decision to withhold material filmed over five years for a BBC series, which he said could be of “immense value” to his investigation.
With the BBC involved in a high-stakes stand-off, the issue could land up in the courts as a legal battle between the two sides looms.
McCormick, fully supported by BBC director general Greg Dyke, said only a court order would make him change his mind.
Lord Fraser and Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell appear to have no legal sanctions to enforce the BBC to comply with the inquiry.
Scottish Executive ministers are being urged to intervene to unlock a series of confidentiality clauses which were signed between the old Scottish Office and the film-makers in which ministers and civil servants agreed to co-operate with the production in return for an agreement not to broadcast the documentaries until after the new parliament building was finished.
The inquiry is investigating how the cost of the building spiralled from £40m in 1998 to a current £400m-plus. It is finally expected to open next July – two and a half years behind schedule.
McCormick has explained the corporation has refused to release the footage because around 80 interviewees in the series The Gathering Place – being produced by BBC Two Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and her husband Alan Clements – had been promised that the material would stay under wraps until the building was completed.
McCormick said: “It’s not about the BBC thinking it is above the law or anything like that. We co-operate as a public body with public institutions all the time.
“We have a serious point about independence of the broadcaster and the gathering of material for one purpose and we feel it would be not acting in good faith to allow it to be used for another purpose.”
BBC Scotland’s senior lawyer, Alistair Bonnington, has criticised the print media’s role in the stand-off between the BBC and Lord Fraser. In an article for the Sunday Herald, he claimed: “It is good to be subjected to ignorant and dishonest criticism in the newspapers.
“Good, because it reminds the public that the reason they trust the BBC far and away above most other sources of news in Scotland is the organisation’s insistence that contributors are dealt with honourably and fairly.
“It is a fundamental principle of journalism that sources are protected.”
By Hamish Mackay