BBC Scotland has hit back at claims that its flagship TV current affairs programme Newsnight Scotland is biased towards the Scottish National Party.
Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson called it ‘News-Nat’throughout an interview with presenter Isabel Fraser on Tuesday night.
And former Glasgow Lord Provost Michael Kelly, a Labour activist, added fuel to the fire with a provocative article in The Scotsman.
BBC launched its defence in a letter published in The Scotsman today from Ian Small, its head of public policy and corporate affairs.
He said: ‘Michael Kelly is entitled to his opinions about BBC ¬journalists, however ill-informed and unfair those opinions may be, but we completely -reject suggestions of bias on the part of our journalists working on Newsnight Scotland or, indeed, on any other of our programmes.
‘When Mr Kelly says Isabel Fraser ‘has form’ it is as one of the BBC’s most highly respected and valued journalists.
‘Ms Fraser did what BBC journalists do week in, week out when she robustly, but fairly, challenged the views of Ian Davidson MP on Tuesday evening’s show.
‘It may be uncomfortable for some when we ask the questions that our audiences want asked – but that is what we will continue to do and will do so as professionally as Isabel Fraser did on Tuesday.
‘To suggest that by asking these questions she holds or promotes a particular opinion is, quite fundamentally, to misunderstand political interviewing.
‘Audiences expect fair and impartial journalism from the BBC and they expect those who hold power to have their arguments robustly challenged.
‘That is what we will continue to do on their behalf.”
However, in a new development in the story today, The Herald’s political editor, Magnus Gardham, claims the row escalated ‘after it emerged an apparently neutral constitutional lawyer interviewed by the programme was an SNP blogger”.
Gardham reports that Davidson, who refused Fraser’s on-air demand for a public apology, stepped up his attack when it emerged an expert who contradicted him over the legality of Alex Salmond’s referendum plans was a self-proclaimed SNP supporter.
Gardham explained that ‘Andrew Tickell was introduced simply as an Oxford University lawyer without mention of his role as a high-profile Nationalist blogger, who writes online under the pseudonym ‘Lallands Peat Worrier'”.
He added: ‘During his interview, he rubbished a report from Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee – chaired by Mr Davidson – which concluded that Holyrood probably does not have the legal powers to hold an independence referendum.”
The Herald reports Davidson is now calling for an apology from BBC Scotland, and quotes him saying: “It’s outrageous the BBC should act in this way, presenting an SNP activist and blogger as an impartial academic.
“The issue for me is whether Isabel Fraser knew his background. If not, she was incompetent. If so, this was a conspiracy.
“I was clearly being set up by someone for an ambush. Either way I deserve an apology for the way this programme was conducted.”
SNP MSP Sandra White last night repeated her call for Davidson to apologise and for Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to discipline the MP.
She said: “Johann Lamont must now must speak up or speak out to demonstrate if they are a party that promotes positive respectful politics or if they are a party stuck in dark ages.”
The SNP said it was aware of Tickell’s online alter-ego when Newsnight Scotland aired, but a party spokesman said his affiliations were ‘not relevant”, adding: ‘Regardless of whoever else was on the show it was a wild outburst from Ian Davidson. It was his manner as much as anything that has taken people aback’.”
Tickell is a human rights specialist studying for a DPhil at Oxford University’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.
On his Lallands Peat Worrier blog he says he is “a supporter of the Scottish National Party, but who remains distinctly intellectually free floating”.
The Herald quotes a BBC Scotland spokeswoman as saying: “We often have contributors on Newsnight Scotland to talk about their area of expertise and add to the debate. In Andrew Tickell’s case, this is constitutional law.”