London Calling

Knowing your own business is a pre-requisite in any organisation, wouldn’t you say? Understanding what it does, how it works, what works and what doesn’t, who’s who and all that…you have to get it or you really shouldn’t be there at all. Without the basic knowledge, you’re just another waste of space. Worse – you’re probably a block to getting things done.

So you may wonder what a current internal job ad circulating at Pacific Quay says about BBC Scotland management. This is it.

Editor Radio (News and Current Affairs Scotland). BBC Grade 10. Responsible for Researchers, Broadcast Journalists, Senior Broadcast Journalists working on all radio output. This includes editorial responsibility for Radio bulletins, Morning Briefing, Good Morning Scotland, the John Beattie programme, Newsdrive, Brian’s Big Debate, Newsweek Scotland, the Shereen programme and Radio Special Events programming.

Seems innocuous enough. Until you look more closely. BBC managers want someone to take charge of 1) Morning Briefing – a programme that was taken off air seven months ago 2) Shereen – a programme no longer made by the news department at all but produced by general programming 3) Brian’s Big Debate – a show that is no longer presented by Brian Taylor (now the Big Debate with Gordon Brewer) and 4) Newsweek Scotland – a programme that last existed over two years ago when it was presented by…Derek Bateman.

Whoever wrote this hasn’t a clue about the station’s output. Neither has the staff member who posted it and it seems the senior management neither check the content of job ads nor could care less about their own programmes that this could be allowed to go out.

How much faith would you have in a management with such casual ignorance of its own output? The answer of course is very little as evidenced by the BBC’s own staff surveys (publication much delayed). Senior news staff seem not to know the nuts and bolts of their own department. This won’t come as a surprise to radio journalists who for far too long now have had to watch television treated as the senior service, given the lion’s share of dwindling resources and radio treated as an irritating side show. A succession of news heads of department with zero radio experience has shifted the emphasis to TV news. A Head of Radio with no understanding of news has meant consistently underrating its value.

(I also found it revealing that in the last annual report for 2014-15 there is no specific section dealing with Radio News, just some generic statements about number of programmes and network collaborations. A radio highlights section doesn’t mention news at all. In a year that gave us the Referendum and the Games, never mind the Ryder Cup golf etc, it looked like a bad miss that the news department wasn’t even asked to produce a few paragraphs on its busiest-ever year.)

The sickening irony for those of us who love radio is the reason for the ill-informed job ad in the first place. It is for a nine-month attachment or secondment as the existing Editor is devoting all his time to a scheme named Project Spark to find ‘new ways of working’ – BBC code for getting more out of the staff for less money and pretending the quality won’t suffer. It would have been nice if the salami slicers had at least managed to get the ad correct.

New ways of working will be one of the priorities of about-to-be-revealed Head of News to replace the disgraced (presumably in a Michelle Thomson sense) John Boothman. My understanding is that a talented field applied this time and there is no excuse for getting it wrong. I know of 10 applicants – male and female – some with high level experience in broadcast news inside and out of the BBC, some with newspaper or academic backgrounds, at least one with a Labour background (oops) and for the first time in years of senior BBC news recruitment, there are any number of people who look right for this job. So, not easy. It would be a shame though if the crucial role of James Harding, the Director of News and Current Affairs in London, was to dominate selection. When BBC Scotland finally found the balls to propose a truly devolved broadcast network making full use of the budget raised in Scotland, a last ditch campaign by London executives killed off a plan that had already been nodded through by BBC bosses. Only powerful figures could overturn such a decision – people like Harding who wants to retain control of his British empire. He was involved in selecting the short list and was the key person on the interview board so he will have taken a keen interest in Gary Smith,  UK news editor, a London-based Scot who is emerging as favourite. What would be unfortunate would be the impression that Harding was placing his own man in Scotland in order better to manipulate events from Broadcasting House.

He may of course feel that is necessary if it’s true that a Scottish Six O’ Clock news is back on the agenda a mere 15 years after it was first suggested. (Another example of the BBC getting ahead of the curve).

Meantime, this being the soap opera of Pacific Quay, trouble is brewing on the industrial relations front as the date nears for the compulsory redundancy of journalists who have been on Death Row for years in a case that appears to breach their human rights. This incident would the subject of an investigative documentary by the BBC – were it not about the BBC. If the sackings go ahead, the journalists will strike, I hear. In the period of Charter Renewal, that really would send Director General Tony Hall ballistic – another PR disaster in Scotland. You won’t hear about it on the radio though.

The Head of Radio Scotland is Jeff Zycinski.

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20 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. Maybe Westminster wants a strike? Maybe it wants an excuse to close Pacific Quay down?

  2. The problem for me Derek is if the problems at PQ are as bad as you say (and obviously as it comes from you they must be) where are the whistle blowers?

    the time is absolutely right for someone with a credible voice, inside knowledge and firm evidence to back it up to expose all that is going on their.

    This is a State sponsored, tax payer funded public body. Yet is behaves like MI5 or GCHQ.

    If no-one is prepared to put their head above the parapet then not much sympathy from me I’m afraid.

  3. London calling…the shots. London calling…the shots.

  4. No TV and haven’t listened to Radio Scotland since November 2013 – 2 years ago.

    I really don’t care.

  5. Surely they wouldn’t have the nerve to appoint McTernan as Boothman’s replacement.

  6. They talked about striking on the eve of the Referendum, but didn’t. They won’t strike, they won’t do anything.
    The BBC is a PR disaster in Scotland already, so the bosses won’t be worrying about what Scotland thinks. The only thing that would have an effect is the one thing we don’t have; choice over paying for it. As it is, all we have is some hoping they do the right thing. (They won’t).

  7. Like many others I stopped watching BBC TV/listening to BBC Radio during the referendum run up after the penny finally dropped that it is nothing more than a state propaganda machine for the British Establishment.

    I suspect that the blue and red Tories will never let go of their faithful servant to the North Britons and that given half a chance the Tories would hand the BBC over to their media oligarch friends to be run like Fox News.

    • Katrine Paterson.

      Fox! Oh NO! That is just what we don’t want. A bunch of lip glossed smug morons who are so one sided, it’s surprising they haven’t fallen out of the right side of the telly!

  8. Ditto. I have stopped listening to BBC Radio Scotland or the BBC news or the truly vast majority of their execrable programming. Their factual output of late has been so insulting to the intelligence that I have stopped watching. We are about to get a major series on the Celts, part presented by Alice Roberts, an Anatomist. Apparently she has a book out on the subject.

    I’m a Physiologist, I wonder what the BBC would have me presenting?

  9. Stopped TV many a light year ago and radio not since late 2012 early 13 time for knackers yard and let Labour fund their own mince.

  10. Cadogan Enright

    Good article , we must keep exposing them

  11. Someone at PQ is working on Project Snark? That’s ancient news.

  12. It is very sad. For you, Derek, it must be particularly infuriating. I used to love radio but now I can hardly bear to listen to it. Thank heavens for your podcasts.

    I often feel like someone living in occupied Belgium in WW2. Radio Berlin has many interesting programmes. The arts and culture broadcasts are excellent. The classical music, world news, nature documentaries are very engaging. (Anyone remember Hans and Lotte Hans?)

    But it isn’t our media. Our cultural milieu is not reflected in it. Our history, language, literature, politics, are absent. We are bombarded with Great British trivia. When will this be sorted? Soon, I hope.

  13. Bugger (the Panda)

    I can only assume that the person responsible for that ad must be the London BBC based jacqui Baillie.

    No other explanation

  14. Bugger (the Panda)

    @ Steve Asaneilan

    “This is a State sponsored, tax payer funded public body. Yet is behaves like MI5 or GCHQ.”

    The BBC is now part of the big machine, MI6, GCHQ, FO, HO and every other UKGov alphabet you care to name.

  15. BBC Radio Scotland’s output is not largely news. So this is a storm in a teacup.

    So would a journalists’ strike be – always assuming that the NUJ had the funds and the members had the solidarity with colleagues to carry out such a threat.

  16. You can have an opinion, you can have a point of view,you can oppose,you can even dislike,

    But what the people of Scotland now say you can’t do, is lie to them, they don’t like it, they won’t pay for it and won’t accept it anymore, so to continue with it is the height of stupidity and arrogance

    Every day drip by drip even the previously unenlightened are becoming informed, if the BBC and print Media keep it up even while seeing newspaper sales drop like never before there will be no way back for them

    They can’t blame the Internet for all their ills, or calling the Electorate stupid

    So c’mon Labour Party HQ at Pacific Quay and pals in the Print game get with the programme or disappear,while there’s still a little time (Very Little)

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