2007 - 2021

Headlines to be Axed


Listening to Angus McLeod, Scottish Editor of the Times, today cheerleading for Brian Wilson’s slur against Tony Benn the day after his death (‘Three politcal lives of Tony Benn’) and reflecting on the extraordinary evidence given by Ken McQuarry and John Boothman to the Education and Culture Committee this week, I was angered again to think of why McLeod is given this regular slot. It’s media about media churned out regularly through a right-wing Unionist filter, presented as affable commentary. It’s subtly but deeply distorting.

Now it appears that the only BBC Radio Scotland outlet to offer a palliative to this, Sunday morning’s ‘Headlines’ programme with Ken MacDonald, is to be shut down in May. Our source informs us it is “too off message for Auntie”. Given that the show regularly gives space to  look at media sources outside the predictable mainstream print circuit, it’s a real blow to Scottish political discourse.

Headlines regularly cites blogs and alternative media – to offer a broader more balanced coverage of the referendum. Not just the likes of Bella, et als but also Alex Massie, David Torrance and other voices. The point isn’t just that this programme was unique in avoiding the re-tread of Unionist editorial, it was also to be applauded for acknowledging the changed new media landscape. All of this done with Ken MacDonald’s relaxed, humorous but knowledgeable anchoring made it widely popular and respected.

The suspicion will be that the shows open editorial outlook and precisely this readiness to hear other voices was deemed politically untenable to the BBC chiefs. That, and the reality that the shows previous presenter was one Derek Bateman, now gone feral, will add to speculation that the cuts are political.

They certainly aren’t financial. You can watch John Boothman, Head of News and Current Affairs (at 13.32 here giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament) explain how BBC Scotland has more coverage than ever and £5 million investment. In fact he claims “Fifty additional staff”. So why axe one of the best regarded radio programmes?

George Adam questioining John Boothman in the Education and Culture Committee points to the NUJ reports of staff feeling under more and more pressure. The reality seems to be full-time journalists replaced with trainees and short-term contracts coming in from outside for a few months.

Readers will make their own minds up going on and we await with interest the response to the news that one of Radio Scotland’s best programmes is to face the axe.

Scottish democracy deserves better from our public broadcaster.


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  1. This morning Angus McLeod used his privileged position on GMS to advance the fiction that David Cameron has made a substantive commitment to increased powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event of a No vote in the independence referendum.

    1. Privileged indeed. And the BBC pays him to appear and pontificate. He always get the opportunity to mention his ‘Newspaper’ several Times 😉

  2. pints says:

    This is a war where the British government’s best weapon is the BBC. If there is a question mark against any of the individual ordinance, miss firing or blowback, simply remove it from the arsenal. This is the obvious reason for the programs withdrawal. Why should Bella Cali be surprised at this action. The BBC, as dutiful frontline, must defend the state and attack its enemy.
    The Yes campaign will lose if it doesn’t neutralise the BBC.

  3. longshanker says:

    I agree with the majority of the sentiment in this piece Mike.

    Headlines is one of the more interesting and diverse BBC political digests.

    I’ve never liked its granting of space or time to one particular Nationalist website, but other than that, the promotion of sites such as Bella, Newsnet, Massie et al can only be a good thing in the run up to September.

    Why don’t you get an online campaign going to save it or, at least, attempt to save it?

    Ken MacDonald’s easy going manner plus the variety of studio guests always makes for a pluralistic outlook.

    I’m sure if you collected enough signatories and lobbied enough politicians the BBC might just sit up and listen.



    1. pints says:

      Longshanker, the next six months are not about fairness, truth or respect. Get as many signatures, petitions and MP’s protesting your righteous view and the response will be an even firmer ‘NO’ from the BBC’S hierarchy.
      Why should they promote a Yes agenda when it results in a loss of media control over Scotland plus a minor matter of 10% licence fee loss?

    2. John S Warren says:

      An online campaign or a petition sounds good to me!

  4. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    The many lives of Brian Wilson whom it is rumoured firted with the SNP. Was he spurned? Might explain the sourfaced unionism.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Brian Wilson campaigned against devolution. He’s the furthest from an SNP that you could imagine.

      1. ian chisholm says:

        His mother was in the SNP…..but he has always been tribally against the SNP…

      2. setondene says:

        For what it’s worth, I was once being driven around Tiree by a local. As we passed a closed hotel, he remarked that Brian Wilson’s brother was inside, drinking himself to death. By the by he also said that this brother was a tory and hated Brian. Make of that what you will; I don’t know if any of it is true. But Brian does have a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way.

    2. Iain says:

      Brian Wilson was a member of the SNP as a teenager.

      1. Setondene, publishing something you don’t know to be true is rumormongering. It also diminishes Brian’s brother in the minds of readers. That’s Unionist type slurring.

  5. andygm1 says:

    “Ken MacDonald’s easy going manner plus the variety of studio guests always makes for a pluralistic outlook”

    Exactly why any campaign would be doomed to fail.

  6. Barontorc says:

    The truth of it is that anyone who’s outside the ‘line’ will be moved away – look at Derek Bateman who chose to walk out of the BBC, the excellent Isabel Fraser who was shunted into obscurity because she had the temerity to give a well deserved hard interview to knuckle dragging Labour MP Ian Davidson, the attempted and politically inept academic assault on Professor John Robertson of the UWS who foolishly used his academic astuteness to analyse the blatant bias riddling throughout BBC Scotland, the absolute refusal by BBC Executives MacQuarrie and Boothman to reveal how many complaints the BBC has received, and doing this as they contemptuously continue their democratic ‘book-burning equivalent’ with this latest news that Ken MacDonald is set to now get the BBC’s siberia treatment.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Can’t believe they’re axing Headlines. My favourite programme of the week. I was gutted when Derek Bateman left but Ken MacDonald was a worthy replacement . What on earth is going on? Who’s pulling the strings at the BBC?

  8. Giving Goose says:

    Re Elizabeth;
    David Cameron.

  9. Tony Philpin says:

    To whom do we complain ?

    Headlines is a must listen – both main presenters have been exceptional and have the same caustic but self deprecating wit as Eddie Mair. This is radio at its best and much superior to the R4 equivalent Sunday morning offering.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We’re waiting for the response, then happy to help organise …

    2. cynicalHighlander says:

      To whom do we complain ?

      The International community because Britain is a Dictatorship at best certainly not democratic in any shape or form.

  10. Ken MacColl says:

    Excellent article and how much I agree.
    How depressingly predictable that BBC Scotland (sic) should now propose to axe Headlines, the refreshingly different Sunday morning radio programme, with Ken MacDonald, their single balanced and wide-ranging surviving political commentary in a desert of mediocrity. MacDonald’s easy going, always gently humorous is IMHO the last remaining bulwark against the malign interference of messrs Boothman and MacQuarrie. As long as those numpties are in control we are not going to get balance and truth in our political reportage and it would appear that only a decisive YES vote will start the process of radical change at Pacific Quay.The performance of those jokers before the Culture etc Committee last week deserves a wider audience and yet did not even qualify for a passing mention on Scottish news programmes

    I agree that Angus MacLeod’s “free shot” week after week is simply right wing unionism writ large from the Scottish political editor of The Times. Why such a tired old hack, read by a tiny section of Scots should get free airtime week after week is a mystery.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It could be easily better. Take the Thought for the Day model – people from different religions each day have their say. It’s the misguided notion that you are gaining some kind of genius media insight from Angus that perpetuates …

  11. Ken MacColl says:

    Brian Wilson used to campaign against nuclear weapons.
    Brian Wilson used to be a left wing socialist.
    Then he was elected to Westminster.
    Then he secured office.
    Ochone, ochone!.

    The working class can kiss my ass!
    I got the boss’s job at last

    1. cynicalHighlander says:

      Labour party career structure.

  12. seagetagrip says:

    I think a few responses on Twitter to “Headlines” tomorrow morning might help Ken.

  13. Prof. Dumb Down says:

    Aren’t we all rather missing the point here? I don’t often defend the BBC, indeed I am almost incredulous that I am about to (partly) do such a thing, but it has to be pointed out that the main point of this show is to cover the headlines, i.e. the pro-union press. Yes it did contain an interesting section where it discussed the online world, something which the BBC ignores with indefatigable determination in all of its other outputs. I enjoyed the show and would rather it stayed, but nevertheless I can understand why it might be axed in the interests of balance. Now I suppose if balancing out the cumulative negative impact of the vitriol of the pro-union press was the true objective this could have been done by giving more prominence to online YES blogs and voices, by way of interesting comparison. I would love such a thing, but that would require a forward thinking organisation, which the BBC is not. So in short I think their reasons for axing the show are just about valid, but a more enlightened news organisation might have found a better solution.

    I respect the general frustration that the one show which gave wings, bella, newsnet etc. some coverage is being axed, but in the end my friends it won’t matter. The YES revolution is well under way, and it will take a lot more than the BBC denying us the dulcet tones of Ken MacDonald on a sunday morning to derail our progress.

  14. Margaret Brogan says:

    So Isabel Fraser will be next. The BBC has no shame.
    This is so depressing.

  15. Andy Nimmo says:

    Thjs is the final final insult. I am now refusing to pay my licence fee. I hope to God they take me to court so I can claim Breach of Contract, Breach of Trade Descriptions Act etc etc.
    Will even call McQuarie, Naughtie et al for my defence

  16. john king says:

    Maybe Ken MacDonald can consider the time from the end of his programme to September as a wee holiday before the real work begins and we’ll see a re emergence of Izzy Frazer, Batemen ,et al.

    1. Barontorc says:

      Hold that thought John – my own exactly.

    2. Even with a Yes victory. Remember the S.G has guaranteed this bunch, MacQuarrie, Boothman, etc, their current contracts, so don’t look for change anytime soon even with the S.B.S.

      1. Vincent McDee says:

        The SG has guaranteed their contracts, not their positions. Besides the management would rather prefer to take a BBC position elsewhere, because “who in his/her sane mind would like to stay in a place they reckon inferior and of little promotion opportunities”

  17. Molto Benny says:

    Darlings, it really is about money: talk is spendy. Especially talk with reportage. And it also duplicates much of the previous morning news output. And it doesn’t get much of an audience. Hopes this helps, but I know the more swiveleyed will not want to see this post

  18. David McCann says:

    If true, then this is indeed depressing news, but I really believe that it comes too late for the union. Our real strength lies in our foot soldiers, who week in week out deliver the news, door to door to the people who count.
    Our weekly Yes turnout seldom has less than 16/17 people, many of whom I have never clapped eyes on, in all my years in the SNP.
    There is a groundswell out there for Yes, and its growing, so lets keep the faith.
    We are going to win. I feel it in my bones.

  19. Alex Grant says:

    Bateman will soon be launching a Sat morning show on the net. That’ll do for Radio Scotland’s ratings!

  20. Clydebuilt says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if Ken MacDonald and Isabel Fraser were to join Derek Bateman’s new internet radio programme. Though seems unlikely to happen as both are too young to retire.
    Working for the beeb they won’t be allowed to work for another broadcaster. SO we’ll need to crowd fund Ken and Isabel wages and pension . On the bright side only for 6 months as after a YES vote in September This trio will be in senior posts within the new SBS.

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