Baron Hall of Birkenhead
Dear Director General
I write to you about the current controversy with regard to the BBC enforcing copyright against two Independence supporting on-line publications which has resulted in their YouTube channels being shut down.
My interest in the matter is that one of the news excerpts complained about in relation to Wings Over Scotland was an interview with me broadcast in February 2014. My concern was also sparked by the refusal of anyone in BBC London to be interviewed on this issue on BBC Scotland’s GMS programme on the radio this morning.
My points would be as follows;
Firstly the news excerpts complained about on Wings Over Scotland seem exactly that – news excerpts which you would fully expect to be covered by the fair comment exemption to copyright.
Secondly, if the BBC is departing from fair comment on news excerpts, then why were these popular Independence supporting websites targeted for enforcement action by the BBC lawyers in London? A quick glance at Unionist supporting sites shows innumerable BBC excerpts in use on YouTube channels including, for example, one that seems to be supported by The Spectator magazine.
Thirdly, what are my rights in this? If memory serves, this news interview now removed from YouTube was a challenge from me to the then Prime Minister to debate on Scottish Independence. It now has disappeared from the public record thanks to the BBC action. Obviously as a news interview I signed no waiver as I would have done for a major current affairs programme or interview.
Therefore why does the BBC as a public service broadcaster presume to effectively expunge my interview from the public record without so much as a by your leave? In other words by departing from the fair comment exemption for news excerpts your lawyers are bound down a very rocky road.
Finally, you may recall that last November your complaints division ruled that an interview conducted by Andrew Neil with me in the run up to last year’s election breached BBC guidelines by using a Tory press release as the source information for the allegation that a high percentage of children in Scotland were “functionally illiterate”. I had nothing whatsoever to do with the complaint nor was I consulted by your complaints unit before their finding against Mr Neil.
However, a quick search on YouTube shows this interview available despite the breach and with no disclaimer detailing that there had been an adverse finding in that respect. It seems that your lawyers do not enforce action against a interview subsequently found to have breached your own guidelines from last year, but do against an interview from February 2014 on an independence supporting site.
There is considerable public interest in this matter and I look forward to an early reply and hopefully one that satisfies the Scottish public that the BBC as a public service broadcaster has not set its face against fair comment and freedom of speech and further is not pursuing a campaign against sites which support Scottish Independence.
The Rt Hon Alex Salmond