Impartial Kirsty Wark
12 February 2006: Wark kept on BBC probation over bias fears
Leading TV presenter Kirsty Wark was placed on probation by worried BBC chiefs a year ago as a direct result of her controversial holiday with Jack McConnell and will continue to be closely monitored.
Concerned corporation governors put Wark under “review” amid fears that her relationship with the First Minister, together with her closeness to former Labour leader Donald Dewar and her role in the Holyrood parliament building, could be damaging to the image of the BBC as an impartial broadcaster.
A close watch was placed on the Newsnight presenter’s performance last year after Scotland on Sunday published a picture of McConnell, Wark and their families during a New Year break at her Spanish villa.
Wark was subjected to long-term behind-the-scenes scrutiny by her own managers, a team of broadcast executives, who checked out her performance on air for anything which might give rise to accusations of bias.
Impartial Jack McConnell
A hitherto confidential document, obtained by Scotland on Sunday under freedom of information laws, details exchanges among the BBC board of governors over the affair. It lays bare their fury over the embarrassing row, which was communicated to director general Mark Thompson.
At their first meeting after the pictures of Wark on holiday with the McConnells were published in January 2005, the minutes said: “The Board recognised that Kirsty Wark was highly talented and widely respected. Her integrity was not in question but her actions had put the BBC in a difficult position.”
The account continued: “The issue for the BBC was one of perception of impartiality both among the public and politicians. Governors discussed management’s handling of the matter and were assured that management would assess her interviewing and presenting roles on a case-by-case basis to address the issue of perceptions of impartiality.”
In a further signal of the widespread concern over the issue, the minutes added that: “The Board asked management to ensure this process remained rigorous.”
Yesterday, a statement issued by the BBC said: “Kirsty Wark is a journalist of the utmost experience and integrity and we continue to have every confidence in her ability.
“In the context of past events we still continue to review the position regarding interviewees and any issues regarding impartiality as would be the case with all our presenters.”
A BBC spokeswoman later added: “We want to make clear that Kirsty Wark has our full support.”
Impartial Kirsty Wark
Corporation insiders said that the step of subjecting any one presenter to such a long period of scrutiny, together with the unusual step of allowing a statement to be issued on the subject, was a sign that management were “exceptionally sensitive” about Wark and allegations of bias.
Scotland on Sunday understands that managers within BBC News had been “very annoyed” about the revelations and had devised “a kind of quarantine and rehabilitation period” which saw her taken out of the front line of the news operation for several weeks and then eased back in.
But one BBC insider said last night: “The BBC hates giving the impression that it is being told what to do and that it is bowing to pressure.
Impartial Evan Davies British American Project insider Presents Newsnight
“In all such cases the BBC will publicly dismiss the outside world’s criticisms but then say, ‘Don’t you ever do anything so stupid again!’ to the broadcaster in question.
“While keeping someone under observation is common in such cases, it can be a precursor to ditching someone from a programme because it allows them to build a case to defend themselves in case of a comeback.”
Another insider said: “Look, it’s all about the viewers’ perception. If people think that she is not impartial then she can’t do it.”
Nationalist MSP Alex Neil, who was critical of both Wark and McConnell during the ‘Villagate’ saga, said the BBC’s actions would help to clear up any doubts over the corporation’s stance. He said: “The BBC have got to be tough on making sure that their political interviewers are both impartial and seen to be impartial.
Impartial Nick Robinson
“Luckily for Kirsty, she was taken off the main part of the election coverage and she doesn’t do many political interviews up here any more. But it would be inconceivable, if someone had to interview Jack on Newsnight, for her to do it.”
Details of the trip sparked an intense “cronyism” row at Holyrood and within the BBC, taking in complaints about politicians’ declarations of gifts and over Wark’s impartiality. The Tories led the charge, questioning whether it was “appropriate for a prominent BBC political journalist to be so closely associated with one party”.
The Villagate row erupted after Wark invited McConnell and his wife, Bridget, to spend Hogmanay with her and her partner Alan Clements at their 150,000 house in Alaro, Majorca. The families also holidayed together at the villa in December 2002.
It subsequently emerged that Wark and her family had twice been overnight guests at Bute House, McConnell’s official residence in Edinburgh.
IWC Media, the company which was owned at the time by Wark and Clements, a long-term friend of McConnell’s, earned 664,130 from 22 executive and quango contracts in the past five years, including 186,000 to produce The Gathering Place, a documentary about the Holyrood parliament, and 72,000 for a history video.
Yesterday, when asked if she felt she was under any kind of probation by the BBC, Wark said: “That’s not my view.”
Impartial Jane Hill (British American Project) and BBC News presenter
Just a year down the road and free of her probation Kirsty strikes
Impartial Prince Charles
7 June 2007: Kirsty Wark interviews Alex Salmond – Labour Unionist till the bitter end.
Kirsty Wark’s persona now begins to slip towards the Labour hackery she has long managed to keep reasonably well hidden. Jack McConnell’s favourite holiday villa companion looks a right twit in this Newsnight “interview” (more like an inquisition) with First Minister.
8 June 2007: Official response from the BBC: Peter Barron BBC Editor: The Salmond Interview: The BBC response to numerous complaints of blatant bias.
We’ve had a lot of complaints about Kirsty’s interview last night with the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
Some questioned the premise of the interview – that the new SNP government appeared to be picking a fight with London – others thought that Kirsty’s line of questioning was too aggressive and therefore discourteous. But all agreed that the way the interview ended was, to say the very least, unfortunate.
The encounter was indeed intense and at times tetchy – Mr Salmond is always a robust and challenging interviewee – but for most of the interview I don’t think we strayed outside the boundaries of what viewers expect or find acceptable in a Newsnight interview.
In the last minute, however, that changed. As the programme producer tried to wind up the interview because of time pressure we cut off Mr Salmond in a way that came across as rude and dismissive. We have apologised to Mr Salmond for that.
Viewers Responses: Many hundreds of viewers were so appalled by the behaviour of Ms Wark that they felt compelled to write letters of complaint to the BBC:
I watched the interview and have read the comments on this and other blogs. The interview was far from impartial; Ms. Wark was more interested in exonerating Mr. Blair than in trying to get to the truth of the matter.
The facts seem to be (judging by the revelations over the weekend) was that Mr. Blair in his eagerness to do a deal with the Colonel viewed the separate jurisdiction of Scotland as a minor impediment that could be easily swept aside, at best Mr. Blair and those who advised him have been foolish and at worst have shown a flagrant disregard for both the Act Of Union (which clearly states that the Scottish legal establishment is separate and independent of England’s) and the Scotland Act which makes equally clear that matters not reserved (including matters legal) are de facto (and in this case de jure) devolved.
The greater issue here is simply that a British Prime Minister has arguably broken the very laws that define the Union as it now stands.
Mr. Salmond may well be spoiling for a fight but in this case Mr. Blair is at fault, he has handed the nationalists an easy target.
There also remains the issue of Ms. Wark, she was a poor choice, even if she were impartial, her close personal links to the leader of the opposition in Scotland should have instantly disqualified her from an interview on so contentious an issue.
The BBC prides itself on impartiality, in this instance it has at best failed the Caesar’s wife test of being seen as pure as well as actually being pure and at worst allowed itself (consciously or otherwise) to be a tool of Labour.
It could be you!!
Ms. Wark’s apology be e-mail, seems to me to be as insincere as it is cowardly and a curiously fitting poor end to this issue.
For the record I am no nationalist, but feel that political discourse has been ill served by the BBC and Ms. Wark and the reputation of the BBC has been tarnished, if it really is going to be an effective reporter of Scottish affairs, it should do so with reporters untainted by political links as blatant as Ms. Wark’s.
No, the “encounter” was’nt “tetchy”; Ms Wark was. You should apologise not only to Mr salmond but to viewers for the unprofessional rudeness she displayed during the whole of the interview.
We lodged a complaint immediately after the broadcast about the interview. Kirsty Wark appeared to be more interested in aggressively attacking the messenger rather than pursuing the truth about the message. We think that it would be appropriate that Newsnight tonight, and Ms Wark in particular apologises to Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister live on air, at the start of the programme.
A man called hoss
As someone who voted SNP at the recent election I wouldn’t want to get too carried away with criticising the way Newsnight handled the Alex Salmond interview last night. However, I’m pleased to hear that an apology has been made for the way it was terminated rather abruptly. What is of more importance is the substance of the discussion and it is important not to lose sight of that. What is clear is that there is only 1 Libyan in a Scottish prison, therefore reference in the Memorandum of Understanding to seeking agreement from all 3 UK jurisdictions does seem to imply the possibility of a deal on Al Megrahi. Not to have raised this possibility with the SNP administration, either before signing the MoU or shortly afterwards does look like a significant error by the UK Govt.
I have nothing against a robust interviewing technique but on this occasion, Ms Wark took a dismissive tone from the start of this interview. She was interviewing Scotland’s elected First Minister yet gave the impression she was contemptious of every word he uttered. I had the feeling that she allowed a personal distaste for Alex Salmond to affect how she conducted the interview. Not good.
Impartial Sarah Smith
I have a lot of time for Kirsty Wark, and I believe she’s done a lot of good work. Last night, however, was awful. I cringed watching it. It was not professional television journalism.
I presume that Mr Salmond and Ms Wark are not friends. However, Alex Salmond appeared to rise above that and Ms Wark didn’t.
Most people who watch Newsnight, I guess, by the very nature of the programme, ,have little objection when interviewers adopt an assertive or aggressive approach in the face of evasion, confusion, an apparent intention to mislead or a lack of evidence. However, Alex Salmon made his points in a perfectly comprehensible and supported way. Kirsty Wark behaved as if she was determined to adopt a combative approach regardless of any response she received.
AM2 – I waiting with bated breath to hear in what way the premise of the interview was “spot on”. It seems perfectly legitimate for Mr Salmond to raise the matter in the Scottish Parliament as the issue pertains to powers devolved to it. Given that there is only the one Libyan prisoner in a Scottish prison and given that the MoU refers to seeking the agreement of all 3 UK jurisdictions then it seems reasonable to infer that the signatories to the MoU had al Magrahi in mind. This interpretation has been further strengthened by Jack McConnell’s interview from earlier today saying that when he was FM he had resisted earlier suggestions that al Magrahi been transferred to Libya. The issue is clearly a sensitive one and the UK Govt as a matter of courtesy, at least, should have advised the Scottish administration of this either before or shortly after signing the MoU.
Whilst he was at Fettes
I must express my disappointment at Kirsty Wark’s lack of professionalism and sheer bad manners. this certainly falls way below the standards of journalism by which the BBC have formerly purported to set and hold as an example to others. This contained evident bias, continually cut across the Mr Salmond and was thus uninformative
To be honest, I’m actually more concerned about the interview than the cutting off. Having people cut off like that has to happen every now and then and whilst it came across as dismissive I know it has to happen. What I didn’t like about it was the patronising way Kirsty Wark said ‘exactly’ as she turned away from him. However, most concerning was the interview where she seemed to keep pressing the same point getting what seemed to be a fair answer from Salmond. Having said that, I don’t really understand the particulars of this story so perhaps that’s my fault – maybe he was dodging the question.
I don’t agree that the interview stayed within acceptable boundaries. Ms Wark is NOT a democratically elected representative of anyone. She is paid by our licence fees to do a professional job as a reporter and interviewer. Much as she obviously loathes Mr Salmond – he is the First Minister of Scotland and is entitled to basic respect and courtesy. Ms Wark showed herself up very badly and made it quite plain that she has completely lost her objectivity (and her cool) where Mr Salmond and the ‘New Politics’ in Scotland are concerned. Fortunately for all of us our elected politicians are, so far, all behaving much better and are swallowing their pride and getting on with the business.
Impartial Brian Taylor
The interview was so bad i actually went out of my way to find this page and complain. The interviwer was totally disrespectful to the First Minister of Scotland. Who does she think she is? She was interviewing the most powerful man in Scottish politics and treated him like a nobody. It was poor journalism. Wark did not even listen to the answers given by Mr Salmond.
The Newsnight Scotland presenter was a joke too with her line about him “never phones, never writes” comment. Who told her to say that? Mr Salmond was quite right to not enter into further discussion which such an obviously biased programme. I didn’t vote SNP by the way…
Had the interview been with our previous First minister i am sure it would have been much more of a love in. Surely Miss Warks conflict of interest continues when Mr. McConnel is in opposition. And I would have loved to have seen how this whole story would have panned out it Jack had still been in charge.
I saw the interview and frankly had Ms Wark conducted an interview of, say, Tony Blair, in that manner, I suspect she’d ahve been out of a job within hours. Alex Salmond was trying to answer her hectoring questions, but she rudely interrupted him and basically lost her rag. Perhaps she is too close to Jack McConnell..
Kirsty Wark is a good friend of the former first minister of Scotland (and Alex Salmond’s opponent) Jack McConnell. Well, friendy enough to take holidays with him.
Alex Salmond before the interview with Kirsty Wark
I can only imagine the furore if John Humphries of the Today programme took holidays with one of Westminster’s political leaders. How could he be seen to be impartial afterwards?
I think Kirsty Warks political affiliations are too obvious and are hindering her ability to carry out impartial and unbiased interviews – on Scottish matters in particular.
Clearly this is unnacceptable and the BBC must take action to ensure if they task Kirsty Wark with political interviewing, she at least complies with appropriate standards of impartiality that we expect of the BBC. This interview falls way short.
Alex Salmond after the interview with Kirsty Wark
Not good enough. Dont blame running out of time either. That was the least of it. Poor, poor show people. Wark was totally unprofessional (intense and tetchy dont even come close) Her objectivity has been completely compromised. Not fit for the Newsnight chair. As far as Newsnicht Scotland is concerned…pathetic
Having watched the “interview”, I too was appalled at Ms. Wark’s ill-mannered hectoring.
As has been commented above, I am far from wanting to see politicians given an easy ride (as is far too often the case), but Ms. Wark’s attitude did no credit to herself, nor the BBC. She opened and closed the interview in a very impolite and unprofessional manner, and the less said about the content the better.
I’m no particular supporter of Alex Salmond, but in this case he made reasonable points, and well put – the tone was entirely unwarranted.
To think the BBC pay her for that level of performance. Come to think of it, no, I pay her – she should refund my license fee.
Isn’t Kirsty Wark a close friend of Jack McConnell – the man Mr. Salmond took his new job off of? Now I’m not suggesting there is a connection….but…
Donald Dewar – so little time
Your summary is very wrong. “not straying outside the boundaries of what viewers expect or find acceptable”. I found it very offensive and for the first time ever have made a formal complaint to the BBC.
I was appalled by the behaviour of Kirsty Wark in her interview with Alex Salmond. The venom and spitefulness in her questioning of Scotland’s First Minister was outrageous. She clearly lost all objectivity in her task which I can only put down to the fact that she has a dispute running with Salmond with her company and the proposed film on Hollyrood and the fact that her personal friend the ex- First Minister of Scotland Jack McConnell lost the election to Salmond.
This interview was so unprofessional that Kirsty Wark embarrased herself and that it is clear to me that she cannot disguise her personal views which I have noticed on other occassions. To rudely cut off Salmond at the end when she had no time pressures forcing the termination is all the evidence you need.
It’s time to take her off the air and not pretend any longer that she is a competent journalist. I am surprised that the producers of Newsnight allowed her to do the interview knowing of her personal dislike for Salmond.
Impartial James Naughtie
For your information, I am not a supporter of the SNP and live in Buckinghamshire. I am a supporter of Newsnight, certainly up to now and of good journalism.
I thought people on here were exaggerating until I saw it for myself. I do not believe that the apology given is enough. KW behaved in a dreadful manner – she was angry and nippy and downright rude. And for Peter Barron to say “the interview” was at times “tetchy” followed by this (by way of explanation)”Mr Salmond is a … challenging interviewee” is just not good enough.
He was calm, not tetchy in the slightest. He listened, he spoke in a measured way and wasn’t the slightest bit challenging. God knows what was wrong with Kirsty Wark but she should apologise or go and present gardening programmes.
You need to remember Ms. Wark’s chumminess with what was the Labour establishment in Scotland. Close pals with both Dewar and McConnell. I would however have expected a more professional approach from her and Newsnight.
In the latter part of the interview, Wark seemed to concentrate on making assertions to the exclusion of actually asking questions. Maybe that’s a legitimate technique but surely you then have to give the interviewee an opportunity to refute those assertions.
Given the previous controversy over Wark’s political links this interview has to raise questions about her ability to be impartial.
“As a former First Minister, I would have expected and demanded no less than prior consultation on such a memorandum. If the Scottish Executive—the new Scottish Government—was not consulted or informed in advance, that is certainly regrettable. I have not seen the letter that the First Minister has sent to the Prime Minister, but I am happy to support the First Minister’s representations in general. I hope that the United Kingdom Government listens carefully to what he has said.”
When Jack McConnell, the Tories, the Lib Dems, Tam Dalyell, the Lord Advocate, the Scottish legal profession, Brian Taylor and BBC Scotland’s own lawyer are on the same side of something, it’s hard to spin it as an SNP stunt!
Many more comments contained in the reference. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2007/06/that_salmond_interview.html
Impartial Kirsty Wark