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'Voice of the Highlands' to be axed in BBC cuts drive

One of the most experienced broadcasters in Scotland is to be axed by BBC Scotland as part of its cost-cutting exercise.

Inverness-based Iain MacDonald, who has been described as BBC Radio Scotland's voice of the Highlands, has been told that after nearly 34 years with the corporation his post will go by April.

BBC journalists are being balloted on industrial action, with insiders speaking of a complete collapse of morale in BBC newsrooms across Scotland.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it is deeply concerned that Mr MacDonald, who as union spokesman had been prominent in the fight to save 17 journalists' jobs in Scotland, was going to lose his own.

The award-winning Mr MacDonald told The Herald: "Just as the BBC was announcing it had appointed a man just one year younger than me to be director general, at around half- a-million pounds a year, I got a phone call from Glasgow to say I was being sacked.

"I have to go down to Glasgow next week when I will be told why I am losing my job. I think I will keep my powder dry until then, but I will be appealing."

David Stewart, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: "I have already raised the issue of the BBC cuts twice at First Minister's Questions and have met BBC Scotland's head of news to discuss the wider issues. Iain is the voice of the BBC from the Highlands and Islands and I just can't imagine its coverage of the area without him. It would be an enormous loss."

The SNP's Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson said: "I have already called for a moratorium on the jobs that are under threat. Now more than ever experienced journalists are needed not just for the quality of the news service but to bolster the battered reputation of the BBC itself. So, the idea of cutting the likes of Iain MacDonald at this time is quite ridiculous."

Other posts going under the redundancy proposals include the education correspondent role, currently filled by Seonag Mackinnon, which is being merged with the local government brief.

The BBC, however, has made it clear every effort will be made to redeploy staff who have not been successful in their keeping their jobs in the "selection for retention process".

But Paul Holleran, Scottish organiser of the NUJ, said he had never experienced such a collapse of morale among journalists.

He added: "I have handled some pretty difficult situations across the years, but this is something else. We have experienced broadcasters off with stress and others physically breaking down.

"The whole attitude towards senior management has become one of disgust. I think they will almost certainly move to a vote of non-confidence.

"We have asked for a meeting to give the BBC a chance to explain how they think they are going to manage without the likes of Iain MacDonald and other senior staff. They obviously think it is going to be business as usual, but they are deluding themselves."

He said the NUJ would be appealing on an individual basis on behalf of those targeted, "such as Iain MacDonald who has been quite vociferous in the campaign".

He said journalists had already asked Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, when he was going to fight Scotland's corner. "There are genuine concerns about the future of BBC Scotland," Mr Holleran said.

A BBC Scotland spokesman said: "The freeze in licence fee, until 2017, requires BBC Scotland to make a 16% cut in its local budget. That will result in 12 journalist post closures this year, including one in Inverness. We recognise cuts are difficult to undertake, which is why we are doing so with care and in full discussions with staff and unions. However, we are determined to ensure the quality of output will not suffer."

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