Lord Lindsay condemns allegations of PCB contamination in farmed fish and gagging of researchers

THE BBC is being reported to the Broadcasting Standards Commission over its promotion of Sunday night's programme on the fish farming industry Warnings from the Wild - the Price of Salmon.

It alleged farmed salmon could carry 10 times more PCB contamination than normally found in wild salmon and that the Scottish Executive had gagged research scientists worried about the effect on wild salmon and trout.

The industry employs about 6500 people, with 70% living and working in remote areas and is seen as vital to the economy of the Highlands and Islands.

Following publicity for the programme carried in the press and on TV and radio last week, Lord Jamie Lindsay, chairman of Scottish Quality Salmon, the industry's promotional body, wrote to Greg Dyke, BBC's director general, and to Sir Robert Smith, Scotland's national BBC governor.

Lord Lindsay, the former environment minister, told Sir Robert: ''From a Scottish perspective, I am extremely concerned at the chain of events. Grossly inaccurate and incomplete claims have been used by the BBC to promote a future programme regardless of the huge damage this is potentially doing to Scotland, a young and vital industry, and to thousands of jobs and livelihoods that depend upon it.

''The most irreparable damage arising from this gratuitous lack of balance, furthermore, is likely to be among Scotland's most fragile and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.''

Lord Lindsay informed Mr Dyke: ''On behalf of the Scottish salmon farming industry, I am writing to express my outrage and deep regret that the BBC has sought to manufacture a health scare story about farmed salmon in order to promote one of its own television documentaries.

''The advance publicity tactic embodied factual inaccuracies which were repeated in BBC reports, appeared on the BBC website and in the following considerable press coverage, causing widespread alarm to consumers and potential damage to a valuable Scottish industry.''

Lord Lindsay said he had decided to lodge a complaint with the standards commission on Sunday: ''I am appalled that, just one hour before the transmission of this documentary, there has been no worthy response to my complaint by the director general Greg Dyke or Scotland's national BBC governor, Sir Robert Smith.

''This complete lack of concern, given the gravity of the allegations, the damning consequences for one of Scotland's most important industries, and the repetition of the original BBC gross factual errors in today's press, amounts to trial by the media before the programme has even been broadcast.

I have no option, therefore, but to lodge a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Commission, citing the BBC's breach of its own guidelines on impartiality, accuracy, balance, and fairness.

''This is all the more frustrating given the considerable discussions I had with the documentary producer pursuing an opportunity to take part in the programme, which was refused, and the fact that most of the national media and international news agencies appear to have been supplied with a script or preview of the programme, which we were also denied. This is somewhat ironic considering the claims of secrecy around the industry purported by the programme makers.''

Lord Lindsay said that, despite internationally recognised advice from the World Health Organisation, the Food Standards Authority, health professionals, and eminent scientists such as food expert Professor Hugh Pennington that oil-rich fish such as salmon have innumerable health benefits '' . . . Sunday's BBC2 documentary attempted to rewrite medical opinion on the basis of an unpublished study from Canada.''

A spokeswoman for BBC Bristol, which was responsible for the programme, denied there had been any misrepresentation or bias, adding: ''We will study the correspondence from Scottish Quality Salmon and reply in full.

''There is not much more I can say at present.''

Don Saniford, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, meanwhile, praised the BBC for a much needed, in-depth investigation into a controversial and complex subject.

Lord Lindsay was a minister in the Scottish Office in the last Conservative government between the summer of 1995 and the general election in May 1997.

Although he held both the environment and agriculture briefs, he was never responsible for fish farming.