A FORMER Premier League football club chairman has lost a long-running dispute with with BBC over comments made by a pundit.

Michael Johnston, who earlier this year stepped down as chairman of Kilmarnock FC after ten years, was upset at claims made by former Hearts and Hibernian player Michael Stewart on the BBC Sportscene programme.

Mr Stewart said Mr Johnston had "acted in bad faith" in a row over bonuses due to the players depending where the team finished in the league.

However Mr Johnston, a solicitor, insisted he should have had a right of reply to the comments and the BBC was wrong not to seek his opinion.

Now Mr Johnston has indicated he may take further action against Mr Stewart personally over what he considers was a "defamatory comment".

Mr Johnston, who remains as Kilmarnock secretary, took his fight for fairness to the BBC Trust on appeal citing the original complaint and then the way it was rejected by the Editor of BBC TV Sport and the Editorial Complaints Unit.

The former chairman insisted Mr Stewart's assertion that he had acted in bad faith was inaccurate, misleading and unfair and that he should have had the right to answer to the allegation.

But trustees rejected the appeal because while Mr Stewart's charge was expressed in "strong language" it was given as "personal opinion in a live interview" and was "entirely in line with the tendency to hyperbole which the audience would expect of a sports pundit".

They said the accusation of acting in bad faith did not amount to an allegation which called for a right of reply and was therefore not in breach of BBC guidelines.

The development comes as the BBC continues to boycott Ibrox after Rangers executives banned senior sports reporter Chris McLaughlin after being accused of filing misleading and unbalanced reports about the club.

Some Rangers fans have lodged complaints that the BBC action was the result of a continued bias against the club, an accusation strenuously denied by the broadcaster.

Mr Johnston's concerns came over coverage in October, last year, after Kilmarnock players said they believed they were being given an inferior bonus deal compared to those at rival top-flight clubs.

On Sportscene Mr Stewart, who started his footballing career with Manchester United, was asked: "“It is a bit of a murky business for those of us on the outside looking in, Michael, in terms of players’ bonuses. But what’s your feeling? Have the club moved the goalposts here?”

Mr Stewart said: "In my opinion, what’s happened is the Chairman has acted in bad faith and I’m not surprised the players are unhappy.”

In complaining about Mr Stewart's comments, Mr Johnston told the BBC there was "no basis in fact for such an assertion and that his account of the background to the bonus dispute was "flawed".

But the Trust committee said: "The interview had been duly accurate in a way that was adequate and appropriate to the output.

"The audience would not have been misled as to the nature of the comment, which had been labelled as an opinion. The presenter was simply seeking the opinion of a pundit on an issue of interest and concern to Scottish football fans. Consequently, the committee concluded that there had been no resulting unfairness to the complainant in posing this question about the club."

The committee did say that it "might have been preferable" for the presenter to acknowledge that Mr Johnston did not share the pundit's version of events.

Mr Johnston said: "As the BBC has absolved itself of any blame for Mr Stewart's defamatory comment being aired without prior warning on live to air TV, any recourse will now lie against Mr Stewart personally.

?"It would be inappropriate to comment further on a matter which may require judicial consideration."