SCOTLAND’S top political broadcaster has said he fears that “serious current affairs broadcasting is in danger of becoming a subset of the entertainment industry”.

Bernard Ponsonby was talking as he stood down from his role as STV’s main politics presenter after 34 years at the news station. “I’ve tried never to get involved in the phenomenon of journalists as personalities,” he said. “I refuse to do Twitter/X and I even thought long and hard about doing this interview.

“Sometimes I’ve been told that I’m the face of the station and that this makes me a ‘brand’.

“No, I’m a journalist. It’s my job to road-test arguments; put them into the public domain and then the people we serve can make up their own minds about what politicians are saying.

“Robert Peston and Laura Kuenssberg are both very good at what they do and I respect them enormously. Are they a brand though, or are they journalists? That’s never been my bag at all.”

Mr Ponsonby, who stood for the Scottish Liberal Democrats at the Glasgow Govan by-election in 1988 – won by Jim Sillars for the SNP – also spoke of the pressures facing today’s broadcast journalists. He said they faced far greater challenges covering Scottish politics than when he had started.

The Herald: Laura KuenssbergLaura Kuenssberg (Image: free)

He also dismissed what he called “social media conspiracies” for unfounded allegations that broadcast journalists at both STV and BBC Scotland were politically biased. This, he said, had led to a situation where “in the latter stages of the independence referendum, some journalists were broadcasting two ways and doing it very carefully so that no one could complain.”

He added: “It’s entirely acceptable and indeed advisable for a journalist to read a situation; take a view and determine what, in his opinion, is the best news line. That’s not being biased or partial.

“If you don’t broadcast the story because you’re feart of the repercussions – particularly on social media – then you’re not doing your job properly. You should never be a coward about calling the story.

“I can honestly say that not once did I ever see an agenda at play among any of the colleagues with whom I worked. Nowadays, in the social media world you’re either in the pay of the British state or you’re in league with the Yes cause.

“The view that some journalists are a bulwark for a particular cause, or that they are involved in a conspiracy against a particular line is nonsense. The last place you could find a conspiracy is in a newsroom: they’re absolutely chaotic.”

Mr Ponsonby was speaking after his former STV colleagues staged a strike last Thursday in a dispute over pay. He had been the NUJ’s union rep at STV for a number of years.

“The old political news teams included several full-time researchers. My first job was to ensure I prepared a brief for the presenter. I had to know what was in a Minister’s brief and what he was being told by the civil servants. I had all week to concentrate on one issue. So, my presenter would often be better briefed than the minister. The research teams on both STV and BBC will never be replicated again.”


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“Now, political broadcasters are being told: ‘You have three minutes for this but we’d like you to cover six points’. It’s not conducive to letting ideas breath.”

He also expressed deep reservations about Scotland’s Hate Crime Act which came into force yesterday. “I think this is a case of a knee-jerk impulse leading to legislative overkill. It’s in the same realm as the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. That was a silly piece of legislation which came about because of a nine-second altercation between Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon.

“Yet Alex Salmond called a summit as though the fabric of society was about to collapse. As a result we got a piece of legislation that was derided by the courts.

“There is a danger that we’re veering towards authoritarianism. I don’t think you need law after law after law to try to proscribe and micro-manage behaviour. There is a danger that we’re failing to cherish the right to dissent and to be different.

“I once stood as a Liberal Democrat. As I understood it, the essence of liberalism was about respecting differences with people that disagreed with you. In terms of legislative structures it meant even accepting the right of people to be offensive. Micro-managing people’s opinions is illiberal and especially the concomitant risk of some aspects of free speech being considered criminal.”