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Scottish broadcasting

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:28 UK time, Thursday, 9 August 2007

The remarks by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond are intriguing for BBC News - in their possible implications for our journalistic offering across the UK and as a story for us to cover.

Alex SalmondThe first minister characterised the debate he wanted to start as a broader one than previous arguments about the so-called "Scottish Six" - the notion that there should be a combined news hour created for Scotland that would mix international, Scottish and UK news according to overall news values as seen from Scotland.

Instead, he focused on the need for broadcasting policy to enhance the overall creative vitality of Scotland and complained about what he says has been a reduction in network production spend in Scotland by both ITV and BBC.

BBC production spend in any location can fluctuate, particularly as major drama series productions begin or end. But BBC investment in Scotland is significant. I recently visited the impressive new BBC Scotland HQ at Pacific Quay which cost £188m. To get a good return on that investment a substantial amount of UK production will need to come from there - for instance from its superb High Definition studio.

The BBC's formal audience accountability processes will be fully assessing the BBC's provision of programming in and for Scotland and through that process, dealing with the questions raised by Mr Salmond. (See BBC statements about this here and here)

For BBC News the focus will be less on cultural creativity or cash spend, important as those are, but on editorial representation. That, for audiences, is what matters most. How well, whether in drama, documentaries or news, do we represent the lives and concerns of licence payers across the UK?

At BBC News we will listen hard to what audiences tell us and respond to that. And we will work closely with our colleagues in BBC Scotland to develop editorial and technological options that allow us to meet new audience needs as the debate develops.

And as for covering the story on network news, BBC News 24 carried Mr Salmond's speech live and interviewed him subsequently and both the Six O'clock and Ten O'Clock bulletins carried the speech. Scotland Editor Brian Taylor also gave his comments on the Six, the programme that has often been in the eye of this particular storm.

Comments

The Scottish Six seems like a top idea. Especially if the rest of us get to hear less about Scotland in return.

  • 2.
  • At 12:00 AM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

Ian - could you tell me what Scottish stories have been covered by the London Six in the last 4 weeks? Bet you could count them on one hand, and that one of them was about the Loch Ness Monster. North of the Border we have to endure endless reports pertaining to purely English matters every night, i.e. Home Information Packs, congestion charging in London, how England are preparing to play a game of cricket, Heathrow/Gatwick expansion, the London Olympics, how England are losing a game of cricket, Grammar schools, how England lost a game of cricket... It's the same almost every night, every week, meanwhile important Scottish news stories are not covered, or given 30 seconds at most, and we have to wait another half hour for proper coverage on our 'local news'. I also resent the whole concept that the BBC's coverage of international news must be and can only be from London - this parochial policy is insulting for Scottish TV journalists, who like their Radio Scotland (and Eorpa) collegues have shown, are more than capable of covering and interpeting international stories and events as required. The status quo is also detrimental for the Scottish psyche, as it perpetuates the myth that we in Scotland are not big/mature/intelligent enough to manage a proper TV news programme. Ensuring that Scotland's broadcasters get their fair share of the license fee revenue is important, but how Scotland is seen by and sees the rest of the world is fundamental, and that's why Salmond is right to raise the issue and broaden the debate. The creation of a long overdue 'Scottish Six' is essential - the only question is whether it should be done before or after River City is scrapped.

  • 3.
  • At 09:04 AM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • JG wrote:

If the Scottish 6 is to be anything like the Scottish Newsnight, we will be in big trouble. I too live in Scotland, and have to put up with this amateur, parochial program every night. We get world class journalists, addressing issues of world importance on the normal Newsnight (even with all its faults). Then at 11 we switch to some amateur reporting on issues such as 'Scottish cat stuck up tree'. Its truly awful stuff IMO. The drop in viewing figures at 11 o'clock must tell you something. Just because we live in Scotland, does not mean we aren't interested in the same issues as the rest of the country.

  • 4.
  • At 09:32 AM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • martin wrote:

Andrew, your point is valid to the rest of the UK too in that you emphasise the continued London-centric manner of the BBC.
On another point, local news on the TV really isn't. I live in Reading and our BBC local TV news covers 'cat stuck up tree' stories as far as Eastbourne all the way over to Portsmouth - an amazingly large area that must have a catchment of millions of people. We have to switch to ITV to get anything remotely like local news, and even then ITV are looking to cut back this regionalised service in the near future. Radio Berkshire is an alternative, but I prefer to try and listen to those reports on-line as I find BBC local radio unpalatable!

  • 5.
  • At 10:06 AM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • laura wrote:

I really don't want a devolved Scottish news. But I would love to hear the explanation of, for instance, why the 'smoking ban' was covered as a new and strange thing, instead of England at last following the example of other bits of the UK. Of why news about English health and education is mainstream while news about Scottish or Northern Irish health and education is only treated in local news coverage. Of the very limited coverage of the devolved elections in main news coverage, which certainly gives the impression that 'the BBC' doesn't find these subjects of national importance, compared to yet another story about Ken Livingstone (who makes no impact whatsoever on the lives of people who never visit London). How many times do you have to hear this feedback before you take it on board? Has anyone ever said 'Well, I don't live in London, and I don't think the news coverage is at all biased in favour of the South East'?

And someone needs to tell the BBC press office that 'well, we've spent a lot of money on our own shiny new offices' is not really an adequate answer to 'how are you representing Scotland in your programming?'

  • 6.
  • At 12:33 PM on 10 Aug 2007,
  • will thorman wrote:

The SNP should put up candidates in England at elections. They will get more support from the English than they do in Scotland.

  • 7.
  • At 07:12 PM on 11 Aug 2007,
  • dave wrote:

why should the SNP have to put candidates up in England-why cant the English or those that like nationalist Scots form an ENP?

again it seems the Scots lead and the English follow

Why not scrap the Six O'clock News from London and give EVERYONE in the UK a suitable focused News Hour at 6pm?

  • 9.
  • At 11:49 AM on 13 Aug 2007,
  • John, Devon wrote:

We all suffer from the London-centric BBC - try the coverage of South West issues if you think Scotland is badly served!

This debate will therefore only be meaningful if full devolution is on the cards. It's not reasonable within the UK to demand significant separate Scottish programming for less than 5 million people. There are more viewers in (say) the North West of England than Scotland, and it has a significant regional identity.

If devolution comes, however, what then for the BBC in Scotland? Who will pay and how will it be funded - a separate Scottish licence fee?

Still, this does seem to be one of the (rare) cases where the Scots are not getting VFM.

  • 10.
  • At 01:56 PM on 13 Aug 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

John (Aug 13th) - I think you are missing the point. Scotland is a sovereign nation - not a region of England. We have a separate legal system, education system and church, and now even a parliament through which our devolved government operates. There are also many cultural, geographic and economic factors which differentiate Scotland from just another 'region' of Britain. As has been pointed out by Jim (post #68, Aug 10) on http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/briantaylor/2007/08/broadcasting_scotland_1.html (which for some reason does not appear in the 'Being discussed now' list - presumably because it's Scottish?) Scotland contributes £250 million in license fees to the BBC but only gets £90 million back.

  • 11.
  • At 12:30 PM on 14 Aug 2007,
  • John, Devon wrote:

Andrew

Sorry, I should have written "independence" not "devolution". Mea Culpa.

But the point still applies. Despite the semantic niceties over "nation" and "region" (which I quite understand), Scotland still is part of the UK not a separate country, regardless of the different legal system etc.

And I'd be wary of playing the numbers game. The English majority in the UK won't buy that argument. Under the Barnett formula Scotland gets back substantially more than it pays in to UK plc. Would you give this up to achieve £250m of BBC spend in Scotland?

So the likelihood of full independence has got to be part of any discussion of long-term BBC funding for Scottish generated programming.

And I still think this is (or should be) still a question of challenging London-centricity rather than England vs. Scotland

  • 12.
  • At 04:51 PM on 14 Aug 2007,
  • Marian Andersdottir wrote:

The main problem is that BBC News programmes present endless reports pertaining to purely English political matters, without any caveat saying that these only apply in England. With all due respect it must be recognized that these are of only passing interest to citizens of Scotland who are primarily concerned about events in Scotland. This could be remedied quite simply by passing editorial control of BBC News that is broadcast in Scotland over to BBC Scotland. This arrangement works well at BBC Scotland Radio News so what is the problem with applying the same to TV news?

  • 13.
  • At 11:07 AM on 15 Aug 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

John (#11, Aug 14th) - three things:
1. I don't think you do really understand the difference between nation and region if you think they are 'semantic'. Scotland was a sovereign and independent country for 600 years before the Act of Union in 1707. Despite strong political and economic ties since the Union, and the near eradication of Scots and Gaelic languages, Scotland has still managed to retain its distinctive cultural identity to this day. The BBC played a significant role in diluting Scottish identity in the early 20th Century, when everything had to come from London, and accents and dialects were proscribed, but in recent years (basically since the creation of Radio Scotland) I would say the BBC has overall been positive and reflected Scotland's cultural and political re-awakening. But TV in Scotland still badly needs a focus, and a Scottish Six (and 10 for that matter) would go a long way to satisfy Scottish license payers like me that the BBC's commitment to Scotland is more than a shiny new building in Glasgow, from which the TV output is much the same as it was before devolution.

2. I would suggest that you be very careful if you want to play the numbers game. The Barnet formula does provide more direct public spending per capita to Scotland than is spent per capita in England, but this formula was designed to reflect the additional costs of providing public services in a country 1/3rd of the land area of England but with only 1/10th the population. Put simply, it costs more to provide services in sparsely populated areas. Also, it is untrue to say that under this formula Scotland gets back more than it pays into UK plc. George Rosie nailed this myth back in the 1980s, by showing that once you factor in indirect public spending (like defence contracts and research, which are predominantly spent in the south-east of England) Scotland actually receives less public money per capita than England. And if you want to count oil and whisky revenues which are currently siphoned directly to London, you will find that Scotland has been a net contributor to the UK economy for the last 20 years. Even the treasury conceded this to the SNP a few years ago. Okay we still have costly social and health problems in the urban west of Scotland, but recent studies have shown that if Scotland had control over its own economy and resources, it would still be one of the richest countries in the world.

3. I never suggested the issue was one of England verses Scotland. I just made the point that, because of the extra dimension of our Scottish cultural specificities, London centricity is even more of a problem for us in Scotland, than it is for viewers in the north and south-west of England.

  • 14.
  • At 04:03 PM on 16 Aug 2007,
  • Ted wrote:

The BBC, like so many British institutions and the government itself, is clearly very fair to Scots and Scotland. Since James the 1/V1, through the 'union' and to the present day, the English people have attempted to be well disposed to the Scots and Scotland and fairly treat them as respected partners. It has been declared that the English majority must not dominate the 'union'. Scots have been promoted in the empire and commonwealth, their separate institutions encouraged and thriving industry and commerce developed. UK government has provided lucrative contracts and based UK government offices in Scotland. With many Scots presenters and Scotland based programmes and virtually nobody from, or programmes about, some English regions, plus building a £188m best-in-Europe tv centre in Glasgow and establishing BBC Scotland as virtually a separate entity there comes a call for a 'devolved' radio and tv service. It is total arrogance to put all success down to ‘Scottish genius’ as suggested by Alex Salmond. In my experience the majority of Scots will always harbour resentment towards the English. So the English should just let them go - please. Over the years they have had more than their oil money back - so this time a clean break for English independence and, so far as broadcasting is concerned, make way for a bit more NE, West country, and E. Anglia on our screens and airwaves.

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