The Culture, Media & Sport Committee sparked a debate last week with its backing for a ‘Scottish Six’ news programme to be developed.
Supporters of an hour long, Scotland-made nightly news say that it will breathe fresh air into the often stale and centralised focus of Reporting Scotland. Opponents are sceptical. Many worry, as one radio-caller did – that it is a ‘political move by the totalitarian Scottish Government to soften us up for another never-endum’.
Much of the debate so far has focused on the technical capabilities and current funding of BBC Scotland. Can we afford to produce a high-quality, engaging hour long programme? Is there even an appetite for it?
Polling shows that support for a Scottish Six is lukewarm at best. Many worry that a Scottish Six would be parochial in its output, or a mere extension of the length of the programme, without any radical changes.
“A ‘Scottish Six’ provides a real opportunity to be creative. BBC Scotland can put some long overdue effort into widening its list of female experts & commentators.”
I’d argue the challenge isn’t in the technical production. Funding is important, but it’s far from an insurmountable challenge if Pacific Quay bosses have a real desire to make a Scottish Six a success. The real test will be in taking Scottish news and looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes. A renewed vigour to rethink years of tried and tested ‘murder, fitba, the forecast is rain’ formula.
Where is the ambition for the elements of the programme that don’t come down to more funding or the amount of people who can use a camera?
Far from being a hindrance to fill, an hour of news would allow journalists at BBC Scotland to report events to us with far more nuance and investigation.
Two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner and sexual violence is on the increase. Police Scotland spent 20% of their total operational time in 2014 dealing with domestic violence incidents. Violence against women is a scourge on Scottish society and how it is framed to us by the media is important in shaping our collective approach to it.
Societal attitudes towards gendered violence have a real impact. They impact if a woman decides to report, the way she is handled by police & judiciary and whether she ever sees justice for the crime committed against her. The 2014 Scottish Societal Attitudes survey showed that only 3/5 people think a woman is not at all to blame for being raped if she wears revealing clothing (58%) or is very drunk (60%).
“There are regularly and consistently 3x as many men speaking as women. In well over a year, in no single week that I have monitored have there been more women than men.”
Public perception is influenced by many factors. Family attitudes, education, and in no small part – the media we consume. A ‘Scottish Six’ would provide an opportunity to do things differently, to undertake to ‘educate’ the viewer and use the platform to provide context and scale to the problem of violence against women.
A new ‘Scottish Six’ could utilise groups like Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland & Zero Tolerance to provide expert commentary and analysis. Not just when the crime figures are released, or when the Scottish Government publishes a new report – but on a regular basis, with a view to facilitating societal awareness around violence against women.
This would have the knock on benefit of improving the gender imbalance that we see across Scottish current affairs programmes. I write a regular blog for Women For Independence (#WFIMediaWatch ) where I collate the numbers and monitor gender balance. There are regularly and consistently 3x as many men speaking as women. In well over a year, in no single week that I have monitored have there been more women than men. Balance doesn’t just matter in relation to political parties. It is important that the demographic of our country is represented in all its forms.
“The 2014 Scottish Societal Attitudes survey showed that only 3/5 people think a woman is not at all to blame for being raped if she wears revealing clothing (58%) or is very drunk (60%).”
Imagine you were sitting down to plan a brand new venture. The first ever current affairs programme. It has never been done before, and the format you create will be the template used by similar programmes in the future. What demographic mix of guests do you opt for?
I doubt anybody at that imaginary meeting would say “mostly white men of a similar age, with a few women and even fewer ethnic minorities”. For would we say that an all-white, all male panel in a debate is best practice, or even the best we can do? God love Iain Macwhirter, Professor John Curtice & Kevin McKenna but is that the most interesting & informative mix of voices we can imagine?
A ‘Scottish Six’ provides a real opportunity to be creative. BBC Scotland can put some long overdue effort into widening its list of female experts & commentators. It can take the blinding glare out of the white-wash that is standard across guests. We can properly reflect the ethnic diversity of Scotland, and give a voice to those often boxed out of debate.
If we are offered what turns out to be an extended Reporting Scotland with a glitzy new studio then viewers may well switch off. But if what emerges is an emboldened, grown up, diverse and creative hour of nightly news then it could positively impact on the wider quality of current affairs in Scotland.
It will take will and vision – but with that and the latent talent and creativity at BBC Scotland, we could find a way.