A Newsroom of Her Own – Women and the Scottish Six

imageThe 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.




Comments (19)

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  1. Broadbield says:

    Your 4th last para sums up the problem – the “whitelist” of usual suspects, the safe hands who can be trusted not to be too radical or critique the status quo. I don’t have TV, but I used to listen to GMS and Newsdrive until recently, and I don’t see much sign of talent. Jobsworths, yes. As for the phone-in programme (cheap, lazy journalism) you mention, it’s execrable, judging from the very few times I’ve heard bits of it, fronted by someone of no obvious ability.

  2. Alex Grant says:

    My concern is that the conditioned view of many that it would be ‘crap/parochial’ is likely to be fulfilled by the BBC due to both lack of funding or a desire to see it succeed when they have blocked it for so long. Why would the BBC wish to prove themselves wrong?? Of course those of us who know it could and should succeed have pretty much concluded only an independent Scottish substitute for BBC Scotland is necessary. Then the ‘good guys’ currently in the BBC could thrive

  3. Alf Baird says:

    I fear we will end up with one hour of BBC anti-Scotland bias rather than the current 30 minutes of bias.

    Some of the important societal issues you are referring to would be better covered in investigative current affairs and other types of programme, and not necessarily only in the news prog. I favour a new ‘Scots Language’ channel, to follow on from BBC Alba and the Gaelic Language Act 2005. A Scots Language Act should therefore be introduced allowing for a new Scots channel to be developed and for it to work on producing all types of programmes of which daily news would be one. Such an Act is also essential to ensure equality and in widening access to the language – enablin Scots bairns tae lairn thair ectual leid in schuil anaw.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      I see that cultural discrimination is alive and well. Worth remembering that the Scottish cultural cringe “…is said to manifest as feelings of low self-worth and embarrassment felt by Scottish people in response to overt expressions of Scottish cultural identity and heritage such as the Lowland Scots and Scottish Gaelic languages….” (Unger, J. (2010) “Legitimating inaction: Differing identity constructions of the Scots language” in European Journal of Cultural Studies Volume 13:99-117)

      We will arguably never sort out our nation until we fully recognise and raise up (i.e. teach bairns, even) oor ain language.

  4. Broadbield says:

    There are other issues which might be worth exploring such as why shouldn’t the network news be based in Glasgow (or Cardiff, or Belfast). Ah, but the seat of government is in London. Well why is the government in London and not somewhere else?

    1. Alex Beveridge says:

      Are you trying to give the collective establishment an apoplectic fit Broadbield? Not a bad idea of course, but as we know they, those in power, will never give up what they consider their birthright. That is to rule over the rest of us for evermore, well at least until we gain our independence. And that is why the notion of a “Scottish Six”, or a news programme by any other name, will not work. All we will get is sixty minutes of “S.N.P Baad”, instead of thirty.
      The only solution is the obvious one, gain independence, and establish a Scottish Broadcasting Service. Any other idea is just pie in the sky.

  5. Derek says:

    At the moment, the Scottish news at 6:30 exactly parallels news from London / from the South / name region of choice. And having lived in the south I can cheerfully claim their dahn sarf news is no better, no worse than what’s pumped out by Jackie Bird and her pals north of the border. It’s regional, not national. The BBC only does National at 6, based on London. At 6:30 it goes regional, and news in Scotland is no different from news in Reading or news in Brighton. Name a regional town of your choice.
    It will take a complete new mindset to get the BBC to treat news in Scotland as national not regional.
    It would help if they simply spent more on quality Scottish output, whether news, entertainment, politics or ‘serious stuff’ a la Neil Oliver 🙂

    1. John says:

      The thing about the English regions is they have no SNP BAD element to their news ! .

    2. Marcia Blaine says:

      Neil Oliver is serious? Well that’s a new one… oh, you’re being ironic

  6. Rab Cochrane says:

    bbc, clue as said may times is in the name.

    You can put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig.

    The reason media has not been devolved is that Westminster knows its contribution to maintain the union.

    Imagine an independent media in Scotland that turned round and said to the public that the british establishment has been taking the piss out of you for years and laughing behind your backs at how gullible your are.

    The union would last five minutes.

    Notions that we will get parity or fairness with unionism in the media are naive, we will and do get shafted at every opportunity.

    Can anyone on here say hand on heart that they trust the bbc?

  7. C Rober says:

    There is a simple answer , remove the devolved power that is London controlled state media all together , as well as prevention of oligarchs like Murdoch , to where state tv is people owned therefore answerable to the people – not their politicians and wealthy allies/bosses.

    Secondly while the author is correct in addressing the Spousal abuse scourge of Scotland , and thus the expense in lives and economy as a result , perhaps they are also unknowingly addressing mandate based news- thus not news at all , but like MS and SBBC promoting propaganda based news avoidance , regardless of whom controls it.

    Lastly there is no need for a Scottish BBC news at six hour at all , without actually doing MOSTLY Scottish News. There is many countries with the population of Scotland that somehow manages to do news also , without being told what items to run , directly or indirectly from a central unit that controls content or being parochial.

    The simple answer is to avoid repeating the “other channels” news. AS we know if you go from STV to SBBC you will find the same items , exactly , that are perhaps questionable on whether they are news articles at all. This is important to prevent the often warned about “paraochial” aspect , fluff pieces of say like American Local news reporting.

    And so to do that perhaps SPORT can be simply moved to 10pm , to a “worthy” 30m program of its own , and only there , freeing up nearly half of the current slot for Scottish news. In todays society with connected devices , with hard drive recording , catchup , then its now more technically able to do so.

  8. Darby O'Gill says:

    How can you have a totalitarian Scottish Government when no party has a majority in Parliament?

  9. Gordon Benton says:

    Perhaps a Scottish Channel could bring news too from out with the country. There are tens of millions of Scots and those descendants of Scots living all around the World. They buy and sell our exports; the Scottish diaspora can ‘sell’ the Nation, as does the Irish for their country. Time to embrace our exiles? They can be wonderful ambassadors, many about which great stories can be made.

  10. Roland Stiven says:

    What is wrong with parochial? We have virtually no news from vast swathes of Scotland unless it’s a car accident or something to do with Calmac ferries – which is as much as most people can identify about Scotland outside the central belt. Do we really believe nothing of any importance happens there?

    1. Haideng says:

      I fully agree. Many people outside of the West of Scotland/ Glasgow will be skeptical of a Scottish six because it will in practice be a ‘Glasgow six’ and it’ll be a case of ‘and the news from where you are’ for Aberdeen/ Dundee/ Highlands/ Borders/ Isles etc. BBC Scotland is bad enough already with regards to West Coast bias, BBC outside of the central belt (especially Aberdeen) was the first to get slashed in the cost cutting. Too much centralisation, in politics and media.

  11. Haideng says:

    Interesting piece. Mixed feelings about a Scottish six, primarily because it isn’t all that relevant any more with the advent of iplayer and other media sources. But there is certainly scope for an alternative perspective on serious issues from a non London centric media outlet which is perhaps a better option (a decent current affairs program that is primarily about the issues but with greater depth and focus rather than a few sound bites + through a different lens). Problem is there are already quite a few alternatives to choose from. IMO one of the most underrated programs the BBC does is Eorpa (even though I’m not a Gaelic speaker.) Really interesting choice of issues and a thoughtful non preachy/ dogmatic way of exploring them.

    Oh and I couldn’t help but have a wry ‘ironic’ chuckle to myself as I (a white middle aged/ middle class man) gives his 2 pence worth along all the other ‘white men’ (I’m guessing) in the comments section on a piece which is essentially about the media’s neglect with regards to reporting violence against women.

    1. c rober says:

      eorpa has some of the best pre indy ref documentaries on tv , one on the oil and mccrone was really good , then again it probably only got aired because of the lack of gaelic speakers in the country itself , so the powers that be new if wouldnt get many eyes and ears watching it.

      1. c rober says:

        new- knew

  12. Dave says:

    An honest point of view from the opposing corner:

    I live in the central belt. I want to hear about anything important that’s going on in Glasgow and Edinburgh, what’s happening in UK politics, and any interesting murders, terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

    Could not give a flying fuck about fishing regulations in Shetland.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, anything north of Stirling is basically a foreign country. I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in thinking that, which is why there’s no mass demand for the national six o’clock news to be replaced by a version filtered for Scotland only.

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