The Joy of Six

_88440236_bbcgettyThe cancellation of the Scottish Six broadcast is the end of one of Scotland’s longest-running media sagas. It’s an issue that used to be a central aspiration of the Scottish democracy movement. It’s not just about a lens through which we see the world, but a lens through which the world sees us. As recently as 2014, Angus Robertson wrote [‘The lack of a Scottish Six O’Clock News is a major democratic flaw’]. After commenting that viewers in Scotland have to sit through half-hour bulletins that may have no domestic news relevant to their lives, before Scottish news is broadcast as a budget regional news programme, he noted that:

“The blanket coverage of Farage in Scotland almost certainly helped Ukip enjoy its first success here – and it is not the SNP that might have won that sixth European seat but the Greens. Ukip won 10.4 per cent of the vote, the Greens 8.1 per cent. For anyone to argue that the two parties had equal coverage is preposterous. I rarely saw a Green candidate on television, whereas Farage was rarely off it. This is because the BBC’s priorities and allocation of airtime reflected the parties’ positions in the UK as a whole (read England), so we in Scotland had to suffer wall-to-wall Farage even though before the campaign his party barely registered in opinion polls north of the border.”

But now as Lord Tony Hall is about to announce the plans are scrapped, large sections of the indy movement just shrug. Such is the contempt for BBC Scotland that what used to be a key aim of the nationalist movement is now treated as a bad joke. This is a bad mistake drawn from a limiting obsession. As the Sunday Herald editorial states today:

“Is Scotland a nation or not? If you believe, like this newspaper does, that we are indeed a nation equal to any other, then it is beyond ridiculous, beyond insulting and beyond toleration that Scotland is being denied its own nightly news programme. Any free country must be able to reflect the world as it sees it through its own independent media. As such the decision by BBC chiefs in London to permanently rule out a Scottish Six TV news programme could not be more toxic. Scotland’s will is already being flouted over Brexit – and now grey men in London have added insult to injury by crushing the opportunity for us to have a simple news programme….Scotland is being treated like a region. We are not Yorkshire or Cornwall or the Welsh valleys or the Glens of Antrim – we are a country. When the BBC’s director general Lord Hall appears before Holyrood’s culture committee on Thursday he should be told exactly what an insult he has dealt this country and he should be left in no doubt that if this decision was taken to quell the Yes movement then it has backfired horribly… as so many BBC decisions do.”

The news service we experience is infantile and chronically under-funded, and suffers from a desperate lack of innovation.

As the NUJ’s Paul Holleran notes: “Despite the NUJ continually telling people the title of Scottish Six is a diversion and the real need is for a substantial increase in resources it is still being mentioned. It now looks like the funding will fall far short of aspirations at Pacific Quay and we will be denied the opportunity to expand BBC Scotland in a way that meets our needs.”

Blogger Paul Kavanagh adds: “Basque broadcaster EITB gets £106m in government. funds plus ad revenue. 4 terrestrial TV channels, 1 satellite channel, international channel, 5 radio.”

There’s no doubt we are hurtling backwards, in fact we now have no dedicated weekly political programme on the radio, never mind the telly, since the (slightly cringeworthy) Big Debate was cancelled. This despite the momentous times we live in, the historic presence in Westminster and the potential talent pool of news journalists, producers and researchers in Scotland.

The Sunday Herald reported that: “Senior BBC managers in Scotland were informed of the decision by top brass in London ahead of Hall’s appearance before Holyrood’s culture committee — where he will be accompanied by the broadcaster’s Scottish director Donalda MacKinnon. He is likely to face vigorous questioning, and she will undoubtedly be asked whether she agrees with the decision. ”

This is a massive – and potentially humiliating – occasion for Donalda MacKinnon.

As the Sunday Herald comments:

Paul Holleran, Scottish organiser of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said the move showed the BBC’s attitude to Scotland “stinks”. Holleran claimed “a big part” of the decision was driven by a desire to curb the influence of Scotland, amid the prospect of a second independence referendum. He said: “It’s political decision-making. We won’t be given enough money to expand the news programme. It’s really stupid to rule out any expanded news programme. “Part of it must be a political kick in the teeth, as it’s saying we’re not going to help you move to a more independently resourced Scotland network.” He added: “It’s about keeping things centralised and wanting to control everything. They want to control the agenda set by London and Westminster, but the Scottish Six equivalent they’d see as coming into conflict with that view.”

In a multi-channel world the much discredited BBC Scotland needs to innovate and progress and respond to the new political realities.

By dumping the Scottish Six, the BBC are consigning Scotland to being a region, and a regional backwater at that. By disowning the idea of a national news programme, much of the nationalist movement, who often argue that broadcasting news was the key to losing (and winning) a referendum and reaching a different audience are also shooting themselves in the foot. For those who fetishise an anti-BBC agenda maybe this will be the cause of celebration. Who knows?

Lord Hall, or someone, will have to argue that a) they don’t have enough money to resource this (they do)  b) there’s not much going on (there is) c) or there isn’t the talent here (that’s embarrassing) or d) this is somehow so editorially difficult to manage as being impossible. It will be fascinating to see which of these ridiculous options they decide to frame their decision around.

This is bound to backfire. It will be seen as explicitly political and insulting. The message is clear: you are not a nation, nothing happens here. We will be left with an embarrassing underfunded broadcaster facing large-scale contempt and a huge credibility problem. We should aspire to much better.

Comments (27)

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  1. c rober says:

    dumping or assassinated?

    I say this because as it has became a total anti Holyrood , and as the reports suggest that 3/4 of misinformation comes from the Tories as “news” , and of course as viewers dive as a result – then its like it has been scuttled.

    For the life of me I wonder why they never instead did a NON sport NEWS program , shifting sports news to perhaps 3 times a week , where twice it already has reason ie football fixtures.

    I doubt there will be much of a funeral.

  2. Alex M says:

    Perhaps it’s time for Holyrood to recommend all Scots pay only 55% of the TV licence as that is all the BBC give in value.

  3. Polwarthian says:

    I agree with much of this article, but I’m confused by this statement…

    “Such is the contempt for BBC Scotland that what used to be a key aim of the nationalist movement is now treated as a bad joke. This is a bad mistake drawn from a limiting obsession.”

    What exactly are you suggesting should be done…what should we do…what should the Scottish Government actually do that would change this ridiculous situation? It’s not good enough to just tell us we can’t ignore it…what is your alternative?

    1. Well we’re stymied by the fact that broadcasting isn’t devolved, so that needs to change. But I’m commenting on the fact that we are so obsessed with anti-BBC rhetoric that we ignore an opportunity to change its output. It would be very difficult for a properly funded national news programme to ignore belittle or traduce Scottish political life. I think it’s a real mistake for people to reject this opportunity. Responses to Hall’s announcement – if the Sunday Herald is correct – could be various. A poll-tax style refusal to pay? An innovative ambitious online news programme? Support / advocacy for a C4 product? I don’t know, there are various alternatives but I suppose the central idea is we should demand a national broadcast service in whatever form that takes.

      1. Kenny says:

        A non-payment campaign is a good idea, but I think we all know it’s unlikely to gain any real traction unless Sturgeon herself were to lead the charge.

        A letter-writing campaign and/or a petition to Westminster might get some powerful people’s attention but it’s unlikely they’d care. They care very little about treating Scotland with any respect at the best of times.

        There’s a strategy from the protests around Stuttgart’s new train station (that ultimately changed the state government, though sadly didn’t stop the station redevelopment) that I like. Every night at 7pm, people opened their windows or went on to the street and made a racket for a minute. If we could replicate that across Scotland, it might become difficult to ignore.

        For me though, the only real solution is a legal remedy. Everyone living in Scotland experiences racial discrimination at the hands of the BBC (as do our friends in Wales and the north of Ireland.) We pay the same licence fee as our English friends but we receive a lesser service. Newsnight covers international issues, of course, but often focuses on the English NHS or prisons or policing or education. I can’t recall a time anything Scottish (other than constitutional issues) has ever been a story there. Meanwhile, we don’t even get Scotland 201* any more. Timeline is a shambles. It didn’t even manage any analysis of the Scottish budget on the day it was debated in Holyrood. If democracy requires a functioning media apparatus then the BBC is failing to support democracy in Scotland.

        You could also add in the fact that we all contribute to the £100m or so that gets spent on English football each year but only £4m goes to all Scottish sport combined. There’s probably work you could do to look at the number of Scottish drama roles and so on as well; it diminishes our culture that so little quality television is ever made here or about us. When you add up all these things, along with the Scottish Six arguments, I think it’s a pretty strong case for racial discrimination.

        People will scream that we’re nutters and paranoid and whatnot, but imagine putting Blair in the witness box to explain his political maneuvering against a Scottish Six in 1997. Imagine asking Gary Lineker why Scottish football doesn’t even deserve a proportionate share of MOTD’s budget and coverage. Imagine making Tony Hall explain why the most powerful devolved parliament in the world now has less televised scrutiny than Scotland had on TV before devolution. I think the case is unanswerable. So do most nationalists. So why don’t we fight that case?

      2. Mary White says:

        But the fact that we always come back to is that bbc are in essence, a state broadcaster. And so we’re always going to get Westminster sanctioned propaganda no matter what we do.
        I have to say, that I for one was not going to continue paying to fund the absolute vitriol which was coming into my living room, and I cut my license just over a year or so ago.
        I’m afraid, until it’s either devolved, or we achieve Indy, I’m not interested in funding it. It’s a corrupt construct.

        1. Jeff says:

          Well said. I wonder how many (thousands?) of us have cancelled the BBC tax and no longer watch their Jackie Bird Pish? Pay to be lied to? No thanks.

  4. Juan P says:

    Perhaps also time for some of those in the indy movement to stop looking down their noses at g a ponsonby who has done a tremendous job exposing the inherent bias of the bbc.

    The most important reserved power is clearly broadcasting. Westminster would devolve defence and immigration before they would let us broadcast our own news.

    We will struggle to win indyref2 unless we find a successful way to challenge the ‘fake news’ that the bbc will undoubtedly pump out incessantly during the course of the campaign.

    1. c rober says:

      Lets not forget Prf J Robertson too , whom has decided to instead now talk up Scotland and avoid the bbc and media bias – roses rather than horse manure.

  5. Mike says:

    I truly believe Westminster is trying to destroy journalism in Scotland. Just like other industries before it, coal, steel, shipbuilding etc and after independence will have to be rebuilt. A scorched earth policy of anything useful.

    1. c rober says:

      Old media is dead , the circ figures for print are fractions of what they once were , tv viewing figures too are declining – other than for footy.

      But that means the fake news needs another output , not just on the websites , or broadcasts repeating them as in the case of the “SCOTLAND says no to an indy ref II” front page headlines , then onto peak sbbc news – also popping up as paid items to look like its on the news page itself.

      If billionaires and millionaires control the media , they are called king makers for a reason. One only needs to look deep at the links with M and Tories , or the owners of the Express and Mail , one of which has went full ukip.

      As I often say these are the definers of our voting habits , the protectors of personal wealthy , the tools of those like them.

      It wasnt so long ago that the BBC was called Nulabours , same as many of the red tops , but that was when they were tory lite. Every single heavy hitter of old nulabour had strings into media , print and broadcast , and today the Scottish Tories even have an ex bbc leader.

  6. Willie says:

    Welcome to the most powerful devolved parliament in the world.

    And last week the Westminster Government and Of com announced that they had agreement with the internet search engine companies to de-rank illegal music, film and other pirate sites like possibly ………….Bella Caleddonia, Wings Over Scotland, or who knows else.?

    1. c rober says:

      FFS WIllie your think thats the limit , if only..

      Every single call , email , website visit is now logged by the ISP… of course under Terror laws and piracy. But what is the bigger picture?

      Think back to the London Riots , or just before them to be precise.

      As our unelected PM stood in Westminster championing protests and the Arab Spring he complained about the regimes and their control of the internet. Fast forward , one London Riot , along comes the kill switch legislation. You cannot tell me this is pure control of the masses?

      The piracy thing proves corporate protection , which means too cosy to those that own the media as a result – and that is FOX and Murdoch et al. It means protecting their income , their subscriptions and preventing cord cutters – but there is always a bill to pay.

      When Netflix took off it was attacked , its now taking on the big boys in creating content of its own , much like that of Amazon wanting a chunk. The baby bells , these are the telcos and cable companies in America started doing caps , traffic shaping , removing the abilty to stream without buffering , or to watch UHD and HD content.

      So why are we not knocking on their door about news and TV supply for Scotland? Westminster may regulate the airwaves , it doesnt regulate the satelite one that is now a monopoly , or cable monopoly – nor the internet.

  7. Gordon McShean says:

    Long, long ago (I was 17) I got involved in what I thought was serious Scottish media action. I’d been involved with Robert Curran (SNP National Secretary) in various initiatives that even SNP officers considered were “not politically advantageous”). I’d attempted to get BBC coverage of some of the things we’d been doing, but had been totally ignored. But then, when I hitchhiked to France and got interviewed on their short-wave English programme, the Froggies let me broadcast an interview telling of our difficulties in getting recognition i Scotland. I was chuffed. Within a year, back in Glasgow, I was informed I could be arrested at any time…! Now – here I am in NZ – having lived to 80 – and still (technically) on the run. I continue to be amazed at the difficulty we “extremists” have in getting media coverage. I’d be tempted to agree with Trump about the danger of the media’s actions (but I can’t agree that he somehow shares any opinion of mine. Nevertheless, I feel I must propound my view that any nation’s media (regardless of the nation involved) must necessarily (regardless of the nation involved) be relied upon to treat disagreeable individuals as disposable. The international news (never mind the UK media) are members of a big club (it may be that a certain half-Scots billionaire golf-club owner has an even bigger “national” following – and the support of a big international millionaire club). Obama may have been a member. It is a bugger that golf seems to have an influence upon the media and politics than all nationalists, anywhere!

  8. punklin says:

    “We should aspire to muc better”

    We do, we do. But how to get it?

  9. Graeme Purves says:

    Spot on Mike! And I can’t see that Donalda MacKinnon’s position is tenable.

  10. Eleanor Ferguson says:

    Perhaps we won’t need to do much to get people voting “yes” in the next independence referendum – London will do it for us.

  11. Gaga Glasgow says:

    If the BBC went ahead with some sort of Scottish News programme, it would be rancid anyway. They’d only do that if it served their goals as a propaganda tool.

    Most people I know couldn’t care less and are resigned to do something about it after independence.

    People who are involved in the TV, showbiz, journalism, reporting, etc., are the people who are most likely to sell Scotland down the river.

    I’ve witnessed a few radical types being co-opted into the system over the years and come out the other side transformed. A few crumbs of attention and a pay cheque here and there seems to be all it takes to buy their souls.

    One minute you’re singing to the Indy movement in a George Square, next minute you’re on BBC Radio with cheques from anti-SNP bigwigs in the post?

    I know, I know. poetic licence.

    1. c rober says:

      You mean like those that said they would leave America if Trump was elected – now strangely quiet.

      We as people must assume that the power is rigged in the favour of the wealthy – it has always been that way.

      The poor dont own media , and that power shifted to the elecorate has receeded to were it was before , despite communism , and socialism perverted into bank’s debt repayment in many forms , where both of the political ideologies were eventual enablers and protectors. America was founded on protecting the wealth of the few , where its politicians , presidents now are millionaires , or billionaires elected just like those Socialists and Communists to drain the swamp , ie wealth dispersal.

      SO what I say is bring them in , yes use the very warnings from the McCrone report that also applies outwith oil of low taxes meaning money flooding in. Protect and grow that wealth , ethically , with wrappers and lower taxes…. yep , ITS me saying lowering taxes for the wealthy , who would have thunk it?

      If we see the same people using power and influence to protect their wealth , supplying our shackles in order to do so , then offer them more than the status qou – offer them investment bonds , lower tax rates… its worked for the Tories , it worked for Nulbaour , so why not for an independent Scotland?

      We elect their enablers and protectors that eventually become them. The millionaire socialists , the billionaire communists – they are democratically elected , only seeking to hear us but 6 months of every 5 years , where crumbs are dropped from the table – they essentially become out maisters albeit with their own.

      That is one of the reasons for the decline of what was Scotlands socialists , SLAB. Whom had become TORY LITE , then betrayers of Scotland to protect not just their own jobs , but that of their English counterparts over their electorates , and enablers of McCrone and moving the maritime border… to the point of were the drain is now the unionist wealthy see that power drain and have crawled back under their original rock.

  12. Elaine Fraser says:

    What we can do is continue to attend local meetings or discussion groups or get togethers or whatever to exchange ideas and share experiences. I think one of the great things about indy1 was turning the tv off, getting off my backside and getting out to meet folk perhaps very different from me and understanding we’re all in this together . I know tv will have a major role to play but still think theres no substitute for face to face to help you make up your mind and see for yourself without spin.

  13. Campbell Grant says:

    We keep going round on circles on this, as many have said many times the clue is in the name!

    bbc is running a misinformation campaign on Scotland the aim being to undermine the SNP and independence.

    Even when they run with a story, a story worthy of broadcasting in any country, they do it with dig or implied suggestion it’s the SNPs fault.

    Today there was the story on cancer survival rates across the classes, they never thought to explain why poor people’s chances are poorer than those well off. I see some additional polices the SNP could implement, clear food labelling, minimum price alcohol, subsidising gym memberships for people on benefits or greater education for new mums, but as with many public health issues, people have to change Teri own behaviours.

    I long to live in a country where the press and media are objective and alteria motives not always to the fore.

    Scotland deserves better than the bbc!

  14. Tadmor says:

    Gratuitous ethnic insults like this happen because the Scots, unlike the Basques, Catalans etc, are perceived as being placid, cowed or collectively indifferent. Broadcasting is culture, a topic that seems to fly beyond the intellectual grasp of most in our retarded state of Enders and Corrie junkies, and even that of most nationalist politicians.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “Broadcasting is culture”, that is right, and culture is primarily dependent upon and influenced by language. A ‘Scots Language Act’ (giving Scots speakers equality with the Gaelic Language Act, and also equality with English speakers to some extent) would include provision for a Scots Language Channel, of which news should be but one (small) part of its much wider potential output. There is nothing to stop the SNP Scottish Government from passing a Scots Language Act, and with it seeking to develop a distinct Scots Language Channel to equalise what has been done for Gaelic Language, and to counter over representation of cultural-English broadcasting. Perhaps there is a question there for Donalda, and for the Holyrood Committee members too?

  15. w.b.robertson says:

    instead of moaning about the MSM and the BBC, why not try something positive…like Holyrood campaigning to take over Alba TV… and then expanding its base to include news coverage and to become a full blown independent Scottish alternative to the present London controlled set up? Or do we all just like to howl in protest at the status quo?

    1. Gaga Glasgow says:

      Go and do it, then. It’s your proposal. If you don’t try then you are just howling in the wind too.

  16. Donnie McCulloch says:

    the bbc is London based.

    the bbc is a state broadcaster.

    the bbc are beholden to the government of the day, so 70 % of the time tory controlled.

    Scotland is a stepping stone to greater prospects in London or Manchester.

    Scotland gets given what London wants to give us!

    No one is Peking for bbc in Scotland will stand their own against those in London, mirroring the unionist parties in London.

    bbc do not really care what Scots think

    Donald’s will be in post until something better elsewhere turns up.

    Should Scots be surprised at bbc anti Scottish and anti Scottish independence ias – no, all of the above!

  17. SleepingDog says:

    So the Guardian’s news that “BBC to launch Scottish TV channel with hour-long news programme
    ” will be welcome to many?
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/22/bbc-to-launch-scottish-tv-channel-with-hour-long-news-programme

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