Memorandum submitted by the Broadcasting
Council for Scotland (PDB 10)
As part of its response to devolution, the BBC
expanded and reshaped news and political programmes in Scotland
to deliver comprehensive coverage of Parliamentary activities
in Westminster, Holyrood and Brussels. The Council feels devolution
coverage has been broadly based, and of a high standard.
But there is a continuing need to strike the
right balance in coverage across three Parliaments, for smooth
handling of junctions between network and opt out programming,
and to minimise duplication where Scottish stories appear in both
UK and Scottish bulletins. The awareness of BBC staff generally
of different legislative responsibilities across the UK also needs
to be continually monitored.
Of current issues, perhaps the most pressing
is the need to develop a style of political coverage which has
greater appeal for young people.
The Broadcasting Council for Scotland,
which acts as the BBC Board of Governors' primary adviser in Scotland,
monitors public opinion, commissions research as part of an annual
review process and advises the Governors on progress against objectives
for BBC Scotland management
One of the areas under review this
year is News and Current Affairs (the other being Sport). An external
assessment panel is reporting to the Council and a detailed audience
research exercise has been undertaken, the results of which will
help the Council in its internal assessment of services for the
The Council receives an annual presentation
on News issues from the departmental head, as well as monthly
reports, which help members in their monitoring and reporting
of programmes and services
1.1 Before devolution became a reality,
the BCS was clear that the BBC needed to respond to constitutional
change by finding new ways of delivering news and current affairs
to audiences in Scotland and across the UK.
1.2 As part of a series of discussions with
BBC management, the Council set out its view that, as part of
the overall response to devolution, a priority should be to establish
a new programme, edited and produced in Glasgow, which would order
local, national and international news appropriately.
1.3 This proposal, which had been discussed
before by the BBC (and separately by Scottish Television) offered,
in the Council's view, a new solution to meet audience demand
and deliver competitive advantage. It remained the preferred option
of the BCS.
1.4 In December 1998, the Board of Governors
rejected the advice of the Council on a "Scottish Six"
as it was known, but instead promised new investment of £10
million a year to provide coverage of Parliament and politics
with an integrated approach to the 6-7 pm news hour, the creation
of Newsnight Scotland, a network news editor in Scotland
to supervise coverage from Scotland for the rest of the BBC, and
training for BBC journalists so that the impact of devolution
was fully understood across the organisation.
1.5 Since then, BBC Scotland has used the
extra funds to deliver comprehensive coverage of Parliamentary
activities at Westminster, Holyrood and Brussels through a range
of programmes including Holyrood Live, Holyrood,
Scottish Questions and Prime Minister's Questions
on television and Politics Tonight, Lesley Riddoch and
Scottish Questions as well as the main strands such as Good
Morning Scotland and Newsdrive on Radio Scotland.
1.6 Other services have also provided accessible
and comprehensive services, namely News Online with live video
and audio streaming of programmes and in Gaelic there is a weekly
news review programme, a current affairs series and the European
affairs series, Eorpa.
2. CURRENT POSITION
2.1 Members welcomed the efforts made to
ensure that staff across the UK were fully aware of the impact
of the new devolved bodies, and that there was a comprehensive
understanding of the different legislative responsibilities across
the UK. However, there needs to be continuing monitoring and training.
2.2 The Council has continued to monitor
and report on the strengths and weaknesses of programmes and services,
and this year is conducting a detailed review of News and Current
2.3 Last year, as reported in the Annual
Review, members said that devolution coverage was broadly based
and of a high standard.
2.4 Areas for concern have centred on the
need to find the right balance in the amount of coverage devoted
to Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels; the "central belt"
feel of Reporting Scotland (though it performed well in
a tough market); and, although improvements were noted, the handling
of the junction of Newsnight and Newsnight Scotland
which remained, on occasion, problematic.
2.5 Members believe that the 6-7 pm news
hour has shown a greater coherence and integration than at any
time before and audience performance has been encouraging, with
Reporting Scotland drawing good audiences, particularly
during the Autumn. Nonetheless there remain some concerns about
the relative balancing of items which need to be reported in both
halves of the hour.
2.6 There has also been a noticeably greater
inclusion of Scottish material in the network news at 6 pm, though
the Council believes that there is more to be done in reflecting
the UK to the UK in that half hour.
3.1 Voter turnout at elections is only one
indicator of interest but, as BBC programme-makers discussed at
a seminar in November, falling turnout and reported disillusionment
with political institutions and processes at the very least requires
close examination of the current output and whether it is up to
the task that it is required to perform.
3.2 Young people in particular (across the
UK) apparently do not believe that there is much of relevance
to them and that much of the present coverage is inaccessible
and fails to engage.
3.3 Given the wider review of politics by
the BBC, and the transition to digital services, there is an opportunity
to establish new connections and context in output with issues
and events in Scotland and those which are happening at European
and global levels.
3.4 The competitive context in Scotland
may alter radically if speculation about major changes in the
structures of commercial broadcasting is proved to be accurate.
It is important that the BBC has to contend with high quality
original programming, not just in news and current affairs but
in other genres too.
3.5 There is a constant challenge to ensure
that a reasonable balance is struck in terms of coverage of Westminster,
Holyrood and Brussels.
3.6 It is particularly the case when party
representation in the Scottish Parliament differs from Westminster
and therefore demands a distinctive editorial approach to how
minority parties are represented in mainstream output.
3.7 Considering the wealth of detail and
debate on issues such as health, education, transport, land reform
and many others for which the Scottish Parliament has legislative
responsibility, there inevitably remains a media focus on activities
7 December 2001