Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
40. Yes. With radio, there is still a competitive
advantage, I would say, in the news of the BBC in local radio
broadcasting. I do not think that extends to television broadcasting.
That was one of the last decisions to be taken.
(Mr McCormick) It was. We had to set priorities in
terms of funding, and we had the local news service which exists
from Aberdeen, from Inverness, Orkney and Shetland, Dumfries and
Selkirk, and those local news services continue. In terms of setting
the priorities, we could go further in that direction and provide
three or four other local services, but we decided to put the
resources into strengthening the quality of Radio Scotland. Also,
within this next coming year, we shall be streaming those local
news services online and giving local communities the opportunity
to create local community web sites with the BBC about activities
in the local community with the local news from the BBC as part
of that service that is streaming to online. We have had a number
of representations from people in different areas who used to
live there, who live in different parts of Scotland now and live
in different parts of the UK, where they say they would take advantage
of that. So we are developing those online services over the next
few months to strengthen the local service that we provide in
those existing areas. Then we are going to go looking at how we
can use online to develop further local services in other parts
of Scotland that do not have a local service from us at the moment.
There seems enough indication from the success of our online services
at the moment that that may be the way to go in the future. So
we have that great potential of the online services which are
working very well for us at the moment. That gives us a potential
with relatively modest investment to expand the local services
for different communities in Scotland.
41. I was interested in what you were saying
about the local aspect with particular reference to Grampian.
I thought it was the exact opposite to what you were saying: there
is a fear in the Grampian area that there is a consolidation,
or a potential consolidation, in ITV that will lead to a reduction
in local programming through the ITV network and individual stations.
I wondered if the BBC has any plans to increase that local output
from the likes of Aberdeen or Inverness or whatever one's television
is, as opposed to radio?
(Mr Jenkins) What we have done in television, because
again, it is almost something you can think of in parallel with
what network news have tried to do in reflecting the whole of
the UK. One of the ways in which Reporting Scotland tries
to make sure that it is relevant and watched and watchable in
all parts of Scotland is when we are doing a storywhether
it is health or education or anything elsewe tend to now
make a very conscious effort to look for the illustration or the
examples that exemplify the problem or the issue. We go to the
North-East and the North-West. We go to the Borders. We quite
consciously try to get out of the Central Belt in order to illustrate
stories. The other thing, I think, that has been of significant
help to us is that we have two satellite trucks available in Scotland
which enable us to broadcast live from anywhere effectivelyany
part of the mainland or any of the islands. One of those is based
in Glasgow, the other is based in Dundee and very much faces north.
It is most usually broadcasting live from a location north of
Dundee, whether it is Aberdeen, Inverness or further afield. So
we try and be very visibly around Scotland and to be seen as covering
the whole patch and not just congregating in the Central Belt.
42. But do you have any plansis there
a possibilityof putting resources into specifically having
news reporters in different parts of Scotland?
(Mr Jenkins) We have. We do have very substantial
newsrooms in most of the main centres around Scotland. We have
reporters in Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness, Shetland, Dumfries and
Selkirk. We are right around Scotland in terms of reporter coverage.
Where we do not have reporters, we will quite often have arrangements
with local freelancers, and freelance cameramen, in sizeable towns
to make sure that we can get coverage from right around Scotland.
(Mr McCormick) There is also wider general television,
non-journalistic televisionyou know Aberdeen is our second
centre for television. We have always concentrated television
between Glasgow as headquarters, and also Aberdeen. It is very
important for us to continue with Aberdeen as the specialist area
for rural affairs in the broadest sense of rural affairs broadcasting.
We have a new community series broadcast on BBC2 digital at the
moment, Inside Scotland, which is looking at different
communities around Scotland and that is produced deliberately
from Aberdeen to give different perspectives and to introduce
a whole new range of voices. So it is very important to us that
our colleagues in Aberdeen are producing programmes not just for
Scotland but they are also producing more for the UK radio networks,
giving a different perspective.
43. First of all, can I welcome the BBC's decision
for the development and expansion in Scotland. I am aware that
you have made a very wise decision to select an ideal site! I
am sure you will feel at home there. My question is, the memorandum
from the Scottish Media Group
suggests that devolution has transferred to Edinburgh the political
issues of most concern to viewers, and has caused improvements
in scrutiny, accountability and access to Ministers, thereby leading
to significant changes in the programme content. What is your
(Mr McCormick) Certainly, the same, in
the sense that the issues of concerns to families, with the social
issues and the social agenda and where the political agenda is
putting the emphasis on public services, the interest that we
have from our viewers and listeners across the board tells us
that. One is not surprised to see the priorities are the political
agenda on health, transport, education and the wider social services.
The fact that those are devolved to Scotland means that we have
been able, in our coverage of the Holyrood Parliament, both in
the live coverage and in the recorded coverage, to give a lot
more time to those in our air time than previously because we
have greater scrutiny of them, but also because in Westminster
and in Holyrood these are very high up the political agenda because
they are of such importance to viewers and voters across the whole
of Scotland. So the UK picture is mirrored in our experience in
44. Do you not think it is important for the
viewers to listen to news, what is happening in the British Parliament
too? We feel that there is no right balance as far as the coverage
is concerned between the British Parliament and the Scottish Parliament.
We understand issues are devolved, but there are many issues still
in the British Parliament which the viewer will find interesting.
(Mr McCormick) I think in terms of a specific coverage
of the parliament, apart from the news programmes, we have the
coverage of Westminster on the Tuesday. On the Wednesday we always
take Prime Minister's Questions live and associated broadcasting.
Then we have Holyrood live and then we have Holyrood on a Thursday.
So we try, over those three days, to make sure we are giving a
proper representation to the issues debated at Westminster. We
also give live coverage to Scottish Questions, giving live coverage
in the afternoon. It does attract a significant audience. Then
we transmit a recording of that late at night. The audience for
that can depend very much on the programme that precedes it. There
was a terrifically high audience for the Secretary of State for
Scotland and her new opposite number from the Conservative benches
when the programme followed the transmission of Braveheart.
There was a record-breaking audience for it. So the audience for
that programme may be in more relation to the programme that precedes
this, so we take very great care over the programme that precedes
it, and Braveheart led to a record audience. So the Scottish
Questions and the time we give to Scottish Questions, and also
to the ministers from the Scotland Office, is a very, very important
part of the news agenda, as well as our live coverage of the parliaments
to make sure that the responsibilities of the Secretary of State
and the Ministers here in the Scotland Office are reflected in
our output. We do try to do that. I think we have a decent record
of doing that.
45. So your reasonable figures for Braveheart
are based on the Minister's appearance later on!
(Mr McCormick) That is right. It was the audience
waiting for Scottish questions, Chair. I should have realised
that. I should have put it that way. That was inelegant of me!
46. Obviously, we welcome the additional investment
that has been forthcoming. You mentioned the figures at the start,
which are impressive, not least of all the investment is going
into parts of Mr Sarwar's constituency. Can we just focus, though,
on the number of journalists who are now focused on Edinburgh,
and frankly, the working arrangements of the Scottish Parliament.
Would you agree that there is a danger, perhaps, that stories
that would not have got coverage and perhaps did not deserve coverage
become blown into overly huge stories? Is there a balancing act
here in terms of making sure that the fact that the facilities
are there, the fact that journalists are already there, that there
is not a story created about nothing?
(Mr Jenkins) Is that a question about the press and
the Scottish Parliament?
47. And broadcasting journalists?
(Mr Jenkins) And broadcasting as well? I think what
is undoubtedly true is that every media organisation responded
to the arrival of the Scottish Parliament by setting up bureaux
and operations in Edinburgh devoted to coverage of the parliament.
The volume of coverage across all media in Scotland has been,
I think, probably greater than most people would have expected
going in. There has been a very, very large amount of coverage.
As I think the Controller is indicating you have now a much more
active, occasionally volatile, public debate in Scotland on a
number of issues. That is a consequencea direct consequenceof
the setting up of the parliament, and things which were previously
partly unexplored sometimes in public debate are now very much
live issues and receive a great deal of attention. I think it
is certainly arguable that there are stories in the last couple
of years which may have been blown out of proportion. I certainly,
as a journalistnot speaking for BBC Scotland but I think
across the piece and across media generallyI think there
are stories which were blown out of proportion. I think that there
has undoubtedly been an increase in not only the quantity but
I think the quality of public debate in Scotland on a lot of key
48. Can I say, I can perhaps identify with the
issue but I do not necessarily regard it as a problem. Obviously,
given my constituency interests, fishing is something which is
very important to me. For years, Scottish MPs here have been jumping
up and down, shouting about fishing and getting precious little
coverage for doing it. That then comes up in the Scottish Parliament
and it leads to one of the single most exciting and important
political news stories to come out of Scotland last year, putting
aside any political difficulties I may have felt about it at the
time. So can I just say to you that it may be there is an issue
here but it is not one that you should feel in any way constrained
by. I think that what it has done is essentially healthy for Scottish
politics and it is giving an airing to issues which frankly are
never going to get an airing down here.
(Mr McCormick) We also have the same number of people
employed down here, to make sure that Westminster is reflected
from a Scottish perspective in all our programmes in Scotland.
That is their task. I think they do a terrific job in alerting
news editors in Scotland to what is coming up here, making sure
the interviews are taken and filed and making sure the Westminster
perspective is not lost.
49. Obviously since the creation of the Scottish
Parliament, the size of the press lobby has grown in Scotland
really remarkably. I think the figure is that we have 70 journalists
based round Holyrood for 129 politicians. I think if the statistics
were the same here at Westminster, we would have to build an extra
building across the Thames to manage to accommodate them all.
But it seems to me, certainly on TV coverage, there is an increasing
trend for a journalist to interview other journalists. This is
a sort of assessment with one journalist interviewing three other
journalists talking about what happened in parliament today, but
not one personan ordinary personfrom an organisation
or from a political party being interviewed about a topic in hand.
Is it your feeling that there has been an increasing trend for
this? What is your view about journalists interviewing other journalists?
I do feel in the last few years it has really become a very common
feature. I do wonder from the point of view of news coverage whether
or not that really is a healthy option?
(Mr Mosey) I will just make a small point about that.
You probably know the BBC at the moment is widely looking at the
whole issue of politics, and some of the research we have done
shows that people's disaffection with politics and the political
process is quite worrying and quite sizeable. Therefore one of
the things we are going to be looking at, and this will apply
to the whole of the UK, is just how we make politics more engaging.
There is an especially big burden upon us to try to make politics
relevant and at the level that people want to come to it. Equally,
though, I think it is probably true on one or two occasions that
some political interviews are quite sterile and therefore occasionally
you go to a journalist because you can try to bring out the issues
which are behind the surface rather than necessarily doing two
minutestwo minuteswith parties. So sometimes there
is a case for interviewing journalists, but I would not recommend
it as the solution for the wider political issue which we are
(Mr Jenkins) I would just like to add to what Roger
said. I would like to make a positive remark about Scottish politicians.
There have been days when I have been hugely impressed by the
fact that people who have started early and have had very long
working days then come onto Newsnight Scotland at 11 o'clock
at night for a live interview which can occasionally be a daunting
experience for them. That is not just Executive Ministers, but
also opposition politicians. I think by and large we found a great
willingness to take part in debate and to engage, and a strong
sense of accountability. I think that has been a very positive
feature of the first two years of parliament.
50. I take the point that Roger made about looking
at, shall we say, voter apathy. How much do you consider that
this is down to companies like yours actually stimulating apathy?
(Mr McCormick) I do not think they go about to stimulate
apathy, Chair, but I have to say, we were disappointed at the
last election in the audience size we got for some of our key
programmes during the election campaignprogrammes which
were put in at peak times in the schedule to create interest in
it and we noted particularly that people, when they had the alternative
to go to a drama or a comedy on the other channel, they did, in
ways that disappointed us, frankly, compared with the UK general
election previously where we had a more satisfactory approach.
Some of that, you would think, must be our responsibility. We
felt we had tried new approaches and we felt the programmes were
lively and all of that. Maybe the audience was telling us we were
not doing well enough. That is possibly number one. Number two:
maybe they were saying that the debates we were having or the
quality of the debate was not good enough to hold them for an
hour in peak time television on a Sunday night when we thought
we were debating very, very important issues for the whole of
the country. So we were disappointed in that. When it was followed
by the low turnout in the election, all of us in the BBC concerned
with journalism at every level agreed with Greg Dyke that maybe
we should have a look a what we are doing, and also look at how
the audience is behaving and reacting. A very, very important
part of the BBC's existence is to provide support for the democratic
institutions so that people can interrogate politicians so that
they can be properly accountable. So that is the issue of debate.
It is a very, very important part of our charter of responsibilities.
It is therefore worrying when on the one hand there was apathy,
as you say, and yet at the same time some of our programmes did
not excite and interest the size of audience that we wanted. I
do not think we are totally responsible in any sense for the apathy
but we have certainly taken seriously the kind of programmes we
present, to try to make sure that in forthcoming elections in
the Scottish Parliament next year and then in the forthcoming
Westminster election after that, that we have looked and listened
to the audience about what they want from our programmes. Some
of it is in the hands of the broadcaster. I have to say, some
of it is in the way the politicians react to the programmes and
to the interrogation, and how far they are willing to be open
and debate issues in an open way that the audience appreciates.
We are still looking at this research and looking at ways in which
we can improve our coverage of issues and politics to try to address
this for the next time.
51. Can I askhow much do you think is
actually down to the media? Not just yourselves but TV have to
take the bulk of responsibility, because more people see you than
read the newspapers, and the fact that you had told people that
the contest was over before it even got started. Then you try
and stimulate a contest when it was too late, because you had
already told them there was not one.
(Mr Mosey) Someone like Andy Marr, you would have
to start from the principle that it was likely that Labour were
going to win the last UK general election. That was what every
poll and every indicator and, actually, every politician of every
party I spoke to thought was likely to be the case. Having said
that, we represent the debate in as lively a way and fully as
we can. I think there are quite a lot of things we got wrong;
I do not doubt that. But equally, I think the wider issue concerning
all of us is that something about the political process at the
moment is not engaging with the electorate. One of the arguments
at our BBC politics seminar is that it may be the politics of
contentment which is that basically people are quite happy. There
are not any major burning issues they are passionate about. They
are not taking to the streets. Therefore they are not voting.
52. It is a matter of clear concern to all of
us that voters are opting out in British elections and we know
there will be elections for the Scottish Parliament and local
elections next year. I think rather than blaming the media for
being responsible for the British government or British parliament
for not taking part, I think we need to plan strategy that holds
all of us together to engage the electorate to a maximum. Do you
have any plans or representations with politicians or government
to try and find a strategy where you can get more people to the
polls at the Scottish Parliamentary elections?
(Mr Mosey) Yes. We would like to do that. I think
probably in the end the BBC cannot be the mechanism which forces
people to go out to vote or which leads to that because some of
the research at the last election said that some people made a
conscious decision to abstain, and it was a positive abstention
rather than an apathetic abstention. We cannot be in a position
where we try to manipulate the process too much. However, the
BBC is on the side of a participatory democracy and that must
be right. We would like to take that forward.
53. But my question is, is media very importantmore
than politicians? We can go out all day and might communicate
with 100 people in a day, and you switch on the television and
there are hundreds and thousands of viewers. I think you are in
a position to encourage the electorate to come out and vote rather
than project sad stories about politicians and politics.
(Mr Mosey) That is an interesting point. It is certainly
one we are debating internally at the moment involving a lot of
people round here as well.
54. I certainly do not believe we can hold the
BBC, or any broadcaster, responsible for the feeble opposition
to the Labour party at the last election which was obviously one
of the factors leading to the view taken of the likely outcome.
Having said that, however, certainly a number of leading journalists
and broadcasters have themselves said to me that they are concerned
about the coverage at the last election. There was an emphasis
on the very questions, would there be a contest? would there be
a turnout? as opposed to some of the issues. I hope that the consideration
you are now having does lead to some positive result. Can I put
to you that although politicians are as much responsible as anybody
else if what we say in two minutes is not seen to be interesting,
then we can hardly blame people for not being interested in what
we say but having said that, is it not also something
of an irony that when it comes to things like the BBC Parliament
Channel, Question Time, and such broadcasts, there is actually
a great deal of public interest in these kind of programmes. I
am surprised by how many people do actually watch these programmes
sometimes. So it is an irony that on the one hand there is public
interest in current affairs and yet there is not always opportunity
to expand upon these at any length. You have this problem; you
have the "two minutes" type of presentation that does
not really allow you to pursue it in depth. Is there not the possibility
for Scottish programming that digital TV would actually allow
those who want to look at these issues in depth to have more in-depth
analysis which perhaps might be a way of getting people interested
in politics, and seeing something of more substance than the sound-bite
type of programme with which we have become familiar?
(Mr McCormick) Certainly there is. One of the first
conclusions emerging from the work that is underway at the moment
and is still not complete is that there is public interest in
issues, the important public policy issues, much more than in
the political debate which they can find sometimes arcane, sterile
and unproductive, when two different sides of an argument are
put. But the examination of the issue is something that spoke
to us, and one of the reasons why next month the BBC is spending
a day of programming devoted to looking at the National Health
Service and the operation of the Health Service across the UK.
So from breakfast time through to 11.30 in the evening, there
will be a whole range of programmes involving audiences across
the UK, debating the issues of the health service. We will be
looking very carefully at the audience reaction to that, to see
if we can engage in talking about the issues, not dominated by
politicians during the day until we get to later at night. Then
we will call in the politicians and those who have responsibility
for health policy to account later in the evening. However, during
the day we will try to involve the public in the issues and the
difficulty of running a national health serviceaway from
the tyranny of the two minute sound-bite. That is something that
we will be looking at to see whether we can do it in other areas.
That is across the UK with a strong contribution from Scotland.
(Mr Mosey) I also would not be too pessimistic. I
think it is very, very important we keep some higher ground overtly
political programmes. It is also true that last year the three
biggest audiences for Newsnight last year were for Jeremy
Paxman's interview of Tony Blair, Jeremy Paxman's interview of
William Hague and the Tory leadership debate. Those actually got
the three biggest audiences because Newsnight tends to
attract a politically interested audience. We absolutely want
to keep that. The real question is, can you do the equivalents
on BBC1. These are our key interests at the moment.
(Sir Robert Smith) If we take criticism for causing
apathy in politics, perhaps BBC Scotland can be quite proud as
the turnout in Scotland was rather higher than elsewhere.
Chairman: Can I assure you, gentlemen, we do
not expect the BBC to solve the problems of voter apathy. We are
going a bit off the mark here.
55. According to research undertaken by BBC
Scotland what has been the audience response to post-devolution
news and current affairs broadcasting? Do you discern any increase
or decrease in the level of interest in current affairs broadcasts
in Scotland? Post-devolution, has the Parliament generated any
extra interest within Scotland?
(Mr McCormick) Generally, as the points we were making
before, all our new programming, from coverage of the Parliament,
to weekly current affairs, to weekly political programmes and
to our general news programmes have all had healthier audiences
than they had pre-devolution. I think that true without exception.
From the public response that we get, we get a generally positive
response to what we are providing. Overall, we would have to say
that the audience reaction and the quality of that reaction and
the quantity of the audiences to a programme would indicate a
real interest in the debates in Scotland on public policy issues.
56. We talked earlier about the balance between
Westminster, Holyrood and European Parliaments. Do you find a
differenceare you able from your research to tell us the
differencedepending on the type of issues which are under
(Mr Jenkins) I could not say I could necessarily isolate
that particular response but, as John says, the broad audience
response is very positive. This almost connects back to what we
were just discussing in terms, if you like, of the conventional
political programming that broadcasters have known and loved.
There is no doubt that that kind of programming still has a resonance
and an appeal for a section of the audience. I think the difficulty
is that there is undoubtedly a sizeable section of the audience
who do not seem to be in the market for traditional political
reporting and traditional political debate. There is some evidence,
I think, that that part of our audience overlaps with the part
of the community which did not vote in the last election. Nothing
stands still in broadcasting as in politicsand the challenge
for us is to find new ways of engaging people in issues, of reconnecting
them to debates and that is the focus of the effort at the moment,
to try and find ways of doing that and to find the magic dust,
if you like, that will re-engage a lot of people who have tuned
out of some parts of national debate.
57. There have been remarks earlier about the
Parliament channel. Are there any plans to make the broadcasts
from the Scottish Parliament more widely available? For instance,
I know we can get the Parliament channel here and Sky Digital,
but on non-digital you can get some sort of version that is just
audio only. I wonder why that was done? Are there any plans to
make it more widely available?
(Mr Mosey) I have some good news on that, yes. We
are hoping that on ITV digital we will get, at the very least,
a quarter screen video of BBC Parliament, because we want to bring
BBC Parliament onto every platform. That is the BBC's commitment.
I agree at the moment it is not satisfactory. I was just lookingwe
run the BBC Parliament channel as part of our news channels. We
do regularly take First Minister's questions; we have done so
far this year the "bus war" debate, we have done the
railways debate from the Scottish Parliament, the personal care
debate and stage one of the Budget Bill. All have been covered
on BBC Parliament. We would like to keep expanding the amount
we take from nations. The obvious problem is our scheduling. Our
basic commitment is to take House of Commons live whenever it
is sitting, so scheduling of other things has to be arranged round
58. Along with the digital platform, is there
an opportunity to split it between the nations in the UK in any
(Mr McCormick) No, it is one signal. The Parliament
channel is one unified signal. We cannot. You can have a parallel
signal where you could have the Scottish Parliament all the time,
or whatever, by another transponder space but that signal, that
Parliament channel, within the BBC terms is to give coverage of
all the assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast, Edinburgh and the Westminster
Parliament continuously, and to try to ensure that over the week
proper coverage is given not just of the main debates but of committees.
I think probably in Scotland on a number of occasions when there
have been very interesting debates or very heated debates of public
policy in Scotland we have extended the coverage of the Scottish
Parliament and broken into the schedules. That has been justified
in the audience reaction, where the audience find the parliamentary
debate which is of particular interest to them. We have done that
on a number of occasions, both in the morning and in the afternoon.
I think probably where we could do more in terms of the Scottish
Parliament is coverage of the committees.
59. Is it not feasible to have a separate signal?
To have, say, Westminster and the Scottish Parliament and the
Welsh Assembly running in parallel?
(Mr McCormick) You could have them all running in
parallel. The Scottish Parliament, as I understand it, is about
to start its own web siteI think it may already have startedwhere
you can have access to the debates in parliament on a continuous
stream. For us having a parliamentary channel which is integrated
so that Westminster, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament
and Northern Ireland Assembly are all on the same service and
where you know where you are finding them has certain advantages,
rather than separating them out into four separate areas where,
for a lot of the time, the screen would be blank frankly. We are
looking at the audience reaction to the web site and to the streaming
of the channel. Our experience of online is that I am sure the
people who want to access the Parliament will go to that in droves.
(Mr Jenkins) We do stream online Holyrood Live
on our own web site, as indeed we do Scottish questions from this
parliament is streamed on the BBC Scotland web site.
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