Media: Why no news is bad news for Scotland

The BBC's decision to reject a separate six o'clock news for Scotland has angered nationalists. By Jane Robins

WHEN THE news broke last week that the BBC was hostile to granting Scotland its own Six o'clock News, the reaction north of the border was immediate. The papers denounced the decision as London-based arrogance. A cartoon in Scotland on Sunday showed the director-general, Sir John Birt, as a puppeteer controlling the actions of the BBC Scotland boss, John McCormick, and the presenter, Sally Magnusson.

Anger was quickly apparent in the BBC's Glasgow newsroom - and there was a certain amount of jubilation when a leading academic, Professor Lindsay Paterson, resigned from the BBC's broadcasting council for Scotland in protest. He immediately took to the airwaves, appearing on Newsnight to tell the world how unreasonable the BBC was being.

The political reaction was equally explosive - with the Scottish Nationalists declaring that "the decision flies in the face of the trend towards devolution and smacks of the worst type of Londoncentric control". Labour was roundly condemned as having forced the decision, with George Robertson and Helen Liddell singled out as betrayers of a vital Scottish cause.

In the south of England the whole fuss barely registered. Most London- based broadsheets failed to notice what was going on, and to Westminster- based journalists it may have seemed no more than a little local difficulty for the BBC.

But the English were, perhaps, too complacent. The furore over the "Scottish Six", as it is known, is a sign of bigger rows to come. "This isn't going to go away," said a BBC journalist. "It's the beginning of a major battle to devolve BBC Scotland away from England. The British Broadcasting Corporation won't exist in 10 years." That may be wishful thinking. But the SNP's pronouncements had a similar flavour: "The continued decline in viewing of BBC Scotland news will ensure that this fiat from the board is merely one of the last gasps in distant dictatorial control rather than a binding and long-lasting blockage."

BBC management is taking the threat of Scotland seceding from the corporation seriously - as was made clear last week when the controller of BBC2, Mark Thompson, was appointed to run the BBC regions. Mr Thompson is an ambitious man, a much-fancied contender as the next director-general. In the usual way of things, a move to the regions would be seen as a sideways step. But the word is that Sir John wants a big hitter to sort out Scotland.

Scottish resentment about BBC control from London did not come about overnight. It is long-standing, and enmeshed with the feelings of disenfranchisement that grew up in a Labour-dominated country during 18 years of Conservative rule from Westminster. For years the Scots have been complaining that the nightly Six o'clock News is full of distortion - when journalists talk of change in the country's education system or health service, they often fail to state that Scotland is excluded.

And when important events happen that have a heavily Scottish context, they do not necessarily make the news. When the Scotland Bill, which sets up the Scottish Parliament, passed into law, BBC journalists complained that the Six o'clock News failed to report it.

The frustration last came to a head in 1995 when Tony Hall, the BBC's head of news and current affairs, announced that Panorama would broadcast an interview with John Major three days in advance of Scottish local elections, apparently impervious to arguments that this would defy BBC rules on impartiality. The decision was seen as a crass trampling on Scottish sensitivities and was only overturned when opposition parties obtained an injunction from a Scottish court.

This time around, though, the stakes are higher. The SNP sees BBC Scotland as a key issue in its fight with Labour for control of the Scottish Parliament. It is unlikely to be placated by reassurances from the BBC that a host of new measures are being put in place to ensure better coverage of Scotland on the UK news and the promise of more money for Scottish programming for BBC networks.

Professor Paterson last week gave a hint of the way the confrontation might develop. It must, he said, be a priority of the new Scottish Parliament to lobby for powers over the regulation of broadcasting.

And, on the newsroom floor, there are also rebellious mutterings. Perhaps, say the gossips, Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, can be persuaded to encourage a Scottish revolt against paying the BBC licence fee. This is not as absurd as it sounds. For years, the BBC turned a blind eye to the fact that thousands of Catholics in Northern Ireland did not pay their licence fee. The last thing it needs is a Scottish boycott.

There is a growing feeling in Scotland that Labour, in granting devolution, might have inadvertently set the country on the road to independence. Hence the politicians' focus on the BBC as the one remaining national institution with aims to "unite the UK".

It could help Labour in strengthening the UK through better sensitivity on Scottish issues within a UK framework. On the other hand, mismanagement by Mr Thompson would play directly into the hands of the SNP.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering