Scots plan UDI on news

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The Independent Online
BBC Scotland is "actively considering" proposals to opt out of the Six O' Clock News transmitted nightly from London in favour of its own national and international bulletin produced in Glasgow.

The plan being discussed by Ken Cargill, BBC Scotland's editor of television news and current affairs, Colin Cameron, its head of television, and John McCormick, the BBC Scotland controller, would involve a single, hour-long, early evening bulletin combining regional, national and international news.

The Scottish National Party, which is seeking a judicial review of the impartiality of the BBC's general political coverage in Scotland, was "delighted" with the BBC Scotland's outline proposals. "Anything which reduces the vast amount of news and current affairs coming from London would be welcome," said Michael Russell, the party's chief executive.

Nigel Smith, chairman of the Broadcasting for Scotland Campaign, was equally jubilant: "The feeling is that Scottish stories are not given their proper perspective, so news would be improved by doing this."

However, Michael Fabricant, a Conservative member of the Commons National Heritage Select Committee, said it would be "a shame" if the BBC pursued what he saw as an "isolationist policy", and expressed concern about the cost implications of new dedicated service at a time of corporation austerity.

The BBC's newsgathering operation in London would continue to produce the early evening news for England and Wales, but would be reduced to supplying inserts from home and abroad for the new Glasgow-based service. The flagship Nine O' Clock News would not be affected.

A spokesman for BBC Scotland confirmed that the early evening regional opt-out was one of a number of options under review. "It is a normal activity for any organisation in a period of rapid change to be constantly looking at how it can deliver its services more efficiently and provide the best possible programmes for its viewers and listeners," he said.

"It is crucial that the BBC addresses these issues with a view to keeping one step ahead of our competitors. We've been looking ahead, taking a 10-year perspective and various ideas concerning news coverage have emerged from our discussions."

The proposal would have a number of clear advantages. It would prevent the frequent and, for viewers, irritating situation whereby significant Scottish stories are carried at length on the network bulletins from London, and then duplicated in the regional news.

However, the true significance of any such move is seen both inside the corporation and by commercial rivals as political. A dedicated single bulletin leading on items most relevant to the region would help silence critics of the BBC in Scotland who complain it is driven too much by management in London.

The corporation is still recovering from the recent debacle over an edition of Panorama, which would have featured an interview with John Major on the eve of the local elections in Scotland.

Senior BBC Scotland staff had advised against the broadcast arguing that it was politically insensitive.

Fearing it might prejudice the result, the SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats went to court and secured a temporary interdict delaying transmission until after the polls closed.

The BBC's board of governors subsequently issued a statement expressing "regret that overall the BBC showed insufficient regard to the Scottish dimension and there was inadequate consultation with Scottish management".

BBC Scotland executives are also aware that should Labour win the next general election, they could face a Scottish parliament within two years, an eventuality with obvious implications for the news agenda.

A senior BBC Scotland news and current affairs source insisted however that the driving force for change was "technological" and not entirely political.

"It's also nothing to do with interesting stories such as Panorama, although it may be that Panorama underlined the need for greater communication between London and Scotland."

He added that the proposal was currently being explored in "theoretical terms", with the results unlikely to appear in the near future.