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Response to 'irrelevant' accusations

BBC to launch £30m Scotland TV channel

BBC Scotland (photo by Terry Murden)

Hall unveils investment

BBC Scotland is to launch a  9pm news programme as part of a new channel, it has announced.

The hour-long programme, broadcasting a mix of Scottish, UK and international news, is a response to demands for coverage that better reflects life and events in the devolved nations.

Director general Tony Hall, visiting the Glasgow offices today, told staff the channel will have a budget of £30 million, equivalent to the amount available to BBC4.

It will be launched in the Autumn next year and there will be an additional £20m a year for Scottish production focused on drama and factual programming as well as 80 jobs for journalists.

Mr Hall described it as the biggest single investment in broadcast content in Scotland for more than 20 years.

The key points of the new channel – which will be called BBC Scotland – are:

– A “prominent” slot on the Electronic Programme Guide (the exact slot will be subject to discussions with providers such a Freeview, Sky and Virgin)

– Available in iPlayer in HD in Scotland and across UK

– Broadcast from 7pm to midnight every evening

– A £30m budget for the new channel – £19m new money and £11m from current BBC2 opts

– Integrated hour-long news programme at 9pm, edited and presented from Scotland

– 80 new posts for journalists

Mr Hall said: “We know that viewers in Scotland love BBC television but we also know that they want us to better reflect their lives and better reflect modern Scotland.

“The best way of achieving this is a dedicated channel for Scotland.

“It’s a channel that will be bold, creative and ambitious, with a brand-new Scotland-edited international news programme at its heart.”

The new BBC TV channel for Scotland will broadcast every evening and will show drama, factual, comedy and news programmes made in Scotland.

The development of a nightly news hour at 9pm means that the news output on BBC One in Scotland will remain in its current form.

There had been calls for a Scottish Six, which would integrate the main BBC News at Six from London and Reporting Scotland in a news hour that would provide UK, Scottish and international stories from Scotland.

The proposals for a Scottish Six were in response to criticism that the News at Six often featured stories – for example on education and health – that had little relevance to Scottish audiences.

The Scottish government argued the BBC needed to “catch up” with devolution and to give its Scottish operation greater control of budgets, staffing and decision making.

SNP MP John Nicolson said he welcomed the new channel and extra investment for Scotland.

However, he said he was “disappointed” the BBC had “killed off” the idea of separate Scottish Six news on BBC One.

He said: “Of course it is great to have a separate Scottish Nine O’ Clock News but I think it is very important to have a separate Six O’ Clock News on the main terrestrial channel, BBC One.

“You just have to watch the running order of the main BBC news.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Lots to welcome in today’s announcement. @scotgov has long argued for new BBC Scotland channel. Vital that it is funded well.

“Commitments to new investment and 80 additional jobs for journalists long overdue and very positive.”

But she added: “It doesn’t deliver everything that everyone wanted – e.g. no Scottish 6 disappointing – but progress and hopefully sign of new thinking.”

Lewis MacdonaldScottish Labour’s Culture spokesperson Lewis Macdonald (right), said: “The BBC’s announcement today should be welcomed by all political parties.

“It is clear the BBC has listened to the views of Scots. A dedicated Scottish news programme in particular will be a great addition to our valued public service broadcasting.

“This is a significant investment from the BBC and the hiring of 80 new journalists will be a boost to an industry that has sadly suffered in recent years.

“Nationalist politicians have continually attempted to interfere with our broadcasters and run-down our free press.

“Alex Salmond’s recent Donald Trump-esque diatribe is just the latest in a litany of SNP attacks against the media. Nationalists regularly appear unable to accept that the role of the free press is to expose their often scant and haphazard government. 

“We can only hope that with a new, dedicated Scottish service from the BBC that attitude will change.”

The BBC said the News at Six had performed strongly in Scotland in recent years.

It went on to say that the 9pm news slot on the new channel offered the audience choice and quality and would provide comprehensive reporting of the news from a Scottish perspective.

Scottish Conservative shadow culture secretary Jackson Carlaw said: “ It’s good for jobs, journalism, scrutiny and programming.

It also ensures those who still prefer the UK-wide BBC news at 6pm, and other programming on BBC1, get to keep that too.

“It’s no surprise, despite this fantastic investment, to see SNP MPs complain about it. Only they, with their inherent and serial grievance agenda, could find fault with this.

“The fact Scottish-based journalists will now have a chance to showcase their work elsewhere across the network is also a development which should be applauded.”

Daily Business comment: The 9pm news slot was unexpected and while it gives Scotland the hour-long programme it demanded, the timing will prove controversial.

Comedians may joke that it’s because a Scottish news programme produced from Glasgow needs to be broadcast after the watershed. One actual reason is that it was the best time for Scotland to get access to its correspondents who are not engaged with the 6pm or 10pm slots.

There is already concern, however, that the new Scottish news programme is being forced into a difficult clash with prime time drama, not just on the BBC but on other channels which transmit big-budget productions at that time.

This is bound to impact on viewing figures which may ultimately count against the programme when BBC bosses in London assess its success and viability.

It is also broadcast after many viewers will have already seen the Scottish, national and international news at 6pm and 6.30pm. The new programme will need to offer something different, most importantly a Scottish perspective on UK and foreign news. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Will £30m be enough to fund the new channel – which will broadcast from 7pm? It is well short of the figure that was indicated some years ago when there was talk of £75m being made available.

There is a danger that a tight budget will lead to budget programming. It will require some imagination and efficient use of what is available. It can make a start by ending the doubling up of reporters from Scotland and the network sent to cover the same stories.

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