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Change 'to be ruled out'

Not the time to give up on Scottish Six

BBC Scotland (photo by Terry Murden)

BBC Scotland is expected to be told it cannot launch its own hour-long news programme, the so-called Scottish Six.

Director General Tony Hall will tell MSPs this week, according to reports, that despite commissioning pilots, the response from focus groups and internal reviews have not been positive.

MPs on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee last year gave the idea their support amid accusations of bias, or irrelevance.

But opinion polls have not reflected the same level of enthusiasm. One  poll found that 63% of respondents wanted to retain the current 30 minutes of Scottish news following the the UK News at Six.

The new director of BBC Scotland, Donalda MacKinnon, has said part of her job will be to win back trust that was lost during the 2014 independence referendum.

A Scottish Six appeared to be among her options, but it was reported last month that the BBC was unlikely to go-ahead with the programme, repeated again in a newspaper yesterday.

Sources expect the corporation instead to be given extra resources to boost its current flagship programme Reporting Scotland.

One possibility is that the evening bulletin could be extended by 10 minutes, carved out of the Six O’Clock News.

Daily Business comment: This is one of the longest-running stories in Scottish media and after numerous false dawns it look as if the plan will be killed off.

It is surprising, or perhaps instructive, that the BBC cannot make this work. Should the decision be confirmed questions will focus on whether it is a matter of resources, competency, a simple lack of willingness to change, or a fear of creating editorial divisions in the corporation. Whatever the reason, a decision not to go ahead will fuel accusations that the BBC remains an English-based institution.

While the conspiratorial and jingoistic arguments need to be tempered, there has to be a practical recognition of how the BBC reflects modern Britain. Calls for a Scottish Six pre-date the devolution settlement and shifts of power to Scotland in recent years have inevitably moved the issue up the agenda.

This is not just a matter of making the news more relevant and interesting to the audience, but also bridging the ‘democratic deficit’. Viewers constantly fed a diet of news that does not affect them – for instance, about changes in health and education – has the effect of confusing and potentially misleading them.

Amid the arguments, BBC Scotland’s competency to produce a national and international news service from Glasgow has been called into question. This is demeaning and belittling.

Daily Business has few reasons, currently, to defend an organisation which has failed to properly recognise a daily online news service produced in Scotland. Attempts to gain fair and equal treatment with other media is frustrated by an unwillingness to change.

This raises worries about how fleet of foot BBC Scotland would be in rising to the challenge of producing a Scottish Six. Even so, the arguments for giving it that chance outweigh those for the status quo. It might even show some greater interest in the changing shape of news in the wider world.

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