Would a Scottish Six be less parochial?

I was interested in this recent article about SNP MSP Kenny Gibson’s comments about Reporting Scotland (via cobaltmale). For him, BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme is too parochial. Apparently the way to fix this would be the creation of a Scottish Six.

It would mean you would have less of the Mrs-McGlumpha’s-cat-caught-up-a-tree-type stories that you sometimes get on Reporting Scotland.

There would be things presented from an international perspective rather than at present, which is still on occasion mind-numbingly parochial in my view – that would be a better way forward.

Before proceeding, I should point out that I am in favour of the Scottish Six. But I do have one problem with the idea.

I don’t follow Kenny Gibson’s logic that by increasing the length of Reporting Scotland, you will have fewer cat-up-a-tree stories. Sure, a Scottish Six would cover all of the important international news and UK-wide news that is salient to Scottish viewers. But then what?

I would guess that on most days, that would fill 40 minutes tops. Don’t forget that a Scottish Six would remove any “Englandandwales”-only stories, which could easily trim five or ten minutes off the Six on many days.

Given that the current Six O’Clock News-and-Reporting Scotland slot is almost an hour long, it seems to me that there would be a lot of time to fill. When you consider that it is followed by the dire One Show, filled with its own type of cat-up-a-tree stories, the problem is accentuated. It’s bad enough having half an hour of dross on prime time BBC One. We don’t want even more.

Maybe it is a prestige thing though. A confidence thing. Part of the nationalist argument is that Scotland has latent abilities that are locked up as a result of its participation in the union. Maybe they also think that a Reporting Scotland with an upgraded “Scottish Six” status will result in the producers and journalists coming up with a better product. Who’s to say that’s not possible?

Perhaps the most lamentable thing about Reporting Scotland is not so much the quality of the programme, which I think is not too bad. The main problem is the fact that I couldn’t honestly tell you that today’s Reporting Scotland was all that different to the programme that existed before devolution. It is still presented as a local news programme; a disposable appendix of the Six.

This adds to the perception that the Scottish media has, counter-intuitively, withered in the devolution era. Faced with more news to report in the form of a devolved Parliament, Scotland’s media has in fact failed to step up to the plate and is by most accounts weaker than it has ever been.

Unlike the newspapers, Reporting Scotland is funded by the license fee. So it doesn’t feel the pinch in quite the same way as commercial outlets. Maybe there is an opportunity for BBC Scotland to fill the gap that is being left by Scotland’s media by going ahead and launching the Scottish Six.

There is still something inside me that doubts that the Scottish Six could successfully fill an hour-long slot. When you watch Reporting Scotland, most days they are already talking about sport (almost always football, and usually just Rangers or Celtic) just ten or fifteen minutes after the programme has started. With more time to fill, we might have to get used to the real cat-up-a-tree stories.


  1. I do occasionally try and watch ‘Reporting Scotland’, but rarely succeed in sticking with it foor more than 5 minuteamost days – or I switch to BBC News or Sky News.

    I don’t want to see the so-called ‘ Scottish Six’ – any more than I want Newsnight Scotland, another ‘non-programme’ most nights, with rare exceptional segments (I will grant that much). I have never heard tell of a truly exceptional segment on Reporting Scotland. Mind you when I’m in the London area, the London equivalent programme at 6.30pm is equally dire.

  2. “The main problem is the fact that I couldn’t honestly tell you that today’s Reporting Scotland was all that different to the programme that existed before devolution. It is still presented as a local news programme; a disposable appendix of the Six.”

    This is the clincher for me – and why I’m against a Scottish Six (that doesn’t mean I think the UK Six is perfect). They holed their own campaign by not prioritising events at Holyrood when devolution came to pass. The BBC website does a much better job of informing me. There’s little more of the marvellous Brian Taylor than there was pre-1999. Look what is ring-fenced in EVERY edition of “Reporting Scotland” – is it a Holyrood slot? No, it’s the ‘sport’ and Heather the Weather. In the last two nights the top political stories were one with the unhinged Christine Grahame raising the spectre of a ‘Dangerous Dogs Act’ for Scotland and some other twonk of an MSP who wanted sassenach supermarkets to label food in ‘Scots’. I doubt that properly reflects the work of the parliament. It’s no wonder they don’t get taken seriously.

    And heavens knows how many people we’ll need in the studio for a Scottish Six – they’ve only recently pruned from a completely unreasonable four, whereas the UK Six manages with two.

    Never mind extending “Reporting Scotland” (a misnomer in itself) it needs cutting back to 15 mins. A daily 10 minute Holyrood slot and a 5 minute ‘sport’ programme can make up the slack.

    I much prefer the way radio has handled it, ironically not in response to devolution. If you want general current affairs you can choose between Radio 4 and Radio Scotland at certain times of the day (possibly this is why Radio Scotland ups their game). When I’ve heard the likes of GMS and Newsdrive they have a good balance of everything, and tailored input from ‘BBC UK’ correspondents.

    This leads to my most preferred choice – I don’t want a “Scottish Six” but I do want a BBC Scotland TV channel a la Radio Scotland. The opportunity was wasted on BBC Alba. However, on current form, I have some doubts that this will not be a medium where covering ‘sport’ is taken more seriously, complete with financial investment, than covering the Scottish Parliament or getting too far beyond the central belt..

  3. My understanding is that Reporting Scotland hacks are required to hand over any stories that the BBC want to report on the UK bulletin. This could partly explain RS’s rubbishness, and it’s something that wouldn’t apply to any Scottish Six worth the description.

    Of course Holyrood should be covered properly. But Graeme, I wouldn’t say the Beeb’s failure to do this “holed their own campaign”. It wasn’t their campaign. The BBC has always opposed this idea.

  4. How much money would they spend sending reporters to every event in the world to find some bystander who once set foot in this country.

    Your school in Indiana has just been shot up but your granny once flew over Scotland so we need to interview you.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Graeme’s comment is good, and the point he makes about GMS and Newsdrive is important for me. Surely a Scottish Six would be closer to the GMS / Newsdrive template which is so successful, rather than simply be an extended version of Reporting Scotland.

    The populism of the Six may make it difficult, but if they could cover politics in a bit of depth and strike the balance that Newsdrive strikes, I think a lot of people would come to prefer the Scottish Six. Perhaps if Holyrood was covered in depth during the Six, there would be no need for Newsnight Scotland either (although I think the late-night slot suits Newsnight Scotland).

  6. Hi Duncan.

    I have always thought that a Scottish Six would take the format of Ch 4’s news. Ie a news show with analysis aswell- so if you like a Scottish news covering UK/World matters and with a newsnight Scotland esque bit aswell. Ive never been sure exactly what it is meant to achieve however, though i would really enjoy not having the interesting bits of newsnight cut off to go to newsnight Scotland who will cover the same story again from earlier or some non story talking of reporting Scotland being parochial, newsnight Scotland is worse.

    It would be interesting to see if having a Scottish news covering the world would seem like we were engaging more or if abandoning the UK news would make us all seem like nats?

  7. Richard, thanks for your comment. Like I say, the Radio Scotland GMS / Newsdrive template strikes the ideal balance so from that perspective I think a Scottish Six would work.

    I don’t mind Newsnight Scotland too much. I actually quite like it. But it would be good to be able to watch all of Newsnight.

  8. Re “possibly this is why Radio Scotland ups their game”. Hopefully this comment is meant to apply to the popular entertainment side of BBC Radio Scotland, because on the serious current affairs side, I find it really, really dire. Over the years they have dumbed down, getting rid of the credible figures like the Wisharts and the Bells.

    We now have the likes of the execrable ‘Garry’ (talks at a hundred miles an hour, seems incapable of asking a serious question without it dripping in either sarcasm of boorishness) whilst he and ‘Gillian’ leap upon the slightest possibility to inject what they and their producers seem to think is humour and ‘expressing their personalities’.

    I can still recall a while back when they disastrously tried out ‘Gary’ on the serious Sunday morning political slot. He quite ineffectually interviewed some junior (and now gone) Government Scottish Minister. This was followed by Michael White and Mathew Parris down-the-line from the London studio whereupon they had much fun over derisory weak interviewing; they not unreasonably argued that only the supposedly tough Jocks could have got away from that one. If they had so performed they would have been derided as Blairities or Government sycophants.

    On the odd occasion when they have McWhirter or Taylor in for a discussion, these intelligent, credible journalists must wonder just how seriously to take the existing BBC Radio Scotland current affairs team.

    And what is it with this team’s collective lack of decent speaking; endless starting of questions with “Ah mean”, “Ah mean”, “Ah mean”, or “Do you not think”; and let’s not forget the jingle that tells us that Radio Scotland is on ‘meejum’ wave.

    More recently I felt almost insulted by the lightweight frontman they have on the Saturday morning political slot. This is another who just has to go for the supposed humour or the (unintended?) sarcasm regardless of context. Recently, the competent and entertaining sports presenter Beattie, with some candour, was expressing how he somehow still felt uncomfortable at a recent shooting event in the wake of the Dunblane shooting tragedy. The response of this frontman was to jest that Beattie was becoming ‘a big Jessie’ (or perhaps it was a ‘big softie’); Beattie at least had the dignity to allow a momentary silence, ignoring the buffoon’s remarks and then carrying on … and this is our national broadcaster?

  9. Thanks for the comment Ted. Interesting points about Radio Scotland. I don’t listen to it as much as you do — I change stations depending on what programme is on.

    After spending a lot of years looking for something half-decent to listen to in the morning, I have settled for GMS. I don’t have a problem with the humour attempts. All breakfast programmes are like that to some extent or another — I think you’d have to go to the World Service to avoid it.

    You do make Radio Scotland sound a bit gaffe-tastic, though in fairness it doesn’t sound like anything that wouldn’t happen from time to time on, say, Radio 5 Live. Witness Stephen Nolan.

    I agree that the overall quality of Radio Scotland is average though. My comments about GMS and Newsdrive are more about the format of the programme. I think these programmes demonstrate that a news programme with international, UK and Scottish news hosted from a Scottish studio can work.

  10. Rep Scot able to function as a Scottish Six? It’s not just a question of the news to fill the space, it’s also how they treat the news they’ve been given. I’m horrified by the lipsmacking treatment they give courtcases for big murders for instance which includes reconstructions of the last steps of the victim and bathetic tabloid editorialising by the reporters. Throw in the endless, endless coverage of every cough and spit of the Old Firm, the lack of expertise on arts issues of the day and the near-total lack of breaking news stories by Rep Scot and you have a newsroom that has the news nous of..well.. a 22 year old blogger.

  11. What have you got against the One Show! I suggest you give it a fair run. Wildlife, finance, guest gossip, art education, all with good humour,as well as occasional, serious, political bits which affect Joe public etc etc. You can tell I watch it most days… but to give credit where it’s due, and with a Brummie and a Northern Irish presenting duo, one of the very few English programmes to stick to calling us BRITISH rather than English, which I find refreshing as a half-Scot, or full Scot if you count my father’s nationality. So look again Duncan, you may get educated about the rest of our lives!?