April Fool: BBC staff told to learn Gaelic for flagship news show

Newsroom staff at BBC Scotland must become fluent in Gaelic before the launch of the new dedicated Scottish channel next autumn.
Newsroom staff at BBC Scotland must become fluent in Gaelic before the launch of the new dedicated Scottish channel next autumn.
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The flagship news programme on the BBC’s new dedicated Scottish television channel will include at least ten minutes of reports in Gaelic, with staff to be enrolled in compulsory lessons in the language.

Detailed plans for the weeknight programme will be announced to staff at BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay headquarters on Monday. A briefing, seen in advance by The Scotsman, specifies “at least a sixth” of the programme’s output will be given over to “issues of Gaelic interest.”

News reader Jackie Bird   or Jackie Eun  has embraced her inner Gael. Picture: BBC

News reader Jackie Bird  or Jackie Eun  has embraced her inner Gael. Picture: BBC

Newsroom staff have been issued with “personal development programmes” which state that they must become fluent before the channel’s launch next autumn.

The plans, drawn up by BBC bosses in London, are viewed as a response to criticism that the network-wide News at Six features stories on education and health which have little relevance to audiences in Scotland. Politically, the so-called “Gaelic quota” is also seen as a convenient way of appeasing critics of BBC Scotland’s coverage, such as Pete Wishart MP.

“We have wrestled, perhaps unsuccessfully at times, to represent post-devolution Scotland, but the news hour is all about a mix of content and pace,” explained a source close to the BBC director-general Tony Hall. “We could go from Allan Little in Paris to Laura Kuenssberg in Westminster, and then Brian Taylor in Quidinish.”

The segment represents the most significant boost for Gaelic broadcasting since the 2008 launch of BBC Alba. Fa Roil Pol, the Gaelic representative on BBC Scotland’s audience council, described it as a “milestone”.

But tensions between Pacific Quay and Broadcasting House have intensified ahead of the announcement, due to be made by Ken McQuarrie, the BBC’s Mull-born director of nations and regions. Some veteran staff are said to be uneasy about the fixed slot. “We have gone from the Scottish Six to the Gaelic Sixth,” one said.

The National Union of Journalists has also expressed misgivings about the bilingual training, which includes a VHS boxset of Dòtaman episodes and copies of Iain Crichton Smith’s Selected Poems.

Other staff, however, are said to have embraced the idea. Jackie Bird, widely tipped to the anchor the new programme, has insisted she be referred to as Jackie Eun.

A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: “The BBC in Scotland has a rich heritage of producing Gaelic programmes such as Eòrpa and Motherwell versus Hamilton Academical. The new channel will continue that tradition for a modern, multi-platform audience.”