The Commons culture, media and sport committee responded to “dissatisfaction” with the BBC’s news output in Scotland by saying the corporation should answer decades-old demands for a Scottish news programme covering international and UK current affairs as well as Scottish news.
Its recommendation, contained in a report on the proposals set out in the UK government’s BBC white paper, is a coup for the SNP, which has called for a different nightly bulletin since the 1990s.
Welcoming the recommendation for a Scottish Six, SNP culture and media spokesman John Nicolson MP said: “I believe that a broader remit for BBC Scotland television news would drive up standards, increase job opportunities for journalists here in Scotland, and build audiences.”
A decision on how the BBC will proceed with changes to its flagship Reporting Scotland news programme is expected later this year. The BBC has already tested three different Scottish Six pilots – a tweaked version of the current programme, a new programme edited and broadcast from Scotland, and a hybrid show, crossing to a London studio for UK and international news.
The committee’s report said the hybrid version was a “needless extravagance” and “patronising” to a Scottish audience.
It recommended the second option – a news programme anchored in Scotland with a running order of Scottish, UK and international stories chosen on news merit.
Within BBC Scotland, plans to reform the way news is delivered on television have already sparked anger, with journalists reportedly threatening to block any changes after it emerged that a new broadcast could be split with London.
Nicolson, who sits on the committee, added: “I think the general view of the committee was that it’s time the BBC made up its mind and moved on this. The most intellectually coherent option from the witness statements that we’d heard was for the independent Scottish Six.”
In a wide-ranging report, MPs said the BBC should publish the pay of presenters who earn more than the Prime Minister. Corporation rules currently require the publication executive salaries, but pay for “top talent” is kept secret unless it exceeds £450,000. The report also calls for greater investment in Gaelic-language programming.
Opposition parties in Scotland greeted the report with caution. Scottish Conservative culture spokesman Jackson Carlaw said its proposals were “worthy of consideration” but voiced fears that it could be used by the Scottish Government to “shove propaganda down the throats of a dinner-time viewing public”.
“I fully expect the SNP to push for as much as it can with the Scottish Six proposals,” Carlaw said.
“But we must remember that many people are very happy with the current set-up, and would rather watch UK-wide news covering the whole world, than an extension of the current Reporting Scotland.”
Ian Murray MP, the Westminster spokesman for Scottish Labour, said:“With new powers coming to Holyrood, any proposed changes to the six o’clock news must balance the need for more in-depth Scottish news coverage with the continuing demand for relevant news stories from the rest of the UK and internationally.”
A spokesman for BBC Scotland said it “would hope to be in a position later this year to provide more detail on how we intend to improve our overall service provision in Scotland”.