Case for Scottish Six news programme ‘unanswerable’

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A LEADING TV executive in Ireland has declared there is an “unanswerable” case for a so-called “Scottish Six” news programme to ensure viewers in Scotland were given a clearer insight into news and current affairs affecting them.

Kevin Bakhurst, a former editor of the BBC Ten O’Clock News and now a senior figure at RTE, told a Scotsman conference on the future of media in Scotland yesterday, that the divergence of events north and south of the Border ensured it was now “much harder to resist” the idea of a main news programme based in Glasgow.

Kevin Bakhurst. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Kevin Bakhurst. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The case for the Scottish Six has been raised since devolution in 1999, amid claims that too much of the UK-wide news programme was relevant only to viewers in England.

Mr Bakhurst, who is managing director of news and current affairs at the Irish broadcaster RTE, said that the BBC network had now improved its awareness of Scotland and Wales – by, for example, signalling that stories on education and health were often only applicable to England.

But, he said, that only highlighted the fact that parts of the news broadcast from London remained of limited interest to viewers elsewhere in the UK.

“How often do we hear the fact that when they refer to the education secretary or the health secretary, it is for education in England or health in England?” he said. “There is an unanswerable case to do it,” he added. “The case for a Scottish Six is in my view, becoming much harder to resist”.

Mr Bakhurst said his opinion held whether or not Scotland voted for independence next year. He suggested that while the BBC Six O’Clock News could be broadcast from the BBC’s Scottish home in Glasgow, the Ten O’Clock News bulletin, presented by Hew Edwards, could remain in London, as a UK wide programme.

Political support for such a change began prior to devolution, when senior BBC Scotland executives were among those backing a Scottish six o’clock news. However, BBC governors rejected the move.

There have followed complaints that too much of the main UK wide news programmes only relate to English viewers, with education and health fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

In 2008, a report for the BBC Trust by Professor Anthony King, the professor of government at Essex University, stated that the BBC was “not reporting the new UK with the range, clarity and richness that might reasonably be expected”.

Mr Bakhurst said that the BBC news operation had now improved its awareness, with the BBC Scotland head of news and current affairs sitting on the main news board in London.

But he said that there was no reason why a Scottish based programme could not now be instigated.

Despite that, however, a recent survey showed there was little appetite for change.

Some 63 per cent said they want to keep the UK-wide BBC Six O’Clock News, with the Scottish news Reporting Scotland following afterwards, up 3 percentage points from 2008.

A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: “We support all improvements to news programming for Scottish audiences, whether by a Scottish Six, through a Scottish digital network or the transfer of responsibility for broadcasting to Scotland.

“High quality news programming reflecting Scotland’s interests at home and abroad has never been more important than now.”

Johnston Press chief reveals “ScotsmanTV” plans

JOHNSTON Press, owner of the Scotsman titles, is exploring plans to launch TV stations within its newspaper titles, its chief executive declared on Tuesday.

Ashley Highfield said he was studying plans for newspaper journalists to shoot video to be made available online to readers in a bid to boost traffic on websites across the group’s titles.

“By the end of this summer, we will have a different culture of journalists equipped with mobile technology,” he told a Scotsman conference on the future of the media. “We are going to launch a bunch of TV channels,” he added. He confirmed afterwards that those plans could include a “ScotsmanTV” model.

Mr Highfield, a former executive at Microsoft and BBC, told the conference that now was “the most exciting and maybe the most scary time to be in the business”.

But he downplayed fears that print media was facing terminal decline. Despite audiences moving steadily online, he argued that the group “will still be printing newspapers in twenty years time.”

His comments come with Johnston Press titles having undergone a major restructuring since Mr Highfield’s appointment last year, which has seen hundreds of job cuts, but an increase in its share price, which now stands at 15p, from lows of 5p last year