John McLellan: Viewers should prepare for more Auntie Beeb

The BBC. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA WireThe BBC. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
The BBC. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
The SNP's gravel-voiced Gordon MacDonald relished the opportunity to grill the BBC's directorgeneral, Tony Hall, over its plans for Scotland in a Holyrood committee last year and from his latest attack it's clear he still has little time for the national broadcaster.

Responding to a BBC article outlining plans to help students differentiate between real and fake news, the Edinburgh Pentlands MSP commented on social media that the flagship news show Reporting Scotland should be accompanied by “a logo to identify ‘fake news’”.

The SNP was quick to distance itself from the former Lothian Buses accountant’s remarks, issuing a statement saying: “This obviously doesn’t reflect the position of the SNP”, and while ex-First Minister Alex Salmond’s repeated assaults have been put in context by his Russia Today residency, it would still be a welcome intervention down on Pacific Quay.

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But nonetheless attitudes towards the BBC in Scotland differ markedly with the rest of the UK. According to Ofcom, only 41 per cent of Scots turn to BBC1 for their news compared to 51 per cent in England, despite the fact that in Scotland 46 per cent are very interested in news compared to 27 per cent across the UK as a whole.

The BBC’s response to repeated criticism of its Scottish output is the launch of the specific BBC Scotland TV channel, set to go live at the end of 2018, and last week Ofcom launched its consultation into the plans. Of particular interest to Ofcom is the possible effect on the broadcast markets of such a significant expansion and the BBC is very keen to explain that much of its spending will be with other Scottish media firms.

While the new channel might bring great benefits to the creative sector as a whole, it is the plan to recruit 80 journalists which has raised eyebrows among commercial news providers, given the five-day, one-hour news flagship at 9pm on the new station will include material already produced for Reporting Scotland and the main UK bulletins. What will 80 extra journalists be doing? On top of that there are the new “local news partnerships” by which the BBC will fund and train 21 journalists to cover local authorities across Scotland. They will be employed by local news organisations but the material will be available for the BBC’s online services.

If all the plans come off, it will make the BBC by some considerable way the best- resourced news operation in Scotland, per capita possibly in the UK. So if Gordon MacDonald doesn’t like what he’s seeing now, there is going to be a lot more where it came from.

l Apologies to my old chums at Radio Forth for the typo in last week’s column; even without Grant Stott their listener numbers couldn’t have fallen to 38,000 and the correct number was 380,000.

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a Scottish Conservative Councillor in Edinburgh.