IN a book on the early BBC, historian Thomas Hajkowski recalls a fierce row between the Scottish programme director and a London Head Office executive over the transmission of the opera Acis and Galatea.
Head Office insisted Scots needed more Handel in their lives; the programme director thought otherwise.
In the end, Head Office won but Hajkowski argues that in the mid-1930s BBC Scotland had a confident and strong-willed staff whose first priority was to provide quality Scottish programmes for Scottish audiences.
Today, 80 years on, the UK Government is to publish a consultation paper on the future of the BBC, in the wake of a funding deal that takes a substantial chunk out of the corporation’s income.
Never before has there been such an urgent need for “a confident and strong-willed” BBC staff in Scotland. The very nature of the BBC appears to be under threat from a government that has already used licence fee money to pay for a branch of UK foreign policy, the World Service, and which has now announced a further raid to finance a welfare benefit: free TV licences for the over-75s.
BBC Scotland’s annual review this week served up the usual self-congratulatory text about how rosy the broadcasting garden is here. It took regulator, the BBC Trust, to point out the weeds. Most striking was that less than half the audience believe news coverage reflects their lives. More encouragingly the Trust recognised public service broadcasting must change to reflect further devolution.
A fundamental re-organisation is required so Scotland has a public service broadcaster capable of doing what it is supposed to do: reflecting and representing the diversity of the nation.
BBC Scotland should take control of BBC2 – in the evenings at least – to commission and produce its own schedule of programmes.
One more Scottish radio station should be introduced – it is unsustainable, and messy, to have a single national Radio Scotland which covers everything from gardening to country music.
Executive salaries and astronomical fees for “talent” should be cut and the BBC’s website scaled back. A proper public service broadcaster would be the greatest boost our creative economy and cultural life could have. It’s worth fighting for.
• Ewan Crawford is a lecturer in journalism at the University of the West of Scotland