BBC chief set to dismiss Scottish Six calls

BBC Director General Tony Hall
BBC Director General Tony Hall
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The Director General of the BBC is expected to rule out replacing the corporation’s flagship TV news broadcast with a ‘Scottish Six’ when he appears before MSPs this week.

Reports suggest Tony Hall will dash hopes for a new hour-long flagship BBC news programme, produced in Scotland and covering domestic and international affairs, despite commissioning pilots to explore the idea.

Calls have been made for a Scottish programme to replace the UK-wide News at Six over the past two decades, but have provoked controversy over fears the broadcast could undermine the Union.

The BBC has examined several options for a Scottish Six in a bid to address concerns about the strength of its Scottish news output, but reports suggest some of these have performed poorly with focus groups and have failed to impress the corporation’s executives.

It is not clear whether Lord Hall will push ahead with less extensive proposals for Scottish TV news, which have also been tested.

The latest bid for an hour-long Scottish Six was boosted last year when MPs on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee gave it cross-party political backing for the first time.

However, the UK Government dampened expectations when in set out the latest BBC charter, with Culture Secretary Karen Bradley saying the corporation had to “reflect the national mood and the national news”.

SNP MP John Nicolson, a former BBC journalist who sits on the Commons committee, accused the corporation of have a “cloth ear” on Scottish issues and claimed it was stuck in a “1970s time warp”.

He said: “If the BBC decide not to go ahead with the Scottish Six it will represent an extraordinary lack of ambition and commitment to Scotland.

“I will be very disappointed for the staff at BBC Scotland if the long planned launch does not go ahead.

“They have been working incredibly hard on pilot programmes and appear to have been led up the hill and back down again by their management.”

A poll last year found that 63% of respondents wanted to keep the current arrangement, with 30 minutes of Scottish news following the UK-wide News at Six. However, a separate poll this month suggested one third of viewers believe the BBC’s output is biased against Scottish independence. The new director of BBC Scotland, Donalda MacKinnon, has said part of her job will be to win back the “significant number still in Scotland whose trust we lost” during the 2014 independence referendum.

A Scottish Government source told journalists that a failure to commission a Scottish Six would be “a major missed opportunity”. A BBC spokesperson said it would announce its plans shortly.