Nicola Sturgeon calls for radical reform of BBC

Nicola Sturgeon wants greater Scottish broadcasting from BBC. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon wants greater Scottish broadcasting from BBC. Picture: PA
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NICOLA Sturgeon is to call for radical reform of the BBC including the creation of a new distinctly Scottish television channel and a second Scottish radio station.

The First Minister will argue in a speech tonight that widespread change is needed because the corporation is failing to reflect changes that have taken place in the UK as a result of devolution and since the referendum.

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon. 'Picture Ian Rutherford

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon. 'Picture Ian Rutherford

Speaking at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Ms Sturgeon will say the BBC should adopt a federal structure with separate governance boards for each of the home nations under a UK-wide board.

She will argue that the example of the Gaelic broadcaster BBC Alba has shown there is a demand for more Scottish content provided by a new English language channel north of the Border.

Delivering the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the First Minister will also say that a second English-language channel on BBC Radio Scotland would give listeners greater variety.

In recent months the BBC has been heavily criticised by Nationalists, who claim that its referendum coverage was biased against independence.

The most prominent critic has been Alex Salmond, who has demanded that control over the corporation should be devolved to Edinburgh.

The former first minister’s demands led to his opponents claiming the SNP was trying to exert undue influence over the broadcaster’s political coverage.

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Tonight Ms Sturgeon will call for consensus on reform, saying she is prepared to work on it with the UK government. She will also argue that the tight financial climate should not be a barrier to ambitious changes. In her speech, Ms Sturgeon will outline her proposal for a federal structure, saying that the BBC Charter renewal provided an opportunity for her plans to be adopted.

The Smith Commission cross-party deal agreed after the referendum has given the Scottish Government and Holyrood a formal consultative role in the process of reviewing the corporation’s charter.

“The UK has changed dramatically since devolution; but broadcasters are still catching up with its consequences and although that poses questions for all public service broadcasters, the issue is maybe most acute with the BBC,” she will say.

“We’ve seen progress in recent years. For example the share of network commissions from Scotland is far above 2006 levels. But that progress has been slow – it’s time to be ambitious.

“Scotland, the BBC and all the nations and regions of the UK have the right to expect something truly radical from the charter review. A tight financial settlement cannot be a reason not to do things differently. 

“A BBC that puts forward a bold proposal for Scotland, for the nations and regions, and for the UK will have in us a strong and willing ally. A BBC that offers piecemeal solutions will fail to meet the demands or restore the trust of Scottish audiences.”

Ms Sturgeon will warn that if the BBC charter renewal process next year fails to react to the requirements of the UK nations then it will not last.

“One of the things the last 12 months has demonstrated, is that the old model of public service broadcasting – important though I think it is – doesn’t work well enough. It no longer reflects the complex, varied and rich political and social realities of the UK,” she will say.

“And so any BBC Charter Renewal which does not respond to the different needs of the ­nations and regions simply won’t be sustainable between now and 2027.

“That’s why the Scottish Government wants to build a consensus behind constructive change. We will encourage the widest possible level of debate within Scotland on charter renewal. And we will work with the UK government and the BBC to achieve the best possible outcome for viewers in Scotland and across the UK.” 

Alongside her suggestion for a federal BBC, Ms Sturgeon will say structural change must be accompanied by changes to programming that reflect Scotland more. “Scotland is an outward looking, internationalist country, intensely interested and active in the world around us – but we also want to see ourselves, our daily experiences and our national story, more fully reflected on our radios and television screens,” she will say.

“For example, Radio Scotland has an almost impossible job trying to reflect the life of an entire nation. And it does it well. But a second English-language radio service would provide a greater variety of programmes.

“It is essential that we look at television services for Scotland. The BBC has a very successful partnership with the Gaelic broadcaster, MG Alba. BBC Alba reaches an audience of 700,000 people across the country. That’s a hugely impressive performance on a limited budget. And it demonstrates a much wider demand for Scottish content.

“So we believe that a distinct BBC Scotland TV channel should be created – empowering BBC Scotland as never before.”

Labour called on Ms Sturgeon to use her lecture to distance herself from Mr Salmond’s criticisms of the BBC.

Democracy spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “The BBC is one of our most valued treasures, loved throughout the country and envied by many abroad. It is vital that the charter renewal process isn’t driven by political ideology or grievance.

“That is why the First Minister must use her Alternative MacTaggart appearance to distance herself, her government, and her party from Alex Salmond’s consistent criticisms of the BBC.”