'Scottish Six' bulletin ruled out by BBC chief

THE BBC director-general yesterday definitively ruled out any prospect of a "Scottish Six" news bulletin to replace that produced from London.

Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Mark Thompson said: "I don't detect any public clamour for it. There are still one or two outposts, media commentators and academics, who want to talk about it, but I don't get any sense of a clamour for it."

But he underlined his intention to press on with a new tier of regional news services for Scotland, a proposal he described as "an opportunity to offer regional journalism from the BBC in Scotland for the first time".

Mr Thompson was one of yesterday's key speakers on the opening day of the International Press Institute (IPI) Congress in Edinburgh - an event bringing 700 delegates from across the world's media to the city.

Mr Thompson's comments on the Scottish Six appear to signal the end of a long-running campaign for a Scottish-produced version of BBC1's 6pm bulletin. The BBC decided not to proceed with plans for a locally produced network news bulletin following a survey of viewers carried out in Scotland two years ago.

However, some nationalist campaigners have continued to claim that only a Scottish national bulletin will properly reflect the country's devolved position on issues including health, law and order and transport.

Mr Thompson was unequivocal yesterday that the present one-hour programme consisting of BBC1's 6pm news followed by 6:30pm's Reporting Scotland would remain unchanged.

He said: "The last time we asked viewers in Scotland their preferences, more people said they wanted to stay with the status quo. I don't think there's any evidence it's a live issue for the majority of our licence fee payers in Scotland."

He added:

"Some of the most extreme advocates of the Scottish Six are saying 'people don't want to know what's going on in England and Wales'. That's coming at it from a position which is simply not what's coming to us from the vast majority of the Scottish audience."

Mr Thompson insisted the BBC had invested "heavily" in Scottish journalism over the past nine years, citing coverage of Holyrood and the Scottish Executive, plus Newsnight Scotland and the regional element of BBC1's 10pm news as proof of the fact that "by and large we are doing a good job".

And he signalled that the BBC's managers would press on with plans to create new local news services in Scotland and elsewhere across the UK.

But these plans have already been criticised by regional newspaper groups, which argue the BBC is launching new products in a market already well served by local print titles.

Mr Thompson said the initial term often applied to the scheme - "ultra local news" - had been misleading. "What we have in mind is a service which will be at the same kind of level of granularity as local radio," he said.

Here, it would involve journalists across Scotland producing content for TV and web services.