Well that’s it Scotland. You’re not getting your own hour long news programme on the BBC. Even the prospect of an hour of Jackie Bird has been deemed too dangerously separatist by the BBC’s mandarins in London. A report in this week’s Sunday Herald says that the idea of an hour long Scottish based news programme combining Scottish news, UK news, and international news has now been definitively ruled out by the BBC. You’d have thought they’d have relished the idea of a Reporting Scotland on steroids telling us all how crappy the Scottish NHS is, how rubbish Police Scotland are, and with the opportunity to give twice as long to reheated Labour press releases as the usually do, but apparently depriving us of 30 minutes of news about the English NHS and the travails of the England cricket and fitba teams has been deemed as being unconducive to the United bit of this United Kingdom.
In a way, we should be glad. The idea of a Scottish Six news programme was always only a sop to distract us from the real issue. The real issue is the shameful lack of a dedicated Scottish public service broadcaster. An extra half hour of Jackie Bird, murrdurrs, wee cute kittens and fitba is not what Scotland needs. What Scotland needs is a national channel of its own. Catalonia has it. The Basque Country has it. Even tiny Gagauzia has it. But here in Scotland we’re told that even an extra 30 minutes of news is a dangerous step too far. A Scottish public service broadcaster is totally beyond the pale of acceptable public discourse, certainly on the BBC.
It’s not remarkable to expect Scotland to have its own public service broadcaster, what’s remarkable is that Scotland doesn’t have one already. What’s even more remarkable is that this shameful lack of respect for Scotland by a Westminster which greedily reserves control of news, current affairs and cultural output to itself isn’t more of a political issue than it is. Because it’s a national disgrace. What’s most remarkable of all is that certain Scottish journalists and commentators argue against even having a Scottish Six news programme, never mind a Scottish national broadcaster.
There are Scottish journalists who actually argue against promoting Scottish journalism. Just think on that for a minute. You’d think that Scottish journalists would welcome all and every initiative which boosts the profile of Scottish journalism, and which allows it to reach the widest audience possible within Scotland. But this is Scotland, where for too many the Cringe is a substitute for a backbone.
Scotland is appallingly poorly served by the BBC. The Corporation includes such typically Scottish programmes as Question Time and Mrs Brown’s Boys in its “Scottish output” statistics as a way to pretend that Scotland gets more in the way of TV production than it actually does. Real Scottish programmes are rare indeed.
Back in the 1990s, during the discussions about setting up a Scottish parliament, the devolution of broadcasting within Scotland was one of the powers that supporters of devolution wanted and expected to be devolved to Holyrood. The power was removed by Tony Blair and his supporters and control of broadcasting was included on the list of reserved powers. One of the effects of this was that after the UK signed up to the European Charter for the Protection of Minority and Regional Languages and signed a treaty commitment to giving Scottish Gaelic the same degree of protection as Welsh, a predominantly Gaelic TV channel became a legal obligation. Because broadcasting is reserved to Westminster, that meant that the House of Commons and assorted Tory MPs who wouldn’t be able to distinguish the Scottish Gaelic language from Slovene or Hungarian had more of a say on setting up a Scottish Gaelic channel than Scotland’s own parliament.
The consequence of broadcasting being reserved to Westminster is that voters in Scotland end up hearing more about the health service or education in England than they do about those in Scotland. It means that when some public service is mired in crisis and confusion that Scottish news outlets are driven to publish similar stories about the equivalent in Scotland. It means that during elections Unionist parties can conflate devolved and reserved issues because the electorate are unclear which is which.
The people who object to a Scottish Six, who would object even more vociferously to a Scottish national public service broadcaster, all too often do so on the grounds that such a service would be nothing more than “SNP TV”. Yet these are the self-same people who claim that the BBC is completely impartial and unbiased when it comes to reporting on Scottish politics and current affairs. They never explain why a Scottish public service broadcasting corporation which would presumably be set up with the same safeguards and structures that allow the BBC its lofty neutrality would be little more than the propaganda arm of the independence movement, whereas its British equivalent is studiously above any such bias. They can’t have it both ways. The same structures which guarantee BBC neutrality and lack of bias would operate in the exact same way in any Scottish Broadcasting Corporation.
The truth is that the refusal of the Unionist parties and their supporters to countenance the establishment of a Scottish public service broadcaster on the grounds that it would be a propaganda service for the SNP are tacitly admitting that the BBC is indeed biased and subject to the political influence of Westminster. The real reason they object to a Scottish public service broadcaster is because the BBC was instrumental in flooding our airwaves with pro-British propaganda during the first independence referendum, and the Unionist establishment expects it to perform the same service for Britain in the second.
The argument has progressed beyond asking meekly for a 30 minute consideration from the BBC. It’s time that the Scottish Government, the SNP, and other pro-independence parties started to point out that Scotland doesn’t just suffer from a democratic deficit under Westminster, we suffer from a broadcasting deficit as well. A devolved nation having its own public service broadcasting service is the normal state of affairs in Europe. It’s Scotland which is the shameful exception. It’s time we had a Scottish television service that was worthy of the name, because we’re not getting it from a BBC that doesn’t even think Scotland is worthy of a news programme of its own.
Audio version of this blog post, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-19th-feb-2017
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