By GA Ponsonby
If you bought Tuesday’s edition of the Scottish National you’ll know that the writer and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove was the guest editor. Cosgrove had come up with what some people described as an ‘innovative’ idea to use the pro-independence newspaper in order to demonstrate what a future Scottish Six news programme might look like.
Thus, anyone reading the National would have been presented with weird messages down the sidebar of each page – ‘Run V/T … Back To Studio’.
The messages took the form of editorial instructions that would normally pepper communications during a live TV news broadcast.
Cosgrove’s idea worked. Flicking through the paper I was able to imagine news anchor [a torn faced Jackie Bird] introducing each item. The static images on the page became moving images in my imagination.
By the time I had finished reading the paper, Cosgrove’s script had become a vivid three-dimensional dream-like sequence in my mind. A Scottish Six could work.
Some critics complained about the positioning of news items. They challenged a news order which placed an item on refugees above the Bailey Gwynne murder.
But that missed the point.
Cosgrove wasn’t arguing that the stories and themes contained in The National were the ones that should dominate any Scottish Six. What he was presenting was a prototype template that could be filled by any story or issue from around the world.
The point of the exercise was to show how a Scottish Six could handle stories of international significance but blend them into a news programme which also contained regular home-grown stories and other items of interest.
But was it realistic. Well yes … but only up to a point.
The exercise was akin to fantasy football where the participant is invited to play out the role of manager and build his or her own team. This is what Stuart Cosgrove was doing. Instead of players he had news stories.
What he failed to take into account though was the reality that is the current management and culture at Pacific Quay. This is the very management that has helped run BBC Scotland’s reputation into the ground.
If you’re going to envisage a Scottish Six then it must be envisaged not through the eyes of Stuart Cosgrove, but through the eyes of the very people who will implement, control and drive it. The BBC Scotland management.
This is the same management that recently allowed a personal blog by a former advisor to Ed Miliband to be presented as an ‘independently published report’. The blog, for those who might not be aware, praised the income tax rise recently proposed by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale.
In response to a complaint that they had misled the public by describing a personal blog from a former senior Labour party figure as an ‘independent report’, the editor of Reporting Scotland wrote:
'We were not alone in calling it a report – a quick check establishes that the Edinburgh Evening News, the Daily Record, The Herald and the Press Association (a major news agency) referred to “report”. Many reports are now published in a different fashion from the standard methods of the past; and a ‘blog’ can be just as comprehensive and authoritative as a traditional, multi-copy collection of paper pages within a glossy wrapper.'
A Scottish Six will employ the same mindset when reporting on matters political or constitutional. If the newspapers report it then so will BBC Scotland.
It will still have Glenn Campbell reporting on Scottish politics and Eleanor Bradford reporting on the Scottish NHS. It will have exactly the same local news gatherers as it does now, who see ‘studies’ or ‘surveys’ from vested interest groups which attack the Scottish Government, as headline news items. The same pundits will be invited to provide the same commentary.
The danger to many independence supporters is that a Scottish Six becomes an even greater source of frustration than Reporting Scotland.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that high-profile ‘respected’ commentators repeatedly refuse to acknowledge - BBC Scotland has a strong pro-Union culture at the heart of its political news department. This culture is reflected in its political news output.
Even today [Wednesday March 8th] saw the SNP effectively put on trial by BBC Scotland after its MPs deigned to vote on a matter that affected many of their less well-off constituents. In other news the oil price was again used in order to feed the myth of the ‘too poor’ Scotland.
I welcome Stuart Cosgrove’s input into the debate over the future of broadcasting in Scotland. Indeed it’s refreshing to see someone with as high a profile as he getting his hands dirty. But we need to get real.
Labour in Scotland changed its name to ‘Scottish Labour’ after devolution, but it made no difference because the same personnel were still in charge. BBC Scotland is going to do something similar, but the organ will still grind out the same tune if you don’t replace the grinder.
We need to start applying pressure on the BBC. We need the Cosgroves, the Riddochs and the Hassans to speak as one, not just in backing calls for a Scottish Six but in demanding Scotland controls a Scottish Six. We need checks and balances introduced that will serve to prevent the birth of a souped-up Reporting Scotland.
BBC Scotland will apparently produce three pilots of a Scottish Six, each using a slightly different template. These pilots must be made available to the general public who are, after all, funding them. Feedback should be sought and issues transparently addressed.
I back a Scottish Six, but not unconditionally. I fear though that the idea has become so embedded amongst those who see themselves as Scotland’s ‘elite thinkers’, that they are unable to see the potential dangers. It’s just not cool to suggest BBC Scotland’s news department might be institutionally corrupt and capable of manipulating a Scottish Six to suit their own agenda.
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