The importance of choice in television news and current affairs services is one of the key findings in the third interim report of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission. Since March, the Commission has been gathering evidence on the democratic importance of broadcasting in Scotland. The interim report published yesterday reveals emerging issues in the role of news programmes in informing and engaging Scottish audiences, and in whether democracy in Scotland is being fully served by broadcasters.
Public opinion seems to favour a change to the structure of early evening television news to provide one integrated programme from Scotland covering international, UK and Scottish news. 53% prefer this option, while 36% favour the status quo.
Both the BBC and the Scottish Media Group, which operates the ITV services in most of Scotland, expressed an intention of expanding their “local” video news provision (that is Scottish news at a local or regional level rather than Scotland-wide), especially in the online environment. However, the Commission says it’s concerned that such broadband initiatives would currently be unavailable to almost half the population of Scotland.
All of the broadcasters indicate a desire and willingness to provide more and improved news and current affairs output to serve audiences in Scotland better. The Commission says that, as it works towards publication of its final report in September, it will continue to invite debate and discussion on this and other issues identified in the interim report.
Andy Sennitt comments: As a half-Scot myself, I feel qualified to comment. The structure of early evening news on both the BBC and ITV is currently half an hour of news about Scotland, produced in Glasgow, and half an hour of national and international news, produced in London. The problem is that the ‘national’ news often contains detailed analysis of things that are completely irrelevant to Scotland, which has its own parliament. On the other hand, when there is a big story in Scotland this is covered in both the London and Scottish bulletins, which is unnecessary duplication and wasteful of precious airtime.
What the Scottish broadcasters want is the opportunity to make their own judgement about the relative importance of different stories, and to be allowed a full hour where they can present Scottish, UK and international news in a package tailored to the needs of the Scottish audience. The Scottish editions of newspapers replace irrelevant stories from England with something else, and it seems to me ludicrous that in 2008 the TV stations don’t have that option.