Scotland’s political landscape has been reacting this week to the BBC’s proposals to create a new TV channel for Scotland, with a nightly news programme combining domestic and international news from a Scottish perspective.
For some, the BBC will always be seen through suspicious eyes. For others, the doubtful delights of Strictly will justify anything. But to those who simply believe that the glass will always be half empty, or who remain disappointed at the lack of a “Scottish Six” – an opt-out, hour-long news programme on BBC One – I would say let’s see the announcement as a step in the right direction, and then continue to make the case for more.
There are undoubtedly real opportunities that will now arrive for broadcasting in Scotland, especially with the 80 new jobs in journalism, as well as the chance for technical and other off-screen careers.
This can be classed as a win for Scotland, perhaps even a significant milestone for devolution itself, because it shows that BBC UK management at long last appears to be recognising the distinctive needs of their Scottish audience. This turnaround in investment is welcome after years of cutbacks and there are clearly exciting times ahead for the Scottish media industry and how we as a nation reflect ourselves, with the prospect of a Scottish Seven news programme from STV to be followed by a Scottish Nine from the BBC.
The plans are not perfect, but if we are to recognise the value and the importance of culture as the beating heart of our national identity, and have any desire to promote our creative output across the world, then we have to see this as a step forward. Even beyond the direct impact, the skills which are cultivated in broadcast TV are important for our wider cultural life, as well as for other industries like film, online, and the games sector.
For Scottish Green Party members, who have long campaigned for gender equality, we also see an opportunity to rectify the portrayal of women in the media. In 2013, men held 95 per cent of editorial positions and 100 per cent of political editorial positions in the UK’s daily newspapers. This is reflected in widespread stereotyping of women in the print media, it feeds though to lack of gender balance on screen too.
That’s why our MSPs have also been campaigning for the creation of a Scottish watchdog to monitor and challenge stereotyping and lack of gender diversity in the media.
The Scottish Greens have also welcomed the reassurance given by the BBC Director General yesterday that it is essential for commissioning editors for Scotland actually to be based in Scotland instead of London; they would be unable to do their job if this was not the case.
This came in response to Green MSP Ross Greer highlighting at Holyrood’s Culture committee that the position of Acting Drama Commissioning Editor for Scotland, based in Glasgow, appears to be set for replacement by a commissioner position advertised as being based in London. Independent production companies in Scotland have raised concerns repeatedly that such arrangements mean we lose out on production contracts in Scotland to southern-based companies more familiar with BBC management, holding back the development of the domestic film and television industry.
It is up to MSPs to hold the BBC to account on their plan to make more UK-wide programmes here in Scotland too, so that this results in work for Scottish firms and benefits our economy.
The Greens want to see strong Scottish broadcasters, confident in using their journalistic independence to hold power accountable at home, but also cooperating with those working UK-wide and beyond to ensure all of Scotland’s people are heard and seen in our media, and that Scotland’s creativity is showcased far and wide.
That ambition will require a better share of resources as well as better structures, but also a change of mindset. I’ve never believed that it would be best achieved by breaking the BBC into pieces. But it does need to evolve into a broadcaster which genuinely understands and respects the different audiences as well as the different political landscapes it serves. Requiring changes to the BBC’s Charter to be agreed between all the governments in these islands would ensure that accountability is shared, instead of hoarded within a Westminster political bubble, covered by a London-centric media bubble.
Whether under devolution or post-independence, that model of a multi-nation broadcaster would safeguard the principle of public service broadcasting against attacks by those who want market forces to dominate TV as it does in the US. But it would also give the institution a real incentive to take each nation and its needs seriously.
We’ve got some way to go to achieve that, but this week’s announcements represent a meaningful step in the right direction.
This article first appeared in the National