Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 165 - 179)

MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2002

MR DAVID HUTCHISON, MR NIGEL R. SMITH AND PROFESSOR PHILIP SCHLESINGER

Chairman

  165. Good morning. We are the Scottish Affairs Select Committee from Westminster Parliament. As you will be aware, we are presently conducting an inquiry into post devolution news and current affairs broadcasting in Scotland. There are two sections to this hearing, yourselves, followed by a number of Members of the Scottish Parliament. We have a number of questions to put to you. At the end of the session, it would be my intention to give you time to sum up or to put any other points you think we have missed in that time.

  (Professor Schlesinger) I am Professor Philip Schlesinger, and I am Director of Stirling Media Research Institute.
  (Mr Hutchison) My name is David Hutchison. I teach media studies at Glasgow Caledonian University. For eight years I was a member of the BBC's General Advisory Council.
  (Mr Smith) Nigel Smith; I am a businessman in Glasgow, but my connection with broadcasting arises from my membership of the BBC's General Advisory Council and its Broadcasting Council in Scotland, and also because I was Chairman of the Broadcasting for Scotland Campaign during the BBC's charter renewal.

  166. Can I just kick off by asking you this: what have the effects been, if any, of devolution on the structure of current affairs broadcasting in Scotland, as you see it?
  (Mr Hutchison) I have tried to say in the paper that I sent to your officer that there has been an inevitable change because of the shift of a significant number of legislative functions to Edinburgh. I think the question that has to be asked is the one we are obviously addressing, which is whether the shift is appropriate or inappropriate in some way. My own view is that while one might say at times there may have been excessive interest in the Scottish media—and one has to talk about the press and broadcasting because it is very difficult to separate them—in what is going on in Edinburgh at the expense, perhaps, of what is going on in the UK, over the piece it would be difficult to sustain that case, particularly without doing pretty detailed research. One would really have to look at news bulletins from 1998 in rather more detail than STV does in its evidence, and at newspapers. In the absence of that kind of research project, we are in the realm of impressions rather than anything that is more substantial. My view is that it may be that at times the balance has not been right, but I would not want to argue that over the piece. What I would like to argue, as far as broadcasting of the news is concerned—and I notice that other witnesses have raised this with you—is that we are inevitably going to be forced back into looking at the way in which television operates its news agenda and news provision in Scotland.
  (Professor Schlesinger) I certainly agree with that last point. If you look at the nature of broadcast output, you will find that television news in particular is the thing that attracts the largest audience: something like 20 per cent of the Scottish population, if you accept the broadcasters' figures, tune in between six and seven o'clock, which is a decisive moment, and the quality of that provision is absolutely key. We do know that provision has expanded, perhaps notably in the case of the BBC, but there has been generally a response to devolution and a growth of the type of programming which parallels much of the programming that would be offered on the UK level. It is difficult to be quite sure what the impact has been of that. The audiences for a great deal of it are relatively small, and, one imagines, quite specialised. I would also agree that the relationship with broadcasters and the press is something that needs to be considered because so much of the agenda of broadcasting is interlinked with that of the press.
  (Mr Smith) This is very much a British problem, although we are considering this at the Scottish end of it. The BBC, for a long time, has had a problem reflecting both the northern regions of England and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. During the BBC Charter review we repeatedly pointed out to the BBC and the Government that less than 3 per cent of what we see on our television screens comes from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is a long-standing problem, and various-Director-Generals, including Greg Dyke, have promised to put that right; however, there is, as yet, no sign of that. My own view about the news—for this is what the argument has come down to, a single news programme—is that it has failed to keep pace with the development of multi-layered democracy in Britain and has contributed to some degree to the poor public perception of the Scottish Parliament. I think that the BBC has failed in its public service broadcasting duty. It is very welcome that there is to be a review after the next election and that it should be led by the audience. I appeal to the BBC to look also at its central role in our democracies.

Mr Lyons

  167. To what extent has the advent of devolution led to an increase in current affairs output, and where do you think the focus has been?
  (Professor Schlesinger) New programmes have been invented, specifically to do with the reporting of Holyrood, programmes dealing with weekly current affairs, both on radio and television. It is difficult to assess quite what the impact of that is. A great deal of interest has been focused on Newsnight Scotland. In the case of, for example, Good Morning Scotland you still have a programme that operates as a kind of agenda-setter, very much on the lines of the Today programme for the UK network as a whole. In the case of Newsnight Scotland you have undoubtedly a new space created for certain kinds of political debate and certain kinds of agenda. Across the piece, it is very difficult to say what impact any of this has had on public interest or on the public debate. If the Scottish Parliament has had a rather negative treatment in the press, it certainly would be difficult to assert that broadcasting has acted as a counterweight to that.
  (Mr Hutchison) One of the problems with current affairs broadcasting in relation to politics, as I am sure you all know and this is a difficulty that the BBC and other organisations are trying to grapple with—is arousing audience interest in the basic ideas of politics. It seems to me that there must be a real gulf between the person who watches Holyrood—as I am sure some of you people do—and the person who is really taking his or her information about politics from the press and from programmes like Good Morning Scotland, or Radio Clyde's news programmes, or Reporting Scotland and Scotland Today. I think the focus has to be on the news programmes with something like Newsnight Scotland added on. As Professor Schlesinger has pointed out, that is not watched by many people. That is a fundamental problem; some of the best discussion I have heard on the post devolution situation in Scotland has been in Newsnight Scotland, when most sensible people are asleep. We are in a situation where a lot of viewers are being deprived of intelligent discussion on Scottish politics. My own personal view remains that the way forward is the Good Morning Scotland or Radio Scotland model where you mix in national, international and Scottish material. For example, this morning at seven o'clock we were talking about Mr Blair's speech yesterday, followed by Enron, followed by what the TUC has said in England and Wales—and it applies to Scotland too—about over-working in this country. That seems to be what we do not have in the present situation.
  (Mr Smith) There clearly has been additional provision with Newsnight, with an element of deprivation involved in that as well. The fact that I concentrate so much on the integrated news option is because it has seven or eight times the audience who listen for more or less twice as long, and that makes it incredibly important to our democracy. As we see something like the Barnett Formula beginning to produce stresses and strains in Scotland, we have to ask ourselves whether the current news provision is up to engendering any sort of public discourse on issues like this. I believe it is not.

Mr Duncan

  168. You mentioned additional provision and in particular the effect of Newsnight Scotland in the evening. In so far as there has been additional provision, and obviously bearing in mind your comments as regards the impressions rather than research, what has been audience response to that provision? Is it your impression that there has been a change to the general level of interest in current affairs? Has there been a discernible change in the level of interest in current affairs, post devolution?
  (Professor Schlesinger) I would like to repeat what Mr Hutchison said: we simply do not know the answer to that because nobody has done the research. It really is impossible to give you any sort of informed opinion. You can go on impressions, but that is about it.

Chairman

  169. Would you like to give us some of your impressions in the absence of that information? (Professor Schlesinger) One way of understanding the whole issue of current affairs and political debate in Scotland is perhaps to recognise that there is undoubtedly a core of people who are interested in what is provided by programmes at the margin of the schedule, if one could put it that way. I am not sure that that really plays into most people's impressions. We know that, for example, readership of The Record is absolutely decisive. We know that a great deal of the agenda—at least it is my impression that a great deal of public impressions of the performance of the Scottish Parliament, for example, do come from the press, some sections of which have been consistently hostile to it. If the issue on the table is whether broadcasting, whether public sector or commercial, is making a decisive counter impact to that, the answer in my view is that it is not.
  (Mr Hutchison) I agree with that. I think you have to look very carefully at the relationship between some newspapers and the Scottish Parliament—indeed, Scottish politicians. I think there are some relationships there which trouble a number of us, where you have a very powerful newspaper like the Daily Record, which clearly has a significant impact on agenda-setting. It is also perfectly clear that a number of politicians in Edinburgh have had rather close relationships with that newspaper. In that situation, we desperately need a sustained public service broadcasting arena. We need some way within public service broadcasting to ensure that perhaps rather different kinds of discussions take place. Many of the Newsnight Scotland discussions would have been a damn sight more helpful to Scottish understanding of what is going on in Scottish politics if they had been part of Reporting Scotland, rather than being buried at eleven o'clock at night.
  (Mr Smith) On the day that the Scottish Parliament opened, at the opening ceremony I was a silent partner to a conversation between the editor of a broadsheet in Scotland and the editor of a tabloid in Scotland. I was absolutely appalled by this conversation. It was quite clear they were delighting about what they had done to the SNP in the Scottish general election, and regaling themselves in the most basic language about the campaign. As I listened to this, I thought, "what is going to happen when this pair turn to other points of the political agenda?" I could not believe how quickly it happened: within weeks we had reports about MSPs skiving—and you know the story as well as I do. We have always had a rather poor forum for conducting politics in Scotland at the expense of our MPs, and this has simply got worse, to the point of being dangerous for our democracy. That is why I am such a strong campaigner for the integrated news option because it deals not with the anoraks like me but with everyday people, in very large numbers, and their part in the political process, which is absolutely essential to democracy.

Chairman

  170. How dangerous for democracy do you think this has become? We had a much lower turn-out at this general election. Do you think that was part of the kind of reporting you talked about where the agenda was clearly being set in the media and not by politicians?
  (Mr Smith) There is clearly a massive problem. If I could articulate it in terms of the Scottish Parliament, it absolutely terrifies me that we are faced with the re-election to the Scottish Parliament in just over a year's time, and my view is that there is a real risk turn-out will fall below 50 per cent, which will de-stabilise the Parliament. There will be a clear loss of legitimacy and it will take quite a lot to climb back from that. I will blame our public service broadcaster in part for this complex reaction to the confidence that was expressed in the 1997 Referendum.
  (Professor Schlesinger) There is a broader question concerning the political disengagement that is going on. We have seen this in the European elections as well as in the UK general elections, and it would be reasonable to assume that it will happen with the Scottish Parliamentary elections. It is a complicated phenomenon. We know, for example, that recent research by the BBC suggests that the under 45s are opting out of formal politics in certain ways. We know that there is growth of certain types of social movement responses outside of the parliamentary political arena. It is quite legitimate, but there is a growing complexity of relationship between the electorate and politics as a whole. Some of this has not been helped by the use of spin doctors and the whole discourse around spin-doctoring, which has been discrediting to politics and has made people feel that they are being manipulated in ways that they can increasingly see through because they have considerable sophistication. I am not convinced that there is a simple antidote to this, but there is undoubtedly a connection between the way in which media operate at a time of intense party competition with all kinds of questions about funding, which everybody around the table knows about. There is a sense, which I think is quite deep-rooted in the electorate as a whole, that the political system is not delivering. There is something quite complicated going on, which is not simply soluble by public service broadcasting doing better; but it could be part of the problem.
  (Mr Hutchison) I agree with that. I am not one of these people who for a minute subscribe to the cynical view that politicians are all in it for themselves because I think that is a destructive and very dangerous view. The one more hears it, the more one gets alarmed. Obviously, as Professor Schlesinger has said, there are questions that politicians need to ask themselves, not just about spin-doctoring but about the problem of finance. However, I do not think the electorate is very honest with itself either, in the sense that it does not seem willing to finance political parties, and then objects to other methods being used to fund. As far as journalism is concerned, I should say that I teach some of the journalists of the future, and some of them probably work for the BBC and elsewhere in Scotland at the moment, because we run a postgraduate journalism course with Strathclyde University. I sometimes think, and sometimes say to young journalists, that there is a danger of always being seen to be in opposition. Of course, journalists should always be asking hard questions, and that is one of their functions, but I sometimes think too many of them have seen All the President's Men or some similar narrative and think that the people they are looking at in the political sphere are all suspect. I do think that what happened over section 28, or whatever it was called—I got confused as many of us did over that—in the way that was discussed in Scotland by some newspapers, was an example of something other than simply regarding politicians as in some ways suspect. It was an example of a kind of zealous destructiveness, and there seems to me sometimes to be an element of zealous destructiveness in journalism that one could do without.

Mr Weir

  171. Accepting what you have said, a lot of the discussion has been about public service broadcasting, the BBC; but one thing that concerns me about modern television is the advent of satellite and digital television where, especially the young can watch television all night and never see a news programme of any sort, let alone in depth. Have you done any research on the impact of that on youngsters and voting intentions?
  (Professor Schlesinger) I am not specifically aware of any work that has been done on that. Again, anecdotally, there is some evidence from newspaper sales, for example, to suggest that people are opting out of the daily purchase in many ways. You get free sheets, for example, occupying some of the newspaper space. It is bound to be the case that a new generation will find its news in different ways. It still remains the case, though, that most people go to television, and terrestrial television at that, for their news, so it is important not to be too alarmist about this.

  172. The point I am making is this. If you watch terrestrial television of an evening, there are regular news bulletins throughout the evening, and it is almost impossible to watch a night's TV without getting the news headlines. On satellite, with many channels, Sky 1 does not show the news, nor does ITV 2. Many of these channels have no news, never mind in-depth news; they have no news whatsoever because they are dedicated channels.
  (Professor Schlesinger) That is true, but it would be wrong to assume that that is the exclusive viewing of everybody. People will obviously select things they are most interested in, but in as much as there is evidence on this, we probably can be sure that most people dip into some sort of news consumption at some point during the day. For many, it may just be listening to radio, for example. You get news updates on most forms of radio, even if they are not speech channels. I think you have to look at media consumption in the round, and not just assume that people are gravitating towards a newsless universe.
  (Mr Hutchison) Some very interesting figures came out last week about radio listening in Britain. There is some question about the accuracy of the methodology, but it looks as if the average person is listening to the radio almost as much as he or she is watching television, to back up what Professor Schlesinger was saying. It is quite difficult to avoid some news on radio. I think there is a danger in focusing over much on television. I accept the point that you can dodge news if you want to. You can always dodge news: you can go from BBC to Channel 4 at chosen times and dodge news. If you really want to dodge news in a practical way, it is possible to do it. I do think we can exaggerate the likely way in which the so-called digital future will develop. I am not 100 per cent persuaded that ten years from now we will be in a digital multi-channel world where people are spending most of the time watching these kinds of services. The evidence at the moment tells us that some 80 per cent of the viewing is still to terrestrial channels, most of which have some news, and even in so-called digital/satellite/cable homes, 60 per cent of the viewing is to the terrestrial channels still.
  (Mr Smith) I would just remind you that news gathering and news provision is the most expensive single genre in broadcasting and it is one of the reasons why a lot of people do not provide it themselves. But I agree with the proposition that while all channels may not provide it, people increasingly construct their own diet, and it does include news.

Mr Carmichael

  173. I would like to explore the notion that somehow it is the media that is responsible for disengagement from politics and low voter turn-out. I think it is a lot more complex than has been suggested this morning. I think if people are not turning to politics any more, it is because they are finding that power has moved away from politics. We complain about the state of our trains, but Government ministers shrug their shoulders and say, "oh, no, that is Railtrack/Scotrail". We complain that there is a threat to postal services, but they say, "oh, well, that is Postcall and that is Consignia". I think that politicians cannot have it both ways: they either take responsibility and get engagement, or they fail to get responsibility and they get detachment, which is the situation at the moment. I would like to bring Mr Hutchison back to this point. He used a very interesting word and said there was a relationship between a lot of people in politics in Scotland and the media in various forms. That got my mind working, and I can think of four, if not five, instances where there is a relationship between a politician and a member of the Scottish media, either by blood or affinity. Do you think that has a bearing on the way that Scottish politics is reported and working at the moment?
  (Mr Hutchison) I was not talking about that kind of affinity. I was referring to the fact that a number of Scottish politicians had sought to use a particular newspaper in order to advance their own particular point of view with the public. To answer your question, in a small country I suppose these things are almost inevitable. I also think it is true that many journalists are in some ways politicians manqué - in fact some of them have been politicians and some politicians have been journalists, so it is not surprising there is an overlap. It would be useful if we all knew a little bit more about these affinities. I know that The Scotsman comes in for a lot of criticism these days, but last year they published a very interesting little chart with various people's pictures and little lines connecting them. That reminded me of a chart that was published years ago in Private Eye, which showed the connections between Lord Goodman and a very large number of people indeed, who were of course business connections. I cannot see an easy way to deal with this problem. There is a particular individual that may be in your mind, Mr Carmichael, who sometimes reviews the newspapers on radio; and one sometimes wonders whether one ought to be told in advance something about this individual's affinities. I do not see how you can make that work. People "in the know" know these things, but the public does not. I cannot see an answer to the problem other than journalists being honest about themselves and perhaps being honest with some of their colleagues.
  (Professor Schlesinger) It is a tricky one. I did, slightly tongue-in-cheek, write a piece for the Sunday Herald about two years ago, suggesting that since journalists were calling for lobbyists to register themselves and their interests, and for politicians to do the same, perhaps they might wish to do that themselves. It is not so much that you would take a crude view and say the news is going to be bent because somebody knows somebody else very well; it is difficult, though to believe that people do not get privileged access to certain kinds of information, that there is not pillow talk, to put it crudely. It is difficult to imagine that somehow or other these networks do not have an impact. Referring back to Mr Hutchison's remarks, I think the most corrosive thing is that from time to time these surface, and they usually surface because somebody has got a grudge match. In coming out with a partial account of relationships, everybody gets tarred with the brush, and in general it affects the credibility of relationships between journalists and their sources. I think there is a self-defeating element to the whole thing.
  (Mr Smith) On the whole, I do not accept that there is a problem here. In fact, we used to go around Scotland in the devolution campaign arguing that one of the great things about Scotland is that it was on a scale where these networks of relationships could be turned to the country's advantage. Certainly my connection with a lot of these people shows that there is a fair level of professionalism, and it does not worry me greatly. But there is a different angle to this, and that is that all of them become too close to the political process, to the corridor, and they need professionally to have more distance from the process in order to make constructive comment. I sometimes feel that because of this closeness there is a danger that the political debate runs away from the electorate, and that is very important for our democracy.

Mr Joyce

  174. If you have these tight relationships with some people, politicians or other journalists—and you alluded to one former relationship, for example—does that not mean that the greater extent to which there is devolution editorial control in the UK, the greater the problem would be in Scotland because of the modest size of the journalistic and political community?
  (Professor Schlesinger) I am not quite sure how you would address that question. Is that a question that is purely focused on broadcasting, or are you talking about the press as well?

  175. It is just a question of what you said. If you are saying the networks or communities are relatively small because Scotland is a relatively small place, then one would assume that the greater the extent of the editorial control on publications and broadcasting in Scotland, you would expect that difficulty to be enhanced by those close relationships.
  (Professor Schlesinger) It is clearly a matter of swings and roundabouts, but there are potentially negative aspects of proximity, and there are advantages too. In some respects, if you are thinking about political reporting in Scotland, the way that that operates is very similar in principle to the way it operates in Westminster. It is writ small, but I think you would have a problem demonstrating that the character of the connections is different in principle in Westminster. I would not imagine that exercising control in London would address that problem at all.
  (Mr Hutchison) I would support that. There is a danger in this discussion that we give the impression that things are very bad; I think one has to put on record the view that a lot of very good journalism about Holyrood has been happening in the last two or three years, particularly in some of the broadsheets. There has been a lot of commentary also on the airwaves. Anything that one says that is critical is against the background that there are a lot of good journalists, some of whom are not frightened to make enemies. That is sometimes one of the criteria on which one judges a good journalist: whether he or she is prepared to make enemies among the people they have to deal with; and some of them are, which is good.
  (Mr Smith) I think that any examination of Westminster would show some surprisingly close relationships there. I have just jotted down the new Chairman of the BBC and his connection to Gordon Brown; we can talk about trades union leaders who have a connection with the media. I can, without difficulty, find a lot, and I do not have a problem with that. I do not really have a problem with it in Scotland either. I do not want to follow David's point of view about the place that the media form in Scotland. I regard this as a real negative, which something will have to be done about before very long.

Mr Lazarowicz

  176. My very much impressionistic assessment of the links between the media and the political world in Westminster is that they are very close, as they are in Scotland. Arguably, given the size of the UK as a whole, at least in Scotland there is a positive side to these links in that it means these people are quite likely to be in touch with the wider community. I am not so bothered about the links between individuals, in the way that has been outlined to us, but I am more interested in the commercial linkages which exist now, and how they might exist in the future. I would be interested in the views of the witnesses today as to the way in which cross-media ownership should be regulated in future. That will always be a very important issue for OFCOM. What kind of arrangement should there be, for example, to protect regional/national broadcasting in the UK under the new arrangements? It seems to me that that is much more important than these personal links.
  (Mr Hutchison) That is a most interesting question. The Government is currently consulting on these latest proposals, as we all know. Having sent a brief comment in, my view is that the Government still has this the wrong way round: it seems to think that creating world-class companies, which seems to me to be a bit of an illusion, is more important than serving democracy. If you look at the latest document, they have put creating world-class companies and then encouraging plurality. My own view is that concentration of ownership in the UK is much greater than one would like, and has been getting worse and ought to be restrained. In the United Kingdom we have done very little to stop the growth of a number of companies like News International, which of course is not a British company anyway. It is time that we addressed this issue. I can remember a member of the present Government writing a piece in the Glasgow Herald, saying he thought it would be a good thing if newspaper companies had one newspaper during the week and one on a Sunday, and that they should be forced to get rid of the others. That was some time ago. As far as the Scottish situation is concerned, the extraordinary position is the power of the Scottish Media Group. No-one would suggest that the Scottish Media Group is a malevolent organisation lacking public spirit, but I cannot envisage the equivalent power ever being vested in a company on that scale in England. The idea that one company should own two of the broadsheet newspapers, in effect virtually all of the commercial television broadcasting, and be agitating to take over most of the commercial radio stations in the country seems to me to be an absolutely extraordinary situation. I think that the legislation, when it comes, has got to take account of the fact that for these purposes, Scotland, and perhaps Wales and Northern Ireland, must be considered separately because of the patterns of consumption that exist.
  (Professor Schlesinger) I would like to agree with a great deal of that. One of the things I am most struck by is that since devolution Scotland has become a political entity in the way that it was not before. The UK rules for dealing with communications do not seem to recognise that adequately. I do have more underlying concerns about the whole way in which OFCOM is being set up. No doubt it is too late to do anything about that, but it does seem to be driven overwhelmingly by competition considerations that are primarily focused on the idea of national champions fighting in a global marketplace, in other words looking outwards; whereas the logic of political development in the UK has been to devolve, in other words to look inwards in certain respects, and to bring power down to a different level. There is a kind of contradiction built in to the way OFCOM is set up. The cultural purposes, which are presently regulated for example by Broadcasting Standards, the ITC in some of its guises, are going to come into conflict with competition ones, and we are setting up a framework which is actually probably going to be very difficult to manage because decisions are constantly going to come up which are presently regulated in different ways, which come into contradiction with one another.

  177. I would like to come back to the more specific question about news programmes and the way in which you arrange opt-out programmes, for example Newsnight. We have seen your views about what should happen from the evidence you have given us. What is your view on how it has worked in practice; namely the quality of the product presented in the Newsnight opt-out and in the re-badged one-hour at six o'clock?
  (Mr Smith) If we go back to what the BBC said in 1998 when it produced proposals stating that it would like to move in step with constitutional development, not ahead of it, and would like to reflect all parts of the UK to all parts of the UK, I do not think on either count it has succeeded. Roger Mosey, in his evidence to you,[1] talked about how they put Henry McLeish's resignation at the top of the news for the UK. The question that he should have been asked, I think, is how many other times Henry McLeish in that year was in the news, let alone at the top of it. I think the answer would be, the Sutherland report. If that is reflecting Scotland adequately in the BBC news, I doubt it very much. I think one might look at the way it covered things like BSE. There was a widespread feeling that BSE was better handled in Scotland than in England. This debate crept on to the radio, but it did not really materialise on the national TV news. I think one could go down quite a lot of examples to show that we are in bed with an elephant here; it just is impractical to have an audience where 85 per cent of the audience are in England, and make a programme about Wales and Scotland that appeals to that majority audience. It really is, by definition, an impossibility. We still have a situation where in the London half of the programme, the BBC talked about tripling the items on Scotland in the national news. What they did not tell you was that it was previously 1 per cent of the items, so that 3 per cent of the items in the UK news now come from Scotland. It just is impractical: the result is the Scottish half of the programme has to bear the burden. You have heard about having two minutes to discuss an issue. Quite frankly, if you look at Reporting Scotland you might well find that our MSPs or our MPs get an eight or twelve-second place. I defy any politician to deal with any of our modern complex problems in that way. The structure of the programme has not responded to the new reality. For me, the thing is a failure. I would qualify the evidence given by the BBC when it talked about the success of the news programme: it did not tell you that there has been a general failure of ITN news right across Britain, and that for a year regional audiences have been moving away from ITN to the BBC news programmes all round Britain. The last place where the audience have made that move is in Scotland. That has been occurring in Scotland in the last six months, so in that context this is more to do with ITN's failure than the appeal of the programme the BBC have made for Scotland. We need to remember one other thing: Reporting Scotland is not the BBC's most popular regional news programme; it is fourth or fifth on the list. To me, it is not a bad programme but it has a real problem in trying to reflect our politics in a way that would make any sense to our voters.

  (Mr Hutchison) Was the question about the current arrangement, rather than the proposed modification to it?

  178. How it has worked over the last two years.
  (Mr Hutchison) As I argued in my evidence, the structure is inherently unsound. If there are major national/international stories, Reporting Scotland and Scotland Today appear irredeemably trivial, and that was obvious in September. On other occasions, one wonders sometimes how these items have got on the news. The reason they are in the news is that they have got to fill 25 minutes of Scottish material. There are many occasions when Good Morning Scotland does not have much Scottish material because there is not Scottish material that ought to be broadcast, given the importance of other stories. This is bad for Scottish television journalists, that they are being forced to operate with at least one hand behind their back, and they are not able to operate as mature journalists, which you are aiming to do if you are in Radio Scotland, and to an extent if you are in the press in Scotland. My own view is that, as a news package, it can work. No matter what you do, it can work.
  (Professor Schlesinger) I am not going to go over what Mr Smith and Mr Hutchison have said. I agree with a great deal of it, but it is worth considering why we have the present set-up. It is because when there was last a debate about this, basically it ran into a stalemate and people were forced to adapt inside the BBC. The adaptation was to engage in change within the relationship between Glasgow and London, in terms of editorial practice; to change to some extent Reporting Scotland and to invent the Newsnight Scotland opt-out. That is really the product of decisions taken three years ago. I think it is exceedingly welcome that the Committee is looking into this because maybe those decisions ought to be re-visited. It is not clear to me that people do anything other than defend the arrangements that they actually have found themselves in as effectively as they can.

Mr Weir

  179. Notwithstanding that you have been saying the Broadcasting Council for Scotland claim BBC Scotland should show greater coherence than any time before, at the same time, in their evidence, Scottish Media Group were claiming their system with Scottish News first, followed by ITN, was the best way to do it. Mr Hutchison has said there is an element of triviality perhaps in Reporting Scotland. I am not sure how that sits with the earlier evidence about the need for more in-depth reporting of Scottish stories. Do you think either of these formats is likely to work? If not, how do you feel it should be presented? Are you looking for a Good Morning Scotland scenario?
  (Mr Hutchison) I was trying to say that it is a structural problem. I am not arguing that Reporting Scotland and Scotland Today are always trivial for a minute. I am arguing that in certain circumstances they appear trivial because of the momentous nature of the news either on a British or international scale. To take the example of the hour from six to seven on the BBC—and I would hope, if this were to change, that the Scottish Media Group would also consider change too—I would have thought that that hour would be best used by using the resources of the BBC world-wide to put together a package which would balance Scottish, British and international items, as makes most sense on the day, perhaps with an element of the Newsnight in-depth analysis built in. Some journalists might say it is too early in the evening to do that, but Channel 4 does not do too badly shortly after that time. My ideal would not be half an hour of international news and half an hour of Scottish news joined up somehow, because I do not think the viewers would take that, frankly—and viewers come in and out of these programmes—but you have to find a way of offering a news that might take up twenty or twenty-five minutes or slightly more, and then develop other items at some length and then maybe return to the major stories. It is indeed the Good Morning Scotland type of structure, but without all the traffic reports.


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