Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
20. Is there a technical difficulty in having
a mixed programme, using the same clips on national news and Scottish
Six from an international story like the volcano in Goma?
I do not see any problem with that.
(Mr Mosey) The technology does not really allow that
at the moment. It will allow it in a fairly short time. However,
the issue last Friday was that Andrew Harding, the one correspondent
in Goma at the volcano, was wanted at the top of the Six O'Clock
News and he could not be appearing simultaneously on UK
Six and Scottish Six. Therefore we would have to look
at those kind of practical issues, about how you preserve the
quality of output for everybody. There are similar issues. This
goes back a number of years. I spent some time on a working party
where we discussed something like the Pope being in Cuba (where
he was at the time) and if the Pope were taken ill there how we
would do that for UK Six and Scottish Six. At that
time one of the solutions was that on the really big international
story Scottish Six might have to opt into the UK Six,
which is not a very satisfactory solution.
21. I do not see a problem here. You have one
feed, with one correspondent in Goma giving you on camera, video
tape, whatever you are using, explanation. I fail to see the technical
problem with splicing that into different news broadcasts.
(Mr Mosey) Because he cannot be asked questions by
different people at the same time.
22. Why cannot the same question be used in
both? I do not see there is a particularly serious problem with
(Mr Mosey) If you have Huw Edwards asking questions
of the man in Goma at the very top of the Six O'Clock News,
he cannot be being asked questions simultaneously by the presenter
in Scotland or
23. That is not what I asked. If you have a
mixed programme, why can you not have Hugh Edwards asking his
questions and then go to the next story in Scotland? I do not
see the reason why you cannot mix them.
(Mr Mosey) Because it is live.
(Mr Jenkins) The particular model you are envisaging
there, where almost the ball passes between Glasgow and London
depending on the item would be quite a difficult model to construct
in a satisfactory way throughout the duration of a news programme.
I think the truth about the Scottish Six, as Roger is indicating,
is not that it is technically unachievableit would be wrong
to say that, it could be done, there is no doubt that it could
be done logistically and technicallybut there would be
some compromises involved on the logistical front. The Scottish
Six and the Six O'Clock News could not simultaneously
be doing a live interview with the same correspondent in a key
location, so the compromise might be that the story had to run
three or four minutes later in the Scottish programme than it
did in the UK programme. It is that kind of compromise that would
have to be made but I do not think any of us would sit here and
say it is not manageable. It is manageable.
(Sir Robert Smith) The thing we are looking at in
the Broadcasting Council and ultimately as Governors, will be:
if we believe this is the right thing to do, then we will look
for solutions rather than technical problems.
(Mr McCormick) When the Governors made the decision
at that time not to support the concept of an integrated news
programme being edited from Scotland, the decision was made in
principle. It was a discussion about principle; it was not a discussion
on the practicalities. It was felt that if the Governors supported
the decision then they should go about assessing how to achieve
it to the best standardand we had set ourselves very high
standards for itto make sure there was no deprivation for
the viewers in Scotland. So the decision was made in principle,
not on practicalities. It was felt at the time that we would overcome
the practicalities, and if we did not, if we felt technically
we could not overcome the practicalities to make sure that there
was no deprivation of the coverage of international and UK news
to the Scottish viewer, then we would delay the introduction of
it until we could pass that test ourselves, which was a very severe
test. So the discussion at that time was on the matter of principle.
24. Are you saying that the decision in principle
is: Yes, we will go ahead with the Scottish Six?
(Mr McCormick) No, when the Governors made the decision,
it was very clearly .... I think, going back to that time, it
reflected very well on this organisation that we had the debatea
lot of other people were not having the discussionand it
was an honest debate between people who had very strong opinions,
honestly held views on both sides. I mean, it was not a "shoe-in"
and it was not a "no-brainer"; it was a very complex
issue of principle. The issue I mentioned of Newsnight Scotland
and referring to Mr Weir's point about the Today programme
and Good Morning Scotland, one of the issues that we debated
certainlyand I was in favour of the idea of the integrated
news being edited from Scotland and the proposal for thatwas
that we were very much aware of the fact that you can choose the
Today programme or Good Morning Scotland. For us,
in Scotland, one of the issues we were debating was to make sure
there was no deprivation. Because if you are not giving people
the option, which we may be able to do a few years down, in a
digital universe when we can say that the majority of homes have
digital and you can make your own choice between the way you want
to get your newsand we were very much aware of the fact
that we would be saying, "Here is your choice, we are taking
away something you have maybe enjoyed called the UK Six
and we are giving you a different package"we were
setting ourselves very strong standards for that, to make sure
that we felt that was a better option for the audience in Scotland.
We believed we could do that but we were going to then practically
assess the tests and to do it. The Governors decided that the
principle of the UK Six not being seen in all parts of
the United Kingdom at the same time was an issue that they did
not want to support in principle about the importance of UK news
being seen around the country at the same time. The fragmentation
of that news delivery was something they did not want to support
at that time.
25. Can I just nail this point about the decision
being editorial rather than political. I think that is a cop out.
It will be a political decision when it comes. I think that is
something that the BBC themselves recognise, given the amount
of money they have spent lobbying people around this table. It
will be a political decision that is influenced heavily by editorial
considerations but it will ultimately be a political decision.
(Mr McCormick) I can assure the Committee, Chairman,
that it will be an editorial decision based on how we can provide
the best service to the people of Scotland at that particular
(Mr Mosey) Before the Six was relaunched and
a news hour was created, I was among the group of people who went
up to Glasgow to meet party leaders and talk it through, and I
thought the job as head of the news hour was a really, really
tough job and I was personally sceptical about whether it would
work. I think the position we are now in is actually pretty good.
It is a pretty good editorial product, it is working in audience
terms in Scotland, and the cooperation between us is very, very
strong. I have the misfortune that John and I are personal friends
as well and therefore the fact that we have managed to make this
thing work, I think, is a real achievement. I am quite proud of
what we have done.
(Sir Robert Smith) The Broadcasting Council is also
proud of what has been achieved. I am relieved to hear that you
are happy that this will be an editorial decision, which I think
is what you said.
26. If that was the impression I gave, I apologise.
(Sir Robert Smith) In that case, let me tell you the
Governors will not be making a political decision. The Governors
will consider the provision of the news, and, if they feel that
it has to be improved, the Broadcasting Council has a mind to
recommend but we have a lot more research to do
27. I think the argument between us is what
we understand by politics.
(Sir Robert Smith) OK. The Governors have not discussed
this. When they do discuss it, it will be a decision on principle,
then we will put it across to these people to find a technical
solution, if the decision is to go with the Glasgow editorial
28. I was interested to hear Sir Robert say
how the Broadcasting Council is happy with the BBC news and how
well you are getting on. If I may draw attention to a memorandum
from Mr Nigel Smith, who is a former member of the Broadcasting
Council for Scotland,
in which he suggested that the news and current affairs broadcasting
in Scotland has not been right for 20 years and no longer gives
a balanced view. Mr Smith laid the blame at the feet of the BBC
Governors as well as politicians. Is it reasonable to suggest
that there have been long-term deficiencies inherent in the news
and current affairs programmes of BBC Scotland which no longer
give a balanced view?
(Sir Robert Smith) I was not on the Broadcasting
Council 20 years ago and did not coincide with Nigel Smith. I
found some of what he said a little alarmist in tone. I have seen,
though, in the two and a half years that I have been involved
in the thing a substantial improvement in the provision of news
and current affairs in Scotland. Part of that is because of the
spendthere was an extra £10 million per annum devoted
to the thing and a lot of new programmes came outbut it
coincided with a change in the political set up in Scotland as
well. I stand by what we said: we are happy with and supportive
of what is being produced right now but there are a number of
issues, as I mentioned earlier (about Brussels, Westminster and
Holyrood; about cut-offs between Newsnight and Newsnight
Scotland; about, indeed, getting very parochial, about the
"central belt" versus the rest of Scotland), that we
do need to keep a very close weather-eye on. So it is not perfect;
we are in a state of continuous improvement.
(Mr McCormick) Mr Smith, I know him well;
I was around in Scotland when he was a member of the Broadcasting
Council in the 1980s. He believes very strongly in the concept
of an integrated news programme coming from Scotland across the
board and his submission is based around that. The fact that he
feels that structurally, until that is done, it is impossible
to provide the best news service for the people of Scotlandthat
is his view and he has held it a long timeI do not believe
it is founded on the feeling that what we are providing in Scotland
at the moment is a second-class service. Blair gave statistics
at the beginning about the tripling of the coverage of Scottish
affairs and Scottish issues on the Six O'Clock News, for
example. One of the points Mr Smith makes specifically in his
suggestion is that the illustration of social and economic issues
are all illustrated from the south-east, which, frankly, is just
not the case now. Roger here has the statistics for that, where
you can find a housing story illustrated by talking to people
in Bradford, Aberdeen or Inverness, or a health story coming from
Glasgow or Edinburgh or the South of England. I am not saying
everything is perfect, I am not saying we cannot do more. We have
been debating a lot over the last couple of weeks about how we
can make it better and how can we make sure the representations
of the illustrations are more pan-UK and across the whole of Scotland.
We have been debating with the Broadcasting Council recently to
make sure that our illustration of life in Scotland is not simply
the west end of Glasgow. We are about to seek opinion of people
on the street and we are not simply doing it in one area of the
whole of Scotland. That we should cover the whole of Scotland
more, we are debating that with colleagues. So I do think we have
made progress in that, both at the UK level and in Scotland, but
we have a bit to go.
29. What is wrong with the west end of Glasgow?
I come from the west end of Glasgow! Anyway, with regard to what
you said about the investment, investment is always good but what
it does not do is it does not give balance. What are you doing
to measure that news and current affairs are balanced? Who checks
that the measurements are right?
(Mr Jenkins) Balanced as between the parties, do you
30. Not just between the parties but also between
the north/south and perhaps with Europe. The current affairs programmes
tend to deal with Scotland and England but Europe seems to get
left behind. It is a very topical issue these days. It did get
raised during the election but then gets flung on the back boiler.
And there are world affairs as well which the people in Scotland
are affected by.
(Mr Jenkins) On a point of party political balance,
to be honest one of the most effective monitors of that is the
fact that everything we do is highly visible. It is all out there.
Parties are very much at liberty, and indeed exercise that liberty,
to let us know if they think anything has not been properly balanced.
It is not, in all honesty, an issue that comes up terribly frequently
with political parties in Scotland because I think we are recognised
as providing balanced coverage of the main issues. That obviously
becomes particularly acute and intense when you hit something
like an election campaign, whether it is the Scottish parliamentary
election or a UK general election, but outside those times of
particular focus on balance we would also say, and we think the
evidence would support this, that we do a very good job of playing
a very straight bat in terms of the reporting of big issues in
Scotland and being fair between the parties. The issue of regional
balance, which is one which I think you are also alluding to,
is, to be honest, a perennial of Scottish broadcasting. I spent
a number of years in the ITV system in Scotland and it was as
much an issue within the ITV system in Scotland as it is with
the BBC. You can always say that in the UK, if the rest of the
UK is thinking that too much attention is grabbed by London, then
in Scotland the Scottish perception is that too much attention
is grabbed by Glasgow and/or Edinburgh, and other regions or parts
of Scotland do not get as much air time as they should. We try
to do as much as we can fully to reflect the important news from
around Scotland in all of our output. We think we do that fairly
well but it is undoubtedly a constant challenge to us not to be
over-focused on the two main cities.
(Mr McCormick) The balance between, something we have
spent a lot of time examining with the creation of the Scottish
Parliament, is the balance of reporting of the Scottish Parliament,
the Westminster Parliament and Brussels and Strasbourg, the other
part of Mr Robertson's question. In terms of the European dimension
of that, we have been sending out reporters from Scotland to Europe
to cover European issues. Ken McDonald, Kirsten Campbell, John
Morrison have been covering issues from Scotland, because we also
share and contribute to the cost of the BBC News Bureau in Brussels
to serve ourselves and Northern Ireland and other regions of England
specifically. But we are now going to strengthen that with the
appointment of a correspondent based in Europe to serve BBC Scotland
(Sir Robert Smith) On the theme of who looks at the
evidence when it comes, the Broadcasting Council last year expressed
concern about European coverage and I think that has now been
addressed. We were concerned that we did not actually have a correspondent
out there. We wondered how that was going to be addressed properly
and steps have been taken.
31. How is that assessment and reassessment
made of the mix and balance between Brussels, Westminster and
Holyrood? I believe it is taken from a Westminster angle. I always
feel, particularly now, the political situation in Europe is never
reflected properly in Scotland.
(Mr Jenkins) What we do not do, and what I do not
think we should do as between those three parliaments, is apply
any mathematical formula or any sort of quota-type view. I think
these are editorial matters of judgment. A short, simple answer
would be: If there is a big story either in this Parliament or
any other, or indeed in Edinburgh, which we have missed and other
media have got, then of course that becomes an issue for us to
debate and discuss as to why we did not have that story. So there
is the competitive imperative, if you like, to make sure that
we are getting the news as quickly and as reliably, or in fact
more so, than anyone else. That is very important to us. I think
one of the things that Scottish journalism generally has to doand
we are part of thisis to connect the debates in Scotland
with the wider debates going on elsewhere. It is actually one
of the things where I think Newsnight Scotland has made
a virtue of its more in-depth approach. When that programme looked
at issues like policy on custodial sentencing in Scotland, for
instance, we went to Finland to look at what happens there, we
took evidence from America and played it back in to try to illuminate
the debate going on in Scotland. I can think of other examples,
things like drugs policy and what has been tried elsewhere in
Europe, and we have done work in Scotland. How you promote the
tourist industry, where we again looked at what other small European
countries had done and played that back into the debate in Scotland
to try to illuminate the issue for our audience. I think there
are lots of different ways of taking examples from other countries
and applying them to very active, high profile debates in Scotland.
We have been doing that, we think, successfully but we do take
the view now that it would be important to have a permanent correspondent,
based in Brussels, partly because of the way the European debate
is likely to come much more to the forefront over the next couple
32. I wonder if I may explore with you further
the question of balance within your editorial policy and really
the nature of the guidelines set down for the staff as to who
has to be interviewed. If I may give you one specific example
which occurred this week. On Monday morning on BBC Radio Scotland
there was a discussion about the situation in Northern Ireland.
The politician from Scotland who was interviewed was Ben Wallace,
who is a conservative member of the Scottish Parliament. I must
admit I was somewhat confused as to why a member of the Scottish
Parliament was interviewed about the situation in Northern Ireland,
on which I would have thought it would have been more appropriate
for a Westminster politician or someone from Northern Ireland
to be interviewed. I wondered how strictly these guidelines are
enforced with the journalist staff. And perhaps a second question.
You have mentioned about the fact of probing areas further afield
in connection with Scottish issues, because I think there is some
concern of perhaps increased parochialism in the mediafor
example, there was little coverage of the World Trade Organisation
and the impact it is having currently on Scotlandnot only
on Newsnight Scotland but in our political documentary
programmes, which have very much a domestic agenda and do not
spend much time talking about the wider picture within Scotland.
(Mr Jenkins) On the broad point about the World Trade
Organisation and other big macro issues, you could always argue
that we could do more. I would say that the things we do try to
reflect international affairs and international trends in our
programmes. Just going back to where you started, I think the
reason Ben Wallace was on Good Morning Scotland on Monday
morning had nothing to do with his party allegiance or which parliament
he sits in; it was his army experience that was being drawn on
and the questioning was entirely about his own experience of serving
in Northern Ireland. That was the reason he featured in that programme.
He was not there as a party representative or someone with a particular
locus in terms of his parliamentary duties.
33. He would have come across as a politician,
(Mr Jenkins) Well, I dare say, but, as I say, that
was not the reason for his appearance. You are right, generally
the approach we take in terms of a story or an issue, as to: Do
you talk to the local MP, do you talk to the local MSP? by and
large tends to follow the dividing line of: Is it a reserve issue
or is it a devolved issue? That tends to be the line that we take.
There are not all that many occasions when there is much doubt
as to which way to go. It is usually pretty clear: Is this a reserved
matter or is this a devolved matter?
34. Can I take you back to your point about
balance between the parties. When you report something from Scottish
Parliament it seems to me that a general Reporting Scotland
policy will be one long line: you have an Executive spokesman,
followed by the SNP spokesman (as the second largest party), usually
followed by a Conservative spokesman (as the second largest political
party), full stop. Can I suggest to you that that is a slightly
less than balanced viewpoint for two reasons. First of all, it
gives two opposition viewpoints to one Executive viewpoint. Secondly,
it ignores the reality that there are four parties within the
Scottish Parliament and it results in that fourth party being
squeezed out. It seems to me that you are demonstrating a lack
of imagination here. You are not dealing with the fact that you
have a new political reality in Scotland. Why is that?
(Mr Jenkins) The first point I should probably makebecause
I am sure others will make it if I do notis that there
are more than four parties represented in the Scottish Parliament.
(Mr Jenkins) Clearly we are in a new era in Scottish
politics, in terms of what is a formal coalition at Holyrood.
The view that we have takenand it has been something that
was discussed within the BBC quite widelywas that where
Labour and Liberal Democrats are of a mind and are both speaking
in favour of an Executive policy, then one minister speaks on
behalf of the Executive. We do not go for two points of view from
the Executive in support of a particular policy or a particular
initiative. We do not have a fixed view as to which other parties
are included in any item because we are not locked into a format
that says there has to be three-party representation in every
news item. We think our viewers would very quickly tire of that.
We make a judgment on the basis of what the issue is, what the
story is, who has made the running with it, and a number of different
factors come into play. But our view is that the coalition has
made some change in the way that we report multi-party politics.
(Mr McCormick) I think that is a very interesting
issue that Mr Carmichael raises and one that we have been talking
actively about as a live issue within the BBC. We will be reviewing
how we have covered coalition government in Scotland over this
four-year term of the Scottish Parliament and whether we have
been imaginative enough in taking a different view of coverage
when you have indeed a coalition government rather than a single
party government. It raises very important issues which are a
live matter of debate within the BBC at the moment as to whether
we are getting it right or not.
36. This business of a tripling of the Scottish
content in the network news is very encouraging, I must say. The
flip side of that is there has been a perception, written about
in The Scotsman amongst other places, a perception in the
past that sometimes there are programmes covered in the network
news that do not apply directly to Scotland that have been covered
a little bit insensitively. My sense in the last few months is
that that has been covered more sensitively. Is that something
you would agree with?
(Mr Jenkins) I would, yes. I worked for the BBC in
London in the television news in the 1980s and I could not honestly
say that necessarily BBC programmes took account of differences
within the UK and of different sensitivities and of different
ways of doing things around the UK at that time. It is now very
high up the list of priorities. There are now very, very few instancesand
we do have a very regular dialogue on thiswhere something
is carried in the Six O'Clock News or in another
network news programme which is inaccurate in respect of other
parts of the UKand of course I am particularly thinking
from a Scottish perspectiveand strenuous efforts are made
to avoid doing that.
(Mr Mosey) It may be useful if I just illustrate the
kind of things we are doing there. There are some stories which
I define as being Scottish in their own right. So, for instance,
the-pro-hunting demonstrations in Edinburgh just before Christmas
were a Scottish story which had a UK audience but there were two
or three things we did in the same week. When the 30,000 job losses
were announced by Consignia we illustrated that from the main
sorting centre in Edinburgh; a piece about pre-Christmas shopping
for the 10 o'clock news was done from a Dundee shopping mall;
a piece about state school admissions to universities was done
from St Andrews, and those are the kind of ways that we try to
illustrate UK wide stories with pictures from all over the UK.
That is the kind of area where the amount of Scottish input is
growing exponentially really.
37. From my perspective I think that the change
Mr Joyce has referred to is what I have seen happen as well. By
and large the balance is relatively fair and I personally certainly
do not take the view that there has been "undue emphasis"
on Scottish politics. I think there has been, for example, a reflection
of national and international stories of importance when that
has happened in the last few months and that is reflected in the
Scottish news coverage. I am relatively happy about that. However,
one of the areas where I think there might be some criticism is
one which we discussed a few minutes ago which is the balance
within Scotland itself. I think you were saying there is something
of a perspective that Scottish news reporting comes in purportedly
with an Edinburgh/Glasgow bias. It happens that from my perspective,
being from Edinburgh, sometimes we think the news always seems
to be full of stories from Peterhead and Orkney or Skye, and so
on. It does not have enough local input. Of course, everybody
always looks at this from a local perspective but I wonder, particularly
with the new possibilities of different channels, whether there
is now much more possibility of opt-out specialisation within
Scotland. I have seen from other committee papers, that I think
Border TV for example do opt out different parts of their area
particularly because they obviously cover England and Scotland.
Is there a case for trying to provide more localised coverage
within Scotland so that different areas have the news coverage
for what interests them? Just as it may not be of interest to
people in Scotland to have the UK news leading with a teachers'
strike in England, equally it may not be as of much interest to
people in Glasgow to have news from Aberdeen and North-West Scotland,
or vice-versa. Have you thought about that?
(Mr McCormick) Certainly we have the potential to
do that. Within Reporting Scotland we could do a number
of opts, say, for five or ten minutes, where we could go into
more local stories for different parts of Scotland and then come
back for a round-up of sports and the headlines and international
headlines and that sort of thing. Certainly we could do that.
Our emphasis recently in the last couple of years is that we are
aware of the fact that you have a choice in broadcasting. Radio
Scotland is the only national radio service in Scotland that
brings the whole of Scotland together from Shetland to the Solway,
and Reporting Scotland too is the only national news service
for Scotland. The press is regionalised, local independent commercial
radio is localised and ITV companies in Scotland are regionalised.
Our priority for this term of the Scottish Parliament, as we were
putting in those changes and that investment, and trying to improve
the quality of everything that we do jointly, was to say to people,
"You have a choice. We will put the emphasis on that news
programme that brings Scotland together, and our competitors will
be providing a more localised and a more regional service."
We will review that at the end of that period as part of the research
that Sir Robert mentioned, to see in fact if the local deprivation
that comes from that, or diminution of the local coverage that
comes from that, is because we are covering the whole of Scotland
whether that is an important factor with the audiencewhether
the choice is wide enough, indeed, for the audience.
38. I would just like to pick up Mark's point
about this perception, that you are always covering the part of
Scotland that I do not live in! I think there is a differenceand
it is perhaps of interest in your commentsin how local
radio in BBC coverage is still perceived as being very relevant
to regional communities. I can give an example from my own area.
I would certainly give you a local opinion that says that if they
want local views they turn to BBC Solway, but if they want televisual
news for that region, the perception now is that there is more
on Border Television. I think that is a very interesting dichotomy,
and I would be quite interested in your views. Is that a specific
decision, that local coverage will emphasise the radio in the
regions rather than television? I think there is a perception
at the periphery that television is biased towards the "Central
(Mr Jenkins) I am from the North-East of Scotland,
and the tradition in that area when I was growing upand
I think still is the caseis very much that you watch the
Grampian programme for the local news, and then you watch Reporting
Scotland for the national Scottish news, and I am sure that
still goes on to some extent. John's point is absolutely correct.
I think our view has been we deal with, we engage with, what is
a national news agenda in Scotland. I take the view that an important
story in the North-East of Scotland is of interest to people in
the Central Belt. An important story, like the foot and mouth
outbreak from the South-West, is a very important story for people
in the Central Belt and, in a sense, the proof of the pudding
in a way is that as against the ITV proposition of Scotland which,
as you say, has a three-way split between Grampian, Scottish Television
and Border, the BBC Scotland proposition is very significantly
ahead now in viewing terms. The average audience in the final
quarter of last year was, I think, 550,000 to BBC Scotland's Reporting
Scotland and an amalgamated figure of 420,000 for the ITV
proposition in Scotland. These things are never conclusive one
way or the other, and viewing figures will undoubtedly change
over time, and they do vary over time. I think people do appreciate
that what we do is the national news, and that that is something
different from a city-based or a regionally-based service.
39. There is not the wider intention within
the news organisation to say, in terms of the regions of Scotland,
"We will accentuate the positive in regular broadcasting,
and leave the rest to be picked up by other companies"televisual?
(Mr McCormick) You mean to extend the local radio
1 Ev 54. Back