BBC London, BBC Glasgow – Take Your Pick

There’s been much written and discussed about the BBC’s uneven representation across the UK. It’s not always apparent that BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation. The general consensus is that the BBC’s output has been far too concentrated on London and the old excuses that the ‘regions’ have their own local services have eventually worn thin. As far as the vocabulary of the BBC is concerned ‘regions’ refer to places such as Swansea, Manchester or Glasgow – no not Glasgow – Scotland. In the minds of BBC London Glasgow is Scotland. How interesting that everywhere in the UK is potentially a ‘region’ bar London and the SE in the BBC boardroom. It still comes as a surprise to people in the far south of the UK that Scotland is not a region, certainly no more a region than England is a region and who in London and the SE would accept that?

London BBC was forced to rethink its position following criticism in the King Report for the BBC Trust in 2008 which resulted in its controversial decisions, only controversial to the London media, to outsource production around the UK, well, to a few places in the UK (let’s face it some places are never going to get a look-in).

Most people know about the controversy surrounding BBC’s Question Time moving production to Glasgow and the response from its presenter, Dimbleby, along the lines of how this move was unnecessary as the programme already reflects out-of-London diversity when it goes around Britain – an example of Marie Antoinette-type logic of ‘let them eat cake’ from the London media set. These London lovies argue that moving programmes to other parts of the UK is ‘bonkers’ for ‘obvious reasons’. What is ‘obvious’ to them are misplaced assumptions to the rest of us; assumptions which emerge from complacency, elitism, ignorance, snobbery and surely a huge helping of parochialism. Such insular thinking dismisses cries for fairer distribution of BBC facilities and budgets as nothing more than political correctness for they argue that it is self-evident that BBC programmes are best made in London.

This view is summed up without a hint of irony by Roy Greenslade, a Professor of Journalism in his home town of London, who argues for centralising the BBC in London because it has always been the ‘epicentre of creative media activity in Britain’, ‘London is where things happen. It is the nation’s political pivot the central heart, its legal centre’ – well only up to a point Lord Copper, not talking Scotland here then? I hope.

That the Scottish Act interestingly maintained broadcasting as a reserved matter, demonstrating the anti-democratic nature of the Labour government when it came to this important medium for the distribution of information, and it is in the area of news and current affairs that the bankruptcy of the present set-up is most evident. The debacle of under-representation by the SNP during election broadcasts and political debates is nothing short of a national disgrace while insignificant parties such as UKIP are frequently given air time by the BBC from London.

There is conceit behind the attitude of the BBC to Scotland. And ignorance too. That is apparent in the confusion over where distinctions lie between the UK, Britain, Scotland and England. But that is perhaps the nature of all things centralised. There is also conceit in output from BBC Scotland in Glasgow that follows the London example that whatever it chooses to broadcast is in the public interest.

Glasgow has had huge amount of money spent on the HQ at Pacific Quay. Why did Glasgow get this HQ which has become the centre for broadcasting in Scotland? Could it have anything to do with the Labour government in Westminster pandering to its power base in the city? Should that now read former power base? Why, for instance, did the new HQ not go to Edinburgh which at least is Scotland’s capital city or in the interests of fairness shouldn’t the huge budget have been distributed around Scotland to enhance BBC production nationally? That didn’t happen. Glasgow became the hub of BBC activity here. Surely not what you know but who you know that matters when deals are being struck.

We all pay into the BBC licence fee and should be able to expect better representation in output.

BBC’s 10 year manifesto Building Public Value urged the Corporation to change its emphasis from its rating obsession to public value in which the emphasis would be on quality, value for money and potential market. How does this translate into Radio Scotland’s news output?

I can think of one excellent news programme on Radio Scotland, Derek Bateman’s Newsweek Scotland on Saturday mornings but this is the exception. Radio Scotland’s flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland, GMS, otherwise known as Glasgow’s Morning Spot, has improved from its abysmal period of jokey, humorous asides and jackanory headline readings but it is nothing like the programme of the past when competent journalists were at the helm. Some of its decline must be due to its attempt to broaden its appeal – usually this means for young people but you might be forgiven for thinking idiots the way it’s been reworked. Flagship news programme? Don’t make me laugh. Actually I think the BBC has removed the attribute ‘flagship’ now and with good cause. It became acutely embarrassing in its treatment of Scottish news coverage. It is still often trivial and certainly parochial. The references, the experts, the pundits are frequently called in from the surrounding area which just happen to be Glasgow. Listeners are left in no doubt where the broadcasts come from in a way I don’t recall from years ago. For broadcasts out of Pacific Quay the place has become all-important. Take John Beattie’s once excellent sport programme on Saturday mornings which has been re-titled but is exactly the same except for the title and apparently sacking its female presenter and replacing her with someone from the TV. Every Saturday, Sport Nation proudly announces it comes from Pacific Quay in Glasgow – and no sense that being inclusive as a nation might be better served not mentioned the self-obsessed G word. But back to GMS. I listened again to 2 out of its almost 3 hours broadcast on Friday, 3rd June and noted the number of references around Scotland between 6am and 7am and from 8am to 9am. One hour of the programme was omitted on grounds of boredom. Here are the references for 2 hours broadcasting.

Minimum mentions per area

Glasgow 18 + 6 travel and 4 weather =28
Aberdeen or Aberdeenshire 4 + 0 travel, 14 weather =18 it happened to be very hot
Edinburgh 0 + 5 travel, 4 weather =9 none news
Dundee 1 + 0 travel, 0 weather =1
Inverness 0 + 0 travel, 0 weather =0
Perth 0 + 0 travel, 0 weather =0
Fife 0 + 1 travel, 0 weather =1

For the whole 3 hours the total would have changed a little, possibly increasing Glasgow’s representation with little chance of improving the ratings for the rest.

This total is not uncommon – in fact I’ve roughly counted many more on other occasions. On top of the direct references to activities in Glasgow, you can be sure there are few festivals or exhibitions which do not feature on Radio Scotland, very similar to London’s obsession with culture and sport there. And there is the constant confusion over whatever is happening in Glasgow becomes the reference point for the whole of the country – you know the usual complaint about the weather, too wet usually, despite other parts of Scotland having under average rainfall over the last months with the problems which ensue from that. So GMS isn’t talking to us in the Northeast Radio Scotland. Do the presenters care? Don’t imagine they do. They and their London colleagues have much in common and the rest of us around the country know when we are getting a raw deal from our public broadcasting service. As a national broadcasting service, whether it be London or Glasgow, it is not good enough.

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