Looking into the Abyss – the BBC and Newsweek Scotland

Open letter to Head of News BBC

There has been considerable discontent over BBC Scotland’s decision to axe the popular weekly politics show, Newsweek Scotland and replace this Saturday morning programme with an additional edition of Good Morning Scotland.

The reasons given by the BBC are:

1. Radio Scotland is adopting a strategy focusing on speech programmes during the day and music late at night.
In itself this should have no negative impact on Newsweek as last time I listened it had 100% music free content.

2. It says it is focussing all its efforts in ‘the current climate’ to target its resources where our audiences are.
So what does this additional focus add up to? The reference to the current climate surely alludes to the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum. Precisely, so why take off Newsweek Scotland? This is an intelligent programme with a reputation for its nifty handling of Scottish issues. Is it perhaps too capable for some bureaucrats at the BBC? And what is meant by ‘where our audiences are’? Is it that Newsweek Scotland does not attract sufficient listeners? If so then the BBC should come out and say so. Then again the BBC is forever telling us the reasons behind so many programme changes are to attract new audiences so I’m not able to follow the logic here.

3. It proposes to strengthen news and current affairs output on Saturday mornings and is committed to strengthening the audience.
There we have it. Another hint that Newsweek Scotland doesn’t attract sufficient listeners. What is the relationship between quality and listener numbers? What value does the BBC place on quality any more? And what is this about strengthening news and current affairs output? What can it possibly be planning to supplant NS with? I’ll come back to that.

4. It intends substituting the one hour programme with one lasting two hours.
Great that should mean the serious student of politics in Scotland could find twice as much enlightenment from a double dose of NS than from its one hour weekly edition. But this is not what the bureaucrats are getting at.

5. The aim is to extend Good Morning Scotland to Saturday with all the best elements of the current Newsweek programme.
So there you have it. The BBC intends replacing this vital political programme with a magazine show. So much for taking the important business of Scotland’s future seriously. And the show will be called Good Morning Scotland Saturday. Is this worthy of a bureaucrat’s salary? And just what does it mean by saying that all the best elements of the current Newsweek programme will be included? Derek Bateman? Is he being recruited into GMS? He is the very capable and knowledgeable voice of NS and a welcome antidote to the often staggeringly inept and frequently embarrassing interviews on GMS with presenters evidently out of their depth and inadequately briefed. The two programmes are miles apart in terms of quality, interest, intellectual rigour and handling of varied and interesting subjects. One is headed by a proper journalist who knows his subject inside out while the other features presenters of varying ability but lacking gravitas in tackling important political interviews.

If the BBC is serious that it wants to strengthen its news and current affairs then it should put GMS out of its misery with its incoherent interviews by over-excited presenters and its constant joshing with colleagues and just how many repetitive travel and weather interruptions can a programme take before it becomes totally inane? I would suggest GMS has long hit that target.

I suspect there has been a few toes trodden on by Newsweek Scotland and this is the real reason for the prospective dumbing down by the BBC which is a shame because we are the people who pay these bureaucrats, sorry executives, their salaries and we are the ones they just couldn’t care less about. And when did you last hear a BBC executive apologise for any decision?

Scotland deserves better than a further edition of Good Morning Scotland which being at the weekend is bound to be even more trite than it already is. It needs Newsweek Scotland. 

Join the Facebook campaign to save this gem of a programme on Radio Scotland


4 Comments to “Looking into the Abyss – the BBC and Newsweek Scotland”

  1. On it’s first outing, the hybrid “Good Morning Newsweek” seems neither fish nor foul. I wonder if the managers in their Pacific Quay bunker have any real idea what they are seeking to achieve!

    • I only heard part of it this morning. Both Derek Bateman and Isobel Fraser are very capable at drawing out interviewees and give the impression they are on top of their briefs for each topic BUT by integrating this programme into the GMS fold immediately raises alarm bells for its longevity.

      How long will it be before DB and IF are relieved by regulars on the weekday GMS rota? They are on a different level altogether.

      While one or two from GMS are affable enough when it comes to handling serious issues at depth they are way out of their comfort zone. Too often they come across as incompetent at basic interviewing.

      Back to Saturday GMS – I think there is a danger of dumbing down this show – you know the usual formula for BBC Scotland programmes which has presenters joking with each other, creating ‘relationships’ which water down the impact of the material and are irritants for many listeners.

      Managers at BBC Scotland appear nervous about producing serious material, as if they think listeners can’t cope with anything too intellectually challenging, hence we have the knock-about and totally unnecessary and tedious travel, sport and weather reports.

      It’s a pity that the excellence which once was to be found has long gone from BBC Scotland. Having seen comments from one or two of its managers it is clear why we are where we are.

  2. Nothing like a touch of flattery to have me thinking you must some enlightened human being. Many thanks for taking time to read the blog Colin.

    Yes the prospect of not having NWS is quite alarming. It succeeds in being informative with a light touch but what marks it out from GMS which is due to replace it, is the depth with which subjects are dissected.

    GMS engages in unrevealing combative interviewing or else totally fails to challenge arguments with any degree of authority. It is after all a magazine show with presenters not proper journalists.

  3. Hi Lena,

    I’ve just read your blog entry on the proposed axing of NWS and I thought that it was absolutely brilliant!


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