And then there’s BBC Scotland Radio Gaga

There’s a reek of sulphur wafting around that holy institution the BBC at present. I suspect sightings of rats and sinking ships have been exaggerated but it does no harm that this institution’s pomposity is punctured from time to time. But just how many repair jobs can it take before a decision is taken that something more radical needs to be done?

I recognise the importance of the BBC over the decades from its beginnings in the 1920s but it was always pompous and it always saw itself as a pillar of the British Establishment.

The crisis which has brought the end of its shortest-lived Director General was one of the BBC’s own making. One of its problems is that until Entwistle fell on his sword none of the BBC’s bloated management structure took criticism seriously.

At grass-roots level complaints and criticisms over output highlighted in the BBC’s own Feedback programme are inevitably batted back by producers and managers. The bottom line with the BBC is that the BBC is always right. It is an arrogant view and more importantly it is frequently wrong.

The BBC operates under a charter which sets out its responsibilities as a national broadcaster. Actually it is the national broadcast outlet for all the nations which make up the UK and the complaint in Scotland has been that here is it hugely deficient in fulfilling this role. I don’t believe the BBC understands exactly what it should be doing in respect of reflecting the whole country or the impact on its owners, you and me, for its failure to provide this basic service.

Radio 4 purports to be a UK-wide station but is in reality almost wholly English in output, including its news coverage.

In Scotland we have BBC Radio Scotland which operates in a similar way to the various English local radio stations but how well does it do its job?

There was a time when BBC Radio Scotland news was quite an acceptable service. Not now. Now the old professionals who were steeped in journalism have been replaced by media graduates distinguished by their shallowness and lack of familiarity with political and world affairs going back beyond a decade. Current affairs discussions therefore lack perspective and ignorance prevails across the airwaves.

BBC Radio Scotland presents us with three main news outlets each week day: Good Morning Scotland, the John Beattie Programme at mid-day and Newsdrive.

For as long as I can remember these times always had news coverage of some sort. Can we call John Beattie’s programme news? It contains news but it often seems incidental because of all the silliness which accompanies it. John Beattie comes across as a decent guy but what does asking listeners their favourite sweetie or the last time they stuck their finger up their nose add anything of value to our lives?

It is banal and it is nonsense.

Newsdrive and Good Morning Scotland are similar in their news handling and formats.

One or two presenters are capable though none is a John Humphreys or Eddie Mair and the programmes don’t seem capable of attracting big guns in the same way that Radio 4 does. Issues covered are often depressingly prosaic and don’t push listeners in their choice of topics. In short their approach is dull and lacks intellectual rigour.

But really – how on earth have these programmes turned into the mess they are? What was the imperative to shred their news coverage into such tiny gobbets where all discussion must stop for the holy trinity of travel, sport and weather?

I cannot understand why BBC Radio Scotland is so obsessed by these three: travel, sport and weather. Is it because they are cheap? Because they help fill time which means fewer stories have to be covered? Surely it cannot be that they provide a service for listeners because whatever they give us is purely tokenistic. How does it help anyone to be told there are high wind warnings on the Skye bridge so take care? Why is it an imperative of the BBC to tell the whole of Scotland a set of traffic lights is out somewhere in Glasgow? None of this matters to most of us. People are not going to take more care crossing to Skye because someone on the BBC says it. It is nonsense.

Why do we have the holy trinity when the far superior Today programme survives without them?

Why is it acceptable to those running BBC Radio Scotland that academics, police spokesmen, business spokespeople, etc etc most frequently come from Glasgow? What does that say about the attitude of those responsible for this ‘national’ broadcaster to fulfil the national coverage as directed in its charter? GMS on Saturday 10th November was a Glasgow fest with the majority of its contributors coming from in and around Glasgow. This we don’t care attitude is unacceptable and lazy. If producers on these programmes have no interest in including all of the country, if they don’t understand or don’t care that this is what they ought to be doing, then they should be told what their job is or replaced.If programme presenters don’t care then they, too, should go and so should the senior managers at BBC Scotland who sit on their complacent backsides and think everything is hunky dory. It’s the old attitude again. We’re the professionals, we know what we’re doing, who are you to criticise the BBC?The lack of professionalism that we have in Scotland’s news and current affairs coverage is lamentable. It is a joke. BBC Radio Scotland news displays huge contempt for its listeners in its perpetual striving for trivia, celebrity and star struck by anything relating to the stars and stripes. An example of this was the day hurricane Sandy struck the US. While Radio Scotland managed to contain its fervour during the hurricane’s earlier devastation en route to the east coast of the States it went into overdrive the day it was due to strike New York. What is this? Can you imagine any NY radio station being remotely interested in a similar event in Scotland to the extent it rescheduled its news around it? Compare GMS’s coverage of events that day with its classier sister programme Today.

Today opened with news about the route of the hurricane and there were mentions between 6am and 7am. From 7am till its close and 9am there were 3 features devoted to Sandy and it covered 11 different stories that day.

Compare this with how GMS handled the same event.

6.00 News Headlines


6.06 Travel


6.09 Hurricane Sandy

Newspaper headlines

6.17 business news

6.21 Ukrainian parliamentary elections (4min)

6.25 Sport



6.32 News summary

6.35 Hurricane Sandy

UK nuclear strategy

Glasgow conference on renewables

6.45 Breast screening report

News Headlines



Homecoming for battalion from Afghanistan

6.58 Travel


7.00 News




7.10 Hurricane Sandy report (4min)

7.14 Scotland action plan for human rights (4min)

7.18 Mexico’s missing people

Thought for the Day Catholic priest




7.30 News summary

7.34 USA election report (6min)

7.40 business news


4G mobile service

Trailer for BBC programme


Hurricane Sandy report



8.00 News




8.09 Hurricane Sandy (4min)

8.13 Breast cancer screening (5min)

8.18 Scottish National Trail (4min)

8.22 trail for BBC programme




8.30 News summary

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on travel from UK

8.35 Murrayfield stadium (5min)

8.40 Business

Horror films

Listeners’ text s


8.50 end of programme

GMS devoted twice as many slots to the hurricane in America plus a further feature on the US election. Every other item was slipped into the remaining time left by the holy trinity – 11 travel reports, 6 sport reports, 8 weather bulletins. Oddly the superior Today programme doesn’t have any travel bulletins, a little sport on the half hour and the odd reference to weather and it is all the better for it.

BBC Scotland news ought to decide what its purpose is. Is it to provide an excellent vehicle for news and current affairs discussion which is cognisant of the whole of Scotland, not just the environs of Glasgow, or is it narrowly relevant light entertainment?

On Friday 26th October, Today featured the proposition that theoretical physicists have a test to prove whether or not we are living in the real or a simulated world. It’s really not something anyone on GMS would be capable of handling. GMS is either grimly dull or exceptionally ridiculous.

Whoever is responsible for merging Newsweek Scotland into GMS should be shown the door. This person clearly is clueless about what works and doesn’t as current affairs and news coverage and discussion. The hour programme worked better than this hotchpotch over two hours with the inevitable sport and travel. The impression is that programme producers begin with the holy trinity and work out what else can be woven in to what remain of the time allotted.

GMS is too restricted in what it covers, too repetitive, has too little foreign input, is too centred in Glasgow and lacks big gun journalists to carry discussion and interviews. As I said earlier these figures used to be there but successive BBC Scotland managers have got rid of them in favour of the inferior species which inhabits the service now. Newsdrive is similarly afflicted and the mid-day show should be replaced by something akin to the old Lesley Riddoch programme fronted by a weighty intellectual with no travel, sport or weather to dumb it down.

BBC Scotland management is in denial there is anything wrong at their great ship on the Clyde. They are wrong. Unless they think mediocrity is good enough.

Arts coverage in Scotland

BBC Scotland’s G-spot

Reporting from George Square

BBC Trust  An Oxymoron

One Comment to “And then there’s BBC Scotland Radio Gaga”

  1. Fascinating…I am a Scot by birth, land locked in lovely rural Berkshire, too long away from home due to disability and lack of funds, but I listen to BBC Asian Network, and online I peruse Times of India…as there i get HOT, FUN World news and just use BBC 3 & Classic FM for my feed of good music in my car…Miss Bonnie Scotland something awful, so your article was precious.

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