On first hearing that someone was going to pull the plug on Scotland 2016, I thought, it has been a terrible year, it’s probably for the best. On realising that it was BBC Scotland’s ‘flagship’ news and current affairs programme, I realised it was just the continuation of the broadcasters cycle of: under-invest, produce staid safe bland content, watch it nosedive, repeat.
While Gary Smith, Head of Affairs was putting a spin on it saying: “I want to go for quality instead of quantity, and I think if we can go for a really good weekly programme instead of a nightly programme that is sometimes overstretched, it will create a better offering for the audience”, there have got to be questions asked about the move.
A week is a long time in politics and the revelation that “Social media will be a key area of expansion in the coming months and years” does nothing to dispel the impression of a service playing catch-up with society. This is 2016 and they have had a notion that social media might be the way forward. And the idea that the BBC can’t compete with STV’s Scotland Tonight, which looks as if its run on a budget of about £12.50 is embarrassing.
Broadcaster and journalist Lesley Riddoch responded: “If it’s been axed to fund a Scottish Six that’s perhaps understandable. But how can STV manage what BBC cannot – to produce a popular current affairs programme in the shape of Scotland Tonight AND the news prog of the year won by News at 6 at RTS Scotland Awards last month. Viewer and staff morale depends on a new sense of rigour and new leadership of BBC Scotland.”
It may be that the proposed “dedicated Scotland edition of the BBC news home page … rolled out as part of a drive towards a “digital-first newsroom ”, or the endless prevarication about a ‘Scottish Six’ (trumped possibly only by the glacial ‘film studio’ debate or Chilcot for sheer institutional tedium and inertia) will yield some better content, but I don’t think anyone’s holding their breaths.
Only a completely different licence fee settlement that brings a credible equitable proportion of funding to BBC Scotland, the complete devolution of media and a start-again philosophy to the entire BBC Scotland output would suffice. Anything else is likely to be more of the same and a culture of endemic mediocrity.
Sarah Smith, BBC Scotland Editor told the Guardian that once Scotland 2016 goes off air, Newsnight will return in Scotland to the 10.30pm slot it has across the rest of the UK, running at full length on BBC Scotland for the first time since 1999. So in summary – more devolved powers (allegedly) means less coverage, no sign of a Scottish Six, just more pilots, and a dedicated web page, that’s Scotland 2016.