The Great British Broadcaster, BBC, plans a dedicated television channel for Scotland. The fashionable sarcastic rider is to add ‘What a time to be alive’.
Trumpeted as if an announcement of Queen Elizabeth’s belated abdication, newspapers dutifully parroted the BBC director general’s puffery unchallenged, repeating the phrase ‘substantial reform’ as if the holy scriptures. Brit nationalists got busy carving protests in blue blood, “We don’t want repeats of The White Heather Club or Dr Findlay’s Casebook!“
Based on BBC’s inglorious past history in Scotland, a dedicated television channel has all the sincerity of explorers offering a string of beads to the natives to show they’re friendly.
The skinny [plus my emphasis]
The channel will go on air UK-wide in the summer of 2018 with a budget of about £30m – a sum similar to that spent on BBC4, replacing the Scottish programmes currently shown on BBC2. It includes a dedicated one-hour news and current affairs programme at 9pm. The channel will broadcast between 7pm and midnight, presumably without viewers rising to respect the sign off music ‘God Save The Queen’.
Tony Hall, the BBC’s director-general, told the corporation’s staff in Glasgow that spending on new drama and factual programming made in Scotland would increase by £20m. Hall said the channel would lead to 80 new jobs based in Scotland. The plan dumps any intention of a six o’clock news bulletin from Scotland, not that there ever was unanimous support for that token gesture.
Hall said: “I said at the beginning of the year that the BBC needed to be more creative and distinctive. The BBC is Britain’s broadcaster but we also need to do more for each nation just as we are doing more for Britain globally. BBC executives admit the corporation has failed to keep pace with devolution across the UK, or reflect the different political systems now operating in different nations and regions.”
Hall added: “We know viewers in Scotland love BBC television, [whirling Dervish spin] but we also know they want us to better reflect their lives, and better reflect modern Scotland. It is vital that we get this right. [No kidding, Kemo Sahbee?] The best way of achieving that is a dedicated channel for Scotland.
Hall stated “It’s a channel that will be bold, creative and ambitious, with a brand-new Scotland-edited international news programme at its heart. The BBC has the luxury of having first-class creative teams and brilliant journalists, who I know will make this new channel a huge success. The additional investment in Scottish drama and factual programming rightly recognises both the need to do more across our output and the huge pool of talent available in Scotland.”
More details will emerge as start day nears; this is my analysis based on inside experience and blunt force trauma working for BBC in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Will the new station really happen?
The proposals must first be discussed by the quango Ofcom, the regulation authority for the UK’s communication industries. No Scottish entity had a hand in choosing its members. It isn’t exactly brimming with Scotiaphiles excited to see reform.
Resistance to BBC Scotland representing Scotland’s unique politics, values, topography, and needs has been BBC’s shame since its inception. Two director generals who asked for more Scottish content broadcast UK-wide were brutally dismissed. SNP supporters and socialists keen on independence got side-lined for promotion. The same was true for past communist members in BBC England – a warning Christmas tree stamped on their employee file.
Overt openness for self-governance issues was stifled by the demand for ‘a balanced’ view, or a pessimistic narrative. BBC Scotland’s land-bank held for a new HQ near Scotland’s parliament was sold off for profit.
Opposition to a dedicated channel is marshalling among right-wing MPs and peers. Much will be spoken behind closed doors and in Pall Mall clubs, such as the RAC. BBC bosses dare not annoy the Tory government for fear of inviting anger. Therefore, it is likely to happen but within narrow guidelines, better known as severe restrictions.
Will a dedicated channel be truly independent-minded?
Not a snowball’s chance in hell. (See previous paragraph.) The ethos of the BBC is strictly hierarchical and bureaucratic. Just as the UK Treasury takes all Scotland earns and gives it an inadequate annual allowance, so BBC London takes all Scotland’s licence fees and gives us a farcically tiny portion of the sum collected. Those who cut the cheque call the tune.
Being innovative depends entirely on what motivates its employees and the freedom given to be anarchic and iconoclastic.
Expect a handful of stand-up comics to get off with some risky political jokes, but don’t expect Frankie Boyle to be given his own weekly satire show. Do expect at least three MI5 moonlighters to be key staffers, there to keep an eye on those suspect revolutionaries.
From where will it recruit staff?
Bold and adventurous doesn’t arrive chosen by old and conservative.
Hall doesn’t tell us where the new staff will come from only that the new channel will create 80 new jobs. One supposes that includes reception staff, cleaners, and some existing BBC Scotland staff applying for a transfer. Again, there’s no mention of criteria for selection, or who selects the staff and how they will be recruited.
BBC Scotland places the excuse for its paucity of Scottish programming on the lack of indigenous talent, (a comment at odds with Hall’s ‘pool of talent’) which begs the question, are 80 new jobs imported staff? Will commissions go to English independent productions companies with an office in Glasgow?
What’s needed is positive discrimination – employ resident personnel with bold ideas, otherwise it’s an office in BBC HQ, Glasgow, with a different label on toilet doors.
Will it cover the next independence referendum?
The BBC is a state broadcasting company, as Hall reminds us in his hollow promise of ‘substantial reform’, and it remains a state broadcasting company. The activities of the Royal family will be all over it.
The BBC failed to adjust its attitude when the SNP was first elected as a minority government – a sea change in the public mood of which the BBC was oblivious – and it resisted a more sensitive outlook when the SNP was given a landslide victory, all other political parties banished save for one representative each.
The next plebiscite will probably be in 2017, once Theresa May signs England’s kamikaze declaration of isolationism from all but Trump. BBC has neatly side-stepped covering both referenda from a purely Scottish perspective.
What does a budget of £30 million get us?
It’s a teaspoon in the canteen cutlery drawer. It makes some sense if it does not include staff salaries, or administration costs, which must be the case. Media pundit copy-cats to a dunce ridicule it as less than the budget for The Great British Bake Off.
There’s a contradiction. Hall states £30 million total budget, but in the same interview says £20 million will be spent on drama and current affairs. That leaves £10 million for documentaries, reality shows, sport – actually, there’s no mention of sport or the arts.
Will a dedicated Scottish channel see the end of imported reporters?
In theory a wholly Scottish orientated channel should not require to plane or train London journalists for an all-expenses paid junket to cover Scottish events, such as the Edinburgh International Arts Festival. But don’t count on it.
Cultural infiltration is a BBC hallmark. If you switch on BBC Radio Scotland you’ll be lost to find ‘experts’ speaking with a Scots accent. Whether that’s a deliberate colonial ploy by the BBC depends on your political point of view, but it doesn’t bode well for Scots speaking about Scotland to the world. It seems we need interpreters and proxy experts for that job.
BBC journalists are defended from criticism as impartial specimens of the trade. There is no evidence that a Scot cannot be objective when reporting events, though he or she might not be impartial if a patriot. Then again, what unionist hack was ever culturally objective?
Are we going to see Scottish drama produced at last?
It all depends on what you mean by drama.
There’s historical drama called costume drama, contemporary drama, and experimental drama. Each can contain political content. So far BBC has avoided anything political since the SNP attained high office. The only political drama ever to come of Scotland in the last 25 years was the Glasgow set, award winning ‘Brond‘, a three-part Channel Four funded thriller, not BBC. (You can see it on YouTube.) It was shown in the States, and other territories, and without subtitles! We’re capable of producing more of that, and how!
I remain sceptical anything reinforcing Scotland’s history as an independent nation, anything reflecting its political ambitions, will be commissioned if it appears to push the case for full and final self-governance.
Won’t you be looking forward to serious drama and comedy drama?
I’m not looking forward to Edinburgh’s ‘vote No’ Rory Bremner in a TV version of “Walter Mitty”. Reading his recent Twitter indicates he’s repositioning himself for a chunk of the budget. I am looking forward to new, exciting talent and dramas.
Scotland has a weekly soap, but soaps don’t break any new creative ground. Will that soap be transferred to the Scottish budget? Tony Hall makes no mention of cross-over costs.
The budget doesn’t allow for a weekly series unless international sales are secured in advance. That takes a year to sign and seal. BBC would need to commission drama now to have one for day one. Expect the occasional drama about a warring couple, or a lonely English naturalist and her pet otter surviving on a remote island, or a Gorbals thug hiding on a remote island from the law terrorising a lonely English naturalist and her pet otter.
In any event, costume drama tends to be expensive to produce; so, unless conceived on a shoe-string, historically set dramas are a no-no. A film about the Highland Clearances is as guaranteed as George Galloway admitting he’s a closet Scottish nationalist. There’s a chance for dramatization of the corrupt politics behind the Skye Road Bridge build, but I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on it.
Good drama should not be confined to a Scotland-only transmission. The 21st century method of countries speaking to the world through their culture is in filmed story-telling. We have no-end of world class novelists to adapt their books or create original scripts.
A Scottish channel will surely promote Scottish arts?
A dedicated channel would be in breach of its brief if it ignored the arts: painting, photography, the performance arts music and dance. Architecture in Scotland is shouting out for a critical television series. Whether or not any arts programme can free itself from the highly selective values of London’s standards is another matter. You need an entire mental shift not to compare what happens here with what happens in London.
What we don’t want is an arts series fronted by a vacuous celebrity with no grounding in the arts, but does have a Jack Vettriano at home on their wall.
How will the channel serve Scotland’s vast rural areas?
That remains to be seen. If we can film life in Alaska we can film life in the snowy north.
To be in the least credible the channel has to serve our countryside life and businesses, in mountainous areas, islands and all, in news, current affairs and documentary terms at least. And there’s fishing. Sticking a murder series in the Shetlands has limited plausibility, a place where rarely a dog bites man, let alone a man bites dog.
Scotland isn’t only Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. There’s an important farming industry plus crop growing that justifies regular attention.
Will we get science and medicine programmes?
I have no idea, but what is a dedicated channel for if not to represent scientific advances and debates? Scotland is famous for its scientists and medical pioneers.
The problem here lies in the economic fashion for reality shows, or cheapo productions wrapped in the guise of panel games. Expect, ‘Name That Operation’, a half-hour panel game hosted by somebody who once had her tonsils removed, and four competing stand-up comics with only one a woman, probably Elaine C. Smith if Susan Calman is too busy appearing on English game shows. Would that it were my preference: Ronni Ancona.
Will the channel duplicate English series or show US fare?
The hope is that we are clever enough not to make carbon copies of ‘Great British Canal Journeys’, but there’s a case for a reality series on ‘Bagging 282 Munros in a Year’.
We don’t want Neil Oliver retracing his steps along the Scottish coast. We want Professor Tom Devine telling us the truth about how England helped defeat the Darien scheme, and why Mary Queen of Scots was a lot smarter than Elizabeth I. We don’t want a once a year visit by English based shows, we want our own series.
As for US imports, I’d like to think we’d prefer more intelligent fare from Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Europe; you know, keeping pals with the EU on the sly
There’s a chance British nationalists will say it’s all tartanalia and sporrans?
What a surprise. Scotland has been the butt of racist scorn for over three centuries. The first year’s programmes will attract a ton more. Wear a suit of armour, or get a backbone.
But we will get a real national-international hour of news at last, right?
BBC 24-Hour News is an awesome machine. If BBC can’t collate an hour’s mixed-source news it’ll be a shock to them. For all-corners of Scotland news the BBC will call in favours from its local television and radio stations. There’s promise of studio interviews too. How they present Scotland in a positive light and not concentrate on SNP BAD from dubious sources is anybody’s guess at this stage. Andrew Neil on yet another nightly gig pitching for our right-wing imperial masters is not acceptable. Nor is David Torrance welcome as Scotland’s roving reporter, unless he’s stationed permanently on Rockall.
Bouillabaisse soup won’t do. A news programme has to have a well-honed remit and agenda to make intellectual sense. It has to work as a cohesive entity unmistakeably Scottish in cultural mores, and it must reflect our democratic structures and omissions.
Reflecting Scotland’s lost civil rights as a nation is the real test; some argue the only test.
Are you saying a dedicated channel is a spoiler?
A BBC Scottish channel is a diversion from the genuine article.
Since the day Middle-Englanders convinced by power elite with Asperger’s disease pulled us out of Europe, neo-conservatives are out in force in all their guises softening us up for our loss of liberties, intrusion of English laws, loss of free movement, agriculture and fishery grants, energy efficiency goals, and climate change advocacy.
A state broadcaster-run channel cannot by definition represent Scotland’s political agenda when so much of it conflicts with the British state’s agenda.
Oh, come on, Nicola Sturgeon said it’s a good thing.
The SNP have a policy of accepting every morsel so that one day they have the full menu.
Fact: The channel was announced on the same day Prime Minister Theresa May instructed her cabinet to fight the evil of Scottish self-governance to the last man. That command is a serious threat to Scotland’s civil and cultural rights, and a hellova responsibility on the sloping shoulders of Scotland’s last Tory, David Mundell. The slow-witted will be convinced BBC has given Scotland the real thing.
Even half-successful, a BBC channel undermines the overarching need for a separate people-owned Scottish broadcasting company with its own ethos, its own hand-picked staff and creative leaders, its own international connections, ready and able to represent Scotland properly at home and abroad.
In the end it isn’t about money. It’s about absolute freedom of expression.