Richard Walker: BBC Scotland channel a “good move” but containing “dangers” for Scottish media

Former Sunday Herald editor raises queries over Scottish six o’clock news, ‘ghettoisation’ and funding

THE FORMER editor of the Sunday Herald has cautiously welcomed plans for a new BBC Scotland channel, announced by BBC director general Tony Hall yesterday (22 February).

Richard Walker, who edited the Sunday paper, the only to announce support for a Yes vote, during the Scottish independence referendum campaign and who went on to found the Scotland’s only pro-independence daily The National said that the new channel presented both benefits and potential pitfalls in implementation.

Speaking to CommonSpace he said: “Quite a lot of it looks pretty good, I’ve got a few reservations…it’s a good move with some dangers.

“The investment is good. 80 new Jobs is great, a nine O’clock news created in Scotland is great.”

“I still think a six o’clock national news bulletin, on BBC1 produced in Scotland, is a better solution than a nine o’clock one on a smaller channel, a minority channel.”

The reform to the Scottish service comes after Hall admitted a series of failures in the London based state broadcasters relationship with various UK regions and nations in a May 2016 letter to Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.

The move to establish a new channel in 2018 goes beyond the expectations of many in the industry and has been welcomed by Hyslop.

However, Walker also warned of potential problems arising from the new channel. Hall’s announcement involved a plan for a nightly news hour from 9pm, rather than a full Scottish news hour from 6pm on BBC1, which many had expected to be shelved today instead of the channel announcement.

“I’m a bit worried about a kind of ghettoization, where you have all the Scottish stuff on a smaller channel,” he said.

“I still think a six o’clock national news bulletin, on BBC1 produced in Scotland, is a better solution than a nine o’clock one on a smaller channel, a minority channel.

“It’s about portraying the country as it is, devolution and the situation we are currently in.

Fiona Hyslop gives cautious welcome to BBC Scotland investment plan

“BBC One is the main channel people watch, and that will presumably remain the same. My worry is that a separate channel may let BBC1 off the hook.”

Walker also raised questions over the return on Scottish investment represented by the new channel, with the channel initially funded at £39m from the £320 paid into the service by Scots into the UK and international BBC network.

“Is it enough, as a proportion of the monies raised [for the BBC] in Scotland? Is it enough to get back? The jury might be out on that one.

Walker also said that a channel, as opposed to a simple change in news programming, opened up other options for Scottish media, particularly in cultural fields.

“One of the main things I think the BBC doesn’t do properly is portray Scotland as it is, in, for instance, drama. There’s no real Scottish drama, Scottish characters are very often caricatures in so called national [UK] drama.

“It’s ridiculous that there isn’t more than one good drama series on BBC national television that is made in Scotland.”

Current plans are that the digital channel will broadcast from 7pm each night, will feature prominently on the electronic programme guide and carry a nightly, hour long, 9pm news programme created in Scotland.

Picture courtesy of Ant Smith

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