Raymond Snoddy on media: Scots news rebellion has just cause

In all the best movies, the first target of the revolutionaries is always the radio station. This is a lesson well understood by Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party and first minister of Scotland, who would like to devolve Scottish broadcasting. The creation of a Scottish Broadcasting Commission, presumably in the hope that after careful deliberation it will come up with the 'right' answer, is a cunning move.

Salmond, who leads a minority Scots Nats administration, is laying down some careful groundwork for an eventual break-up of the UK. The creation of a main Six O'Clock News from Glasgow, and Scottish broadcasting regulation based in Edinburgh are small pieces in the cunning plan.

But isn't the whole point of national news shows that they report what is of overall interest to what is still a united kingdom?

Salmond should not be criticised. He is merely doing what all politicians do quite naturally - serving his own self-interest. But surely nothing should be done to encourage such an obviously tartan manoeuvre.

Except that Salmond is on to something. There is a problem about how mainly London-based broadcasters cover the rest of the UK, and Scotland is not unique - although it probably suffers worst in this respect.

Now the Reverend Ian Paisley has finally shaken hands with Gerry Adams, BBC Northern Ireland finds it almost impossible to get stories on the national news.

A similar process can be seen in Scotland. Scottish broadcasting executives say that it has become much more difficult to get apparently strong Scottish stories on the national news.

Partly this seems to be the result of an instinctive London metropolitan bias in the BBC, but also may be an unconscious side-effect of devolution. The Scots have got their parliament, now let them get on with it.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports on legal, education and health matters affecting England as if they represent the entire UK.

ITV used to provide a regional counter-balance, but has, thanks to Ofcom, had many of its regional programming obligations removed.

The numbers make stark reading. Despite having more than 8% of the UK population, Scotland's percentage of BBC spending is about 4% and the most recent figures show a fall of £20m. Channel 4 does no better and indeed spends an even smaller proportion of its income in Scotland.

Recent Ofcom figures suggest that current-affairs spending in Scotland has been cut by 45% in recent years and news spending has fallen by 25%.

In fact, Blair Jenkins, who chairs the new Salmond Broadcasting Commission, is a former head of BBC news in Scotland, who resigned rather than implement news cuts.

The One Show is a small step in the right direction for soft features from all over the UK, but the problem is that most coverage of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, short of the most atrocious murders and floods, tends to end up in the ghettos of regional programmes.

Digital technology would make it remarkably easy to have a Scottish Six O'Clock News that would not be hopelessly provincial. Scottish news editors could effortlessly incorporate the best of the BBC's national and international coverage.

The solution may be a separate Scottish digital news show. But it is clear that there are serious imbalances in how broadcasting resources are allocated in the UK, and BBC director-general Mark Thompson did himself few favours by suggesting it might be down to a dearth of ideas in Scotland.

Salmond may even have done everyone in the UK a good turn by highlighting a real problem - albeit from the worst possible motives.

30 SECONDS ON ... NEWS FROM SCOTLAND

- On Monday 13 August, the main news on the BBC website for the UK related to the country's reputation being damaged by the government's hesitation to call for an end to the war between Israel and Lebanon last year, the M40 being closed due to the murder of a motorcyclist and the growth of the climate-change protest camp at Heathrow Airport. A fourth story related to defence secretary Des Browne - a Scot - defending Britain's continued presence in Afghanistan.

- The news from the same site relating to Scotland led with a story about promises of price cuts on ferry fares for island communities, followed by news of the discovery of the remains of a 5000-year-old Neolithic settlement in Orkney. The finds have included a mace head and decorated stones. The big-news round-up was completed by a story highlighting the dangers for motorway workers of drivers ignoring the speed limit.

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