MEDIA: Devolution necessitates a review of regional news

While the ITC was, alas, killing off News at Ten the BBC’s board of governors were wrestling with another testing issue. How to restructure the UK’s currently most watched programme, the Six O’Clock News, to cope with devolution.

While the ITC was, alas, killing off News at Ten the BBC’s board of

governors were wrestling with another testing issue. How to restructure

the UK’s currently most watched programme, the Six O’Clock News, to cope

with devolution.



In its way devolution, and the huge change to the UK’s constitutional

balance it implies, is the hottest of potatoes for the BBC to handle,

causing splits right through the hierarchy.



It also goes to the heart of the big issue: everyone in public service

broadcasting wants to revive audiences for television news, and thinks

the solution lies in a more eclectic range of stories, beyond

Westminster politics. The easy bit, for the BBC, lies in committing

substantial extra resources to newsgathering to do just that, and

pledging a new late night TV news for Scotland, Wales and Northern

Ireland.



The hard bit is dealing with the basic question: does the BBC not have a

duty to bind the UK together by delivering the same, considered resume

of national and international news, at key points during the day?



The reality is that it is under intense pressure from the Scottish

lobby, and many of its own staff, to allow a ’Scottish Six’, an

hour-long programme, in which editorial control is vested in

Scotland.



When Ariel, its award-winning newspaper, was handed over to a special

staff team this month, the ’Scottish Six’ was awarded a double-page

feature.



This template, if agreed would probably be copied by the Welsh and

Northern Ireland services. Yet the governors are cautiously holding back

from making a commitment, opting instead for further consultation and

close monitoring.



It’s a great shame because the London-based agenda we’re all subjected

to needs to be broken. It doesn’t even serve the population of the

South-East that well. I’m a frequent customer of BBC Wales and was

frustrated with the Six O’Clock News coverage of the recent floods: as

with so many big (but regional) television stories, a sweeping overview

comes near the top of the bulletin, but you are made to hang on for the

key information - which specific valleys are flooded - for another 30

minutes.



Further, if the new national assemblies are to take root and if people

are to have more of a say over their lives, a way has to be found of

giving political and public affairs a fresh start: through sensible,

relevant TV and radio coverage.



I recommend a provoking book, Politics and the Media, devised by The

Political Quarterly in which concerned writers ponder the national

media’s failure to follow the migration of power to powerful quangos. It

also contains a shrewd contribution about the way a huge number of media

outlets, from regional news bulletins to free newspapers, publish

speeches and issues raised by local MPs. It’s one way ahead.



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