‘Scottish Six’ news programme proposed by STV

WHAT has been long described as a ‘Scottish Six’ – news coverage of local, UK and international stories via a Scottish perspective – is the vision that STV boss, Rob Woodward, is to share with colleagues today at a Royal Society of Television conference.

In the light of recent proposals about Britain’s digital future – specifically that Scotland be one of three regions to pilot government-funded news provision on channel three as competition to the BBC – Woodward is to unveil plans for an hour-long Scottish news service, starting at 6pm, produced in partnership with ITN, and ranging across international and UK stories as well as more local ones.

Woodward’s vision is part of a more general brainstorming session taking place at the annual RTS Cambridge Convention.

STV is very keen that it be chosen to run the news pilot being proposed by the Digital Britain report of earlier this year, which recommends funding would come from the TV licence fee that currently goes exclusively to the BBC. But it could have to fight off rival bids from other news consortia. Woodward’s proposal will certainly add to the sense the identity of the pilot operators is already a done deal – but it isn’t.

And since it’s a proposal, details such as where would the presenters operate out of – the STV Central hub in Glasgow or the STV North one in Aberdeen? – would still need to be thrashed out.

However, were the proposal to come off, the UK-wide ITV news at 6.30pm would be displaced and the programme would be Scotland-wide, as opposed to the current STV Central and STV North split. There would be opt-outs (longer versions of the current east-west opt-out on STV Central and a similar division in STV North) for very local news.

Under Woodward’s plan, STV would go for even more local opt-outs, including for the far north of Scotland and also – assuming ITV gave its blessing, since it has a foothold in the area, via its Tyne-Tees operation – for the Scottish Borders.

On funding, when it was put to STV broadcasting managing director, Bobby Hain, earlier in the month, that five million pounds a year would be required as a government subsidy to run STV news, he is said to have replied that it was “a reasonable sum”.

Said Woodward, in a statement issued yesterday: “The media landscape has changed dramatically and it is vital that we innovate, enhance and expand our vision.

“Our proposal offers viewers something that is new and exciting and, through technological innovation, relevant for a 21st-century devolved Scotland.

“Our proposal would ultimately increase consumer choice and would provide a strong alternative to the BBC, increasing the plurality of news provision across Scotland.”

Said Peter Wishart MP, SNP Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson: “Plans for a comprehensive Scottish six o’clock news programme are very welcome, and must build on the existing success of STV’s local news services.

“Viewers in Scotland have been crying out for a substantial Scottish news programme, drawing together international, national and local news. STV’s plans represent a welcome step towards developing a relevant and cutting-edge format for people in Scotland.

“One of STV’s greatest assets is its excellent network of local correspondents who must now play a full role in delivering a successful new format.”

But the proposal hasn’t been universally welcomed. The National Union of Journalists’ chapel at STV North said: “We fear for the end of our regional identity and the job implications for journalistic and technical staff at our three sites in Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness.”