Journalist MSP Takes a Swipe at the BBC

Newly-elected MSP, Joan McAlpine – a former deputy editor of The Herald – has taken a swipe at the BBC, including BBC Scotland's coverage of the elections.

Also a former editor at the Sunday Times Scotland, McAlpine, who represents the South of Scotland at Holyrood for the SNP, specifically criticised BBC TV Scotland’s flagship news and current affairs programme, Reporting Scotland, declaring: “The Reporting Scotland bulletin seems to have a blue light on its head, such is the obsession with crime.”

McAlpine launched her attack yesterday in her weekly column in The Scotsman – headlined, ‘Time to change Auntie’s Anglocentric channel’.

She wrote: “Just days after the election [May 5] I was invited on to the Today programme on Radio Four to discuss the seismic political events. Nobody could take issue with the production team's commitment to broadcasting excellence. Nothing was left to chance. I was quizzed the night before by a bright researcher keen to test my arguments.

“This young woman was convinced that Scotland is subsidised by the rest of the UK and was a bit miffed that I challenged what she considered self-evident truth.

“It's a pity my bushy-tailed inquisitor did not similarly cross-examine the star presenter John Humphrys, because he opened by talking about the ‘Scottish Assembly’, suggesting our political landscape was little changed since the Bay City Rollers were in the charts. It's just one small example of a wider problem. Even the best-informed London broadcasters struggle to master basic facts about Scotland. This was confirmed three years ago in the wide-ranging King report, which found the BBC was too London-centric.”

Later, citing a detailed list of the width and diversity of BBC TV and radio programmes across the UK, McAlpine goes on: “This variety of is one of the BBC's strengths – except for viewers in Scotland. The Reporting Scotland bulletin seems to have a blue light on its head; such is the obsession with crime. Newsnight Scotland does its best but is too little and much too late in the evening.

“Our public service broadcaster also has a duty to communicate politics to the non-anorak wearing portion of the populace. It singularly fails to do that. Things improved during the election, with an extended Newsnight. But Reporting Scotland often reduced coverage to bullet points and photo ops. Why, in a six-week campaign, did the BBC only manage one leader’s debate, broadcast at an ungodly hour on a Sunday? STV managed two at peak time, even though it does not enjoy the BBC's public subsidy. Remember the hype, pre-publicity and post match analysis of the 2010 General Election leaders' debates?”

Last week, after he was sworn in as First Minister, Alex Salmond made special mention of the Scottish Government's backing of the proposed Scottish Digital Network, the main recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission which he set up four years ago. Costing an estimated £75 million-a-year to run, Scottish Digital Network would be a digital TV channel – plus large internet presence – dedicated to broadcasting 'high quality' Scottish content.

The Scotsman has received approaching 200 comments on its website in response to McAlpine's article.