Nation speaking unto nation?

Tom Griffin
10 June 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): A new report by IPPR North asks whether the media is creating cultural distance between England and Scotland. Author Douglas Fraser, the Scottish political editor of The Herald, answers with an emphatic yes, documenting how the London press has ignored even those Scottish stories, like the Calman Commission's review of Scottish finance, which have major implications for England. Broadcasting may yet prove central to the developing relationship between England and Scotland, Fraser believes.

The debate here is symbolised by the question of the 'Scottish Six, long proposed as an alternative to the main BBC News programme from London. Fraser is suspicious of the Scottish Government's calls for more broadcasting powers, suggesting that they could lead to increased political interference. At the same time, he acknowledges that John Birt's alliance with Tony Blair to block the Scottish Six was itself a highly political episode.

How long before BBC Scotland, and other parts of the UK, have their own digital channels, offering viewers the option of either a Scottish Six or the Six O'Clock News from London? Cable television already offers viewers throughout the UK an option over which of the BBC's regional opt-outs they want to see. It would be strange for this one area to be denied the extension of consumer choice. However, if it were happen and join in the multi-channel cacophony, it would be merely one more example of the impact of technology fracturing and dispersing audience, so that any national conversation is similarly disrupted.

Thinkers like Benedict Anderson have long argued that the characteristics of print technology were crucial to the rise of modern nationalism. There's no guarantee that the digital media of the twenty-first century will play a similar role for any 'national conversation' - whether Scottish or British.

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