Editor's blog: a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation?

BBC Director General Mark Thompson addressed MSPs on issues facing the BBC north of the border, most notably the huge, careful coverage they will need to provide of the Scottish independence referendum

Dan Hancox
29 May 2012

The broadcasting equivalent of the West Lothian question got an airing at Holyrood today, with BBC Director General Mark Thompson addressing MSPs and answering questions about the future of the BBC north of the border. The BBC's own write-up of the meeting is here, and raises some interesting existential questions which we will be discussing on ourBeeb over the coming months. Most importantly, how 'national', or how devolved, should our national broadcaster be?

With the Scottish referendum on the horizon in 2014, the question is whether the British Broadcasting Corporation can provide appropriate coverage of an event which will potentially contradict its very existence. From the BBC's story:

Mr Thompson said coverage of the referendum would need "very substantial" resources and the BBC would be telling the story around the world in at least 30 languages.

He went on: "One of the issues that we're working through right now is the obvious point, which is that we're going to need the right level of journalistic effort, both in Scotland and at UK level, and we want to make sure we're thinking about that carefully now, as we're making staff reductions, so we don't end up, as it were, having to re-hire people for this very big event.

As he suggests, the referendum campaign looms at a time when significant cuts are on the cards. The BBC currently collects £300 million in licence fee money in Scotland, with £200 million of that being spent on Scottish services, network television for the whole of the UK, overheads and infrastructure. The remaining £100 million is Scottish licence fee payers' contribution to all of the other services the Beeb provides, such as iPlayer, or coverage of things like the Olympic Games.

Scotsman columnist Lesley Riddoch provided a good running commentary of this morning's meeting, including observations like this:

Given complaints about BBCScot bias by @yesscot supporters why is no SNP member of Holyrood Culture Cttee raising this directly with BBC DG?

Thompson refused to be drawn on whether there had been any "scenario planning" for an independent Scotland, but we shouldn't shirk the question: could we be seeing a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation in the not so distant future? What would it look like?

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