Scotland short-changed over BBC licence fee says Culture Minister

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By a Newsnet reporter

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has claimed that Scotland is being short changed by the BBC’s London bosses.

The Minister described the recent announcement of job losses as a blow and attacked the UK Government for failing to provide Scotland with a BBC service that is fit for purpose.

Speaking on Newsweek Scotland, Ms Hyslop claimed that the loss of journalists at a time when Scotland was heading towards a referendum on independence was contrary to the BBC Trust’s claim that they wanted to support quality journalism.

The SNP Minister also hit back at government claims that spending on broadband was of equal benefit to Scotland by pointing out that the spend in Scotland falls well short of the nation’s proportionate landmass.

Ms Hyslop claimed that the cuts to journalism would hit standards and that she planned to seek answers from BBC Scotland head Ken MacQuarrie and the head of the BBC trust Bill Matthews.

Ms Hyslop also highlighted what she described as the BBC’s London centric news and claimed that Scottish viewers were getting impatient with the failure to address this.

She said: “I think it’s very important we understand the implications [of the cuts] but probably more importantly that the BBC take on its responsibilities particularly when there is a clear divergence in some of the policy issues you’re seeing north and south of the border, whether it’s health and education and I think the BBC viewers are getting somewhat impatient that we increasingly hear a London centric view of these issues when clearly they are 100 per cent devolved to Scotland.”

Asked if Westminster intransigence on calls for a Scottish digital channel meant the idea was dead Ms Hyslop replied that a commission had been set up along with a panel to look at costings at the same time as UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was looking into ideas for local TV.

Ms Hyslop claimed that a Scottish digital channel could have been set up easily from these local TV consultations and that this would have allowed a balance to have been achieved in Scottish public sector broadcasting that would have covered Scotland’s needs in culture and politics away from a London lense.

Asked about the difference between public service broadcasting now compared with an independent Scotland, the culture secretary insisted that popular programmes from England would continue after independence.  Ms Hyslop also highlighted the debate the Scottish Parliament held on that very issue on Thursday and questioned whether BBC Scotland had even bothered to cover it in its news items.

She said: “Of course we will still be able to see Eastenders, of course the social Union will continue.”

Ms Hyslop added: “We have got immediate demands, we’ve seen the consequences of a licence fee negotiation which the Scottish government was not part of, which will have major impact not just on jobs but on broadcasting in Scotland.”

“So in the immediate future we have set out some very reasonable amendments to the Scotland Bill that will allow immediate improvement to the situation and allow us to set up a public service broadcaster and set up the Scottish digital network.”

“Remember this has cross party support in the Scottish Parliament, but it is being ignored by Jeremy Hunt.  We are not getting our fair share in terms of licence fee to set up a Scottish digital network and neither are we getting spectrum sale so far.”

Ms Hyslop ended by predicting that an independent Scotland would lead to a vibrant and exciting cultural scene in terms of broadcasting.

Cuts

The Corporation’s Scottish arm is to lose 16% of its budget, which translates to £16 million from a current £120 million total.  The cuts are expected to see around 120 job losses over five years.  The job losses include 30 journalists from the BBC Scotland news department.

The Scottish outfit is also facing cuts to programmes with a possible loss of through the night radio broadcasts.  Radio Scotland will see a loss of 15 to 20 jobs and will include more content sharing from across the UK.

There will also be an introduction of a ‘single news rota’ with staff being integrated across all radio programmes and bulletins, with a single editor responsible for radio news and current affairs.

Hear Fiona Hyslop’s interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b015p56j/Newsweek_Scotland_08_10_2011/ (15 mins 20 secs)