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Mixed report on BBC Scotland

With more programmes being made in Scotland than ever before and praise from audiences for referendum coverage, sport, drama and comedy, there is plenty for BBC Scotland chiefs to be happy about in the corporation's Scotland Annual Review, and in the report from the audience council for Scotland, both published yesterday.

The task of the Audience Council is to gauge and reflect the opinions of audiences, through feedback given to BBC Scotland or directly to the council.

Viewers told the 11-member panel they were broadly satisfied with Scottish output on Radio and TV and with the BBC's coverage of sensitive news events including the Clutha pub helicopter crash and the independence debate.

Overall, the increase in programmes commissioned in Scotland for consumption at home or showing Scottish culture in a more global context were both warmly welcomed.

But there are areas where viewer reaction was not so favourable. Cliched views of Scots are perpetuated through other programmes transmitted on the network.

News provision is another key concern. While great strides have been made towards acknowledging the different nations of the UK in news coverage, a shake-up is still needed, the council says. It calls for a thorough re-assessment of news provision.

It is welcome, but still not enough for the BBC to acknowledge when covering education, health or housing, for example, that different rules and laws apply in Scotland. While presenters have become much better at explaining this, and flagging up to audiences when issues are devolved to Holyrood, effort is needed to cover more Scottish issues.

"Members were again disappointed, that no progress was made in news ... towards improving the balance between Scottish stories and those relating only to other UK nations," the council reports.

One element of its conclusion is particularly stark. Since the founding of the Scottish Parliament, the BBC has failed to keep pace and as a result is not fully reflecting the needs of a modern Scottish audience.

Coverage of Ukip, for example, was criticised for being out of proportion to the support for Nigel Farage's party in Scotland. That was before the recent European and local elections which saw such criticisms become louder still, despite the party's claiming of a Scottish Euro seat.

The startling conclusion reached by the commission will resonate with some of its critics in Scotland. There is a long-term issue for the BBC, it says, about how accurate and impartial it can by while broadcasting programmes "reflecting the political culture of one nation across the whole of the UK".

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, as this new report affirms, BBC Scotland will need to take care to overcome this hurdle and remain impartial. It must also reach out to more, especially younger audiences.

The council's analysis shows the verdict on the BBC at a crucial time is: performing well but could do better.

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