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BBC Scotland told to rethink news output amid questions over indy balance

Scottish audiences believe BBC Scotland needs a "thorough reassessment" of its news output and have questioned its in impartiality covering the independence referendum.

Although the Audience Council Scotland, the BBC Trust's advisory body, has welcomed the "strong performance" of the BBC in Scotland this year in its annual review, the report raises a series of questions over the corporation's coverage of Scottish affairs.

It says the BBC's news coverage of Scotland has not changed significantly since devolution in 1999 and "is not able to fully reflect the needs of audiences in contemporary Scotland".

Audience Councils for each UK nation advise the ruling Trust on key issues. In its latest report, the Audience Council for Scotland says that issues and stories important for Scottish audience "continue to be underexposed on network news, and that there continued to be insufficient clarity on which UK Government announcements were relevant to the devolved nations".

Audiences, whose comments are monitored by audience councils, who also meet the public at "engagement events", also found several issues with the BBC's coverage of the referendum.

An over-reliance on "Question Time-style formats" and "a reluctance to move beyond the parameters set by political parties" were noted. The report adds: "Some in the audience felt the analysis could have been pushed further, others that the balance was not always maintained."

In the review the council says it believes that "to cater for the needs of audiences in Scotland in the longer term there must be a thorough reassessment of news provision. There was some adverse audience comment that the level of coverage of UKIP on network programmes was not justified by their level of support in Scotland.

"Members noted a long-term issue for the BBC about how accurate and impartial it was to broadcast programmes reflecting the political culture of one nation across the whole of the UK."

Earlier this year the First Minister, Alex Salmond, also criticised the BBC for giving too much air time to Nigel Farage's anti-EU party. The report adds that problems in the balance of news reporting about and from Scotland, mentioned in previous reports, had not been addressed. "Members were, again, disappointed that no progress was made in news programmes towards improving the balance between Scottish stories and those relating only to other UK nations," it says.

"BBC Scotland provided accurate, independent coverage of the issues raised in the referendum debate, and was the main broadcast provider of information about the debate. However television coverage was dominated by adversarial debate formats."

There was record spending on BBC programmes made in Scotland for the whole UK, with 1,000 hours of programmes produced in the 2013 calendar year - double the hours produced five years ago.

Hebrides: Islands on the Edge reached almost one in three of the Scottish viewers, almost six million in the UK followed BBC Scotland drama Shetland, and Mrs Brown's Boys was the most watched UK show on Christmas Day.

Bill Matthews, the BBC Trustee for Scotland, said: "This year BBC Scotland delivered outstanding, high-quality programmes for Scottish audiences, many of which also resonated across the UK, coupled with a record amount of UK network production in Scotland.

"Our Audience Council has reiterated some concerns about news coverage in and of Scotland and Scottish issues, and we will continue to work with the BBC to address these."

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