THE BBC's flagship six o'clock news programme is "biased" towards English news coverage.

A six-month study into the BBC showed 34% of all news focused on England while just 2% was dedicated to Scotland.

The findings have given new ammunition to those calling for a separate "Scottish Six" news bulletin which would cover domestic, UK and foreign news and be made by BBC Scotland.

The research was carried out by Dr Douglas MacMillan, of the geography and environment department at Aberdeen University. He found that Scottish news was "peripheral" compared with English stories.

"Scottish stories were treated as the stocking fillers at the end of the programme instead of being at the core of news stories. Scotland was represented with stories in entertainment or the environment, " he said.

"The bias to England is intensified when you look at serious news coverage which is home affairs, crime, health, politics and education.

"The statistics read 41% for British coverage, but then 30% on England and 0.7% on Scotland, which is staggering."

Between April and October, he viewed weekday BBC Six O'Clock News and the early evening news at the weekends.

MacMillan, who has a research interest in economic analysis, said he embarked upon the research to find out if TV licence-payers in Scotland were getting value for money.

"The answer is clear", he said.

"There isn't [value for money]."

The BBC is currently seeking to increase the licence fee to GBP180 per year from the current level of GBP126.50.

MacMillan also claimed the BBC news bulletins were "misleading" the public.

"I had to concentrate quite hard when the stories were on health and education to find out if they were relating to England or Wales, or to Britain."

"They are building on the assumption that what happens in England happens in Scotland, which is a misrepresentation of what is really going on."

MacMillan was also critical of the coverage of the Cathcart and Livingston by-elections last month. He said: "The BBC news centred on Livingston, even though Cathcart was more controversial.

"It seems there is a bias to the British parliament and English views. There was no mention of Lord Watson on the Six O'Clock News the day after the election. It centred on Robin Cook which is staggering considering the Cathcart vote was the bigger story, yet the BBC ignored it."

Politicians and academics now say the study is evidence of the need for an integrated Scottish Six news programme.

BBC Scotland had made plans for a Scottish Six prior to the establishment of the Scottish parliament. However, John Birt, the BBC's director-general at the time, admitted in his 2002 autobiography to colluding with the Prime Minister and other ministers to kill off the proposals amid fears that they could lead not only to the collapse of his own organisation but to the demise of the union itself.

Michael Matheson, the SNP's shadow minister for culture and sport, said he was not surprised by the findings. "We do specific media monitoring on the BBC's network news and we've also come up with a clear bias.

"This further highlights the need for a specific Scottish Six to ensure the Scottish licencepayer gets value for money from the BBC news."

Dr John Cook, senior lecturer in mass media at Glasgow Caledonian University, agreed that the study would "bolster the argument for the Scottish Six".

"In the English mind there is an instinct that Scotland is its own country with its own affairs and that those affairs won't be reported on unless they affect the whole country.

"I think Scotland's fallen victim to devolution. Even though politically it was positive it has also caused a distancing effect."

But Professor Brian McNair, lecturer in journalism and communication at the University of Strathclyde, rebutted claims of an anti-Scottish bias.

"You might be able so say there are flaws in the coverage but to connect that to some kind of bias or dereliction of duty is to me not necessarily automatic, " he said.

BBC Scotland refused to comment, saying it was a matter concerning network news, but a BBC spokeswoman in London said the corporation had carried out wide public consultation on its news and current affairs coverage on radio and television in Scotland in 2003 and found that most people preferred the current arrangement to "an integrated Scottish Six".

"As with all our nations and regions, Scottish viewers have their own news coverage while national bulletins cover stories on merit, be they stories from Scotland, Iraq or London."

The spokeswoman also said that in recent weeks the 6pm news had covered the Rory Blackhall murder in Livingston, Hearts Football Club's success, St Kilda and the floods in Scotland.

"However, " she added, "the reality of the UK is that 50 million people live in England and five million live in Scotland, so inevitably it is going to seem like there is more English news."


The Scottish Six was first mooted in 1998, in advance of devolution in Scotland.

The idea was killed off by former BBC director-general John Birt and the Westminster government because they feared that such a programme would pose a threat not just to the BBC but also to the union.


www. bbc. co. uk/scotland/ab outus/journalism/review. pdf

www. snp. org. uk


Do BBC news programmes neglect Scottish stories?

E-mail us at letters@ sundayherald. com or write to us at the address on page 22 rachelle. money@sundayherald. com Locking horns: Business