THE appointment of Glenn Campbell as the new political editor of BBC Scotland is to be welcomed. This is a crucial appointment at a critical moment in the history of both the BBC as well as of Scotland and indeed, Great Britain. The potential to make a difference is a correspondingly greater one.
Looking at Campbell’s media CV, it is apparent that he has a lot going for him when it comes to creative programming, having worked for nearly two decades at BBC Scotland. He has experienced the thrill of covering breaking political news stories on the ground as a reporter, as well as being a media pundit helping analyse portentous issues on such programmes as the Politics Show and Any Questions. He also has some experience of radio, and of foreign news coverage from as far afield as the US and China.
However, significantly less is known about his skills as a policy maker or indeed as a visionary. In the brave new post-Brexit world (and potentially pre-second referendum Scotland), battling coronavirus and climate change, discrimination and economic downturn, Holyrood and Westminster – these may well be critical attributes.
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In recent years, the BBC has come in for more than its fair share of criticism domestically. Trust in its news and politically balanced reporting – historically a key attribute of its claim to fame – has been falling year on year, according to opinion polls and Ofcom reports. It is also losing audience share in an increasingly diversified and competitive media landscape.
Yet, this needs to be juxtaposed with a general decline in trust in most major and established news organisations, including the national press. Not forgetting the fact that those shouting the loudest at the BBC may well have their own political axes to grind. Interestingly, trust internationally in the BBC and in its World Service, remains high.
A reality check is not a bad thing. And a new broom at BBC Scotland may well be handy when sweeping out any proverbial media cobwebs.
Politically balanced coverage is not the absence of politics or the dumbing down of news stories. Instead, it ought to be a positive affirmation of different points of view. Not talking for people or at them, but with them.
Scotland today is a diverse and multi-ethnic, multi-cultured country. This needs to be reflected in a much more sustained fashion in the BBC’s coverage. I would also welcome a move away from a less Edinburgh-politics focused coverage, to one driven more by things affecting real people – in Dundee or Inverness or the Highlands or elsewhere. In other words, a more expansive national agenda and not driven solely – as it often currently feels it is – by the political party in power in Holyrood.
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No one is expecting Campbell to reinvent the wheel. But going back to basics may not be such a bad thing: solid, balanced reporting; even handed coverage of the full range of Scottish news – good, bad and ugly – affecting all major communities in the country; and sustained and meaningful coverage of international news, not simply the reporting of disasters and horror stories.
November 2022 will mark the centenary of the establishment of the BBC as the British Broadcasting Company (and Corporation from 1927).
As we approach this landmark, let’s give both Campbell and BBC Scotland a fair chance to redeem itself where redemption is necessary, and to enthuse, entertain and enlighten us in a manner befitting its long, and for the most part creditable, history.
Dr Chandrika Kaul is a Reader in Modern History at the University of St Andrews