DEAR Director General,

Like most people in this country I grew up watching and listening to the BBC. As a kid the firm favourites were Blue Peter, Top of the Pops and Life on Earth with David Attenborough. BBC sport coverage was first class and news of all kind was authoritative. Great world events like the fall of the iron curtain had world class coverage from the BBC.

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When I got my break in journalism I was pleased as punch to be able to say that I reported for the BBC. For a decade I was based in Vienna, working for both the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC. Still to this day if you go to the BBC website and type in “Angus Robertson correspondent” a very young looking image of me pops up on reports from the 1990’s.

Throughout that decade I was a regular contributor on the BBC World Service, across BBC domestic news outlets from Radio 4 to BBC Scotland, and also enjoyed presenting pieces for Correspondent, the TV version of From Our Own Correspondent.

My successor in Vienna, Katya Adler, has gone on to great things as the BBC Europe editor, and I count many of my journalist contemporaries from those days amongst my best friends. The BBC is full of extremely talented people, especially in news, who do a difficult job getting the story out, often in the face of unfair criticism from many directions about their impartiality and/or news judgement.

In a nutshell, I am one of those “friends” the BBC has, that when they say there’s a problem it’s probably worth asking why.

During 17 years as an elected politician, I wasn’t one of those who routinely complained about media coverage. Far from it. Many a senior BBC new manager can attest to the fact that I often got in touch about any concerns privately, and tried to be helpful by putting things right without a big song and dance. I was asked by senior management to attend briefing meetings with BBC producers and senior staff at Millbank to share insights on coverage of Scotland and Scottish politics.

There was a very open acceptance of the challenge posed by asymmetric devolution in the UK and the imbalanced sizes of the nations. Network news on both radio and television is effectively hybrid English/UK coverage, with only occasional forays into what is happening in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Listen to the Today programme and keep a mental note of how much is signposted as “in England”, and then add on the additional news elements where they have forgotten to do even that. It is overwhelming.

The National: BBC Scotland will soon launch its new channelBBC Scotland will soon launch its new channel

These shortcomings were the subject of the King Report which examined how the BBC was managing (or not) to properly cover the UK post-devolution. The subsequent firestorm in Scotland around BBC network coverage of the 2014 independence referendum should have forced some serious rethinking. On one level there is progress with the start of the BBC Scotland TV channel which launches on February 24, and I wish everyone well who is working on that project. It has a strong team, and I really look forward to its output.

However a Scottish BBC TV channel does not abrogate the responsibility of BBC network news and current affairs to cover the whole UK fairly. Unfortunately, just as Brexit chaos has consumed Westminster, the Brexit debacle has skewed the BBC yet further.

When the SNP became the third party in the House of Commons in 2015, the BBC took note and changed its approach, however the pro-Brexit vote in England has reset the dial back again to the bad old days. Now everything is seen through the Brexit prism, and Scotland and Northern Ireland are just complicating factors.

Up until now the problem has been largely the sin of omission: like almost totally ignoring major set-piece news events in Scotland like the Budget. How many times was the BBC’s Scotland editor Sarah Smith on live network radio or TV doing preview or post-vote pieces? Answer: hardly at all. How many times have Scottish Parliamentarians been on key network political programmes? Answer: not nearly enough. Out of 79 guest slots for politicians on Politics Live in January, only two were for the SNP. Newsnight, by my reckoning, have had just one SNP guest this year. Last Friday night Newsnight even failed to carry the SNP logo on the background graphics which carried all the other major parties, and perplexingly, MP-less Ukip’s logo.

Now however there is an additional problem: the sin of commission. Question Time remains a flagship BBC programme, and last week’s debacle in Motherwell was a low-point for many viewers in Scotland.

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As Director General I would be astonished if you have not had a detailed report on the scandal involving the programme hosting a hardline orange Unionist (repeatedly) as a studio audience guest, who then, surprise, surprise harangued the Scottish Government panellist, whose response was then edited to a minimum in an “as live” programme.

There is also the issue of the SNP’s number of appearances on Question Time. In the the year prior to the 2015 General Election the Liberal Democrats, who back then enjoyed third party status, were guests on 22 episodes of Question Time. Now the SNP, the third party at Westminster and the party of Government in Scotland, were guests on the programme only seven times in 2018. This is grossly unfair.

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As a friend and fan of the BBC I cannot defend how BBC network news and current affairs programmes are covering Scotland, and I don’t think you can either. Despite being front-page news in Scotland the response of senior BBC network management has been woeful. This is now a leadership issue and I hope you act decisively, because it cannot go on like this.