THE BBC's top boss has defended its Scottish coverage and insisted he is "highly committed" to the delivery of impartial public service broadcasting obligations.

Tim Davie hit back at criticisms made by the SNP MPs Kenny MacAskill, Douglas Chapman, Angus MacNeil and Neale Hanvey and insisted the First Minister's coronavirus briefings were not re-instated - as they were never taken off air.

He suggested that changes made to the weekday programme were to reflect wider debate around some of the measures being brought in by the Scottish Government and in line with the BBC editorial guidelines. 

The director general also pointed out to the four MPs that he spent his "very first day" in his new role last month with colleagues in Glasgow and underlined his ambition to make the broadcaster less London-focused.

READ MORE: Eamonn O'Neill: 'BBC Scotland living in a bubble and ignoring its audience'

The four SNP MPs wrote to Davie earlier this month demanding major changes to the BBC in Scotland - including the axing of the licence fee - otherwise they will urge Scots not to pay it.

They listed the changes they say are necessary arguing the service is failing viewers in Scotland and there is "significant disquiet over editorial balance". They also criticised Davie's own appointment.

The National: Director general of the BBC Tim Davie

The letter was sent weeks after public outrage over the BBC's decision to end the First Minister's daily coronavirus briefings after pressure from opposition parties

Tens of thousands of people signed a petition calling for the decision to be reversed and a static protest took place outside the broadcaster's Scottish headquarters in Glasgow. Bosses later dropped plans to axe the programme with the new broadcasts including commentary.

"Firstly, let me assure you that I am highly committed to the delivery of the BBC’s public service obligations in Scotland and in all of the UK’s nations," he said.

"Indeed, my very first day in the role as Director General last month was spent in Glasgow, working with BBC Scotland colleagues.  In my first speech as DG, later that same week, I said that if we are going to get closer to our audience we need an organisation that is based more across the UK, helping to stimulate the creative economy around the country; and we will look to make the BBC less rather than more London-based. 

"As the leader of the BBC, I know that every house in Scotland has to feel that their licence fee of £157.50 offers excellent value. I take that challenge. That is what we are about."

He added: "The BBC recently enhanced this commitment by introducing the largest investment in a generation into content-making in Scotland, resulting in the launch of the BBC Scotland channel and a new agreement with Screen Scotland.  

"This agreement included a commitment by the BBC to deliver to network channels each year from Scotland a minimum of three drama series, three comedy titles and three high-impact factual series, ensuring a strong number of TV productions made in Scotland are running on the BBC network services too.  

"The BBC Scotland channel, although only 18 months old, is already the most-watched digital channel in Scotland, and in the most recent figures, 75% of adults rated it as effective at delivering the BBC’s public purposes in Scotland. It of course sits alongside a range of other Scottish content on BBC One Scotland, BBC ALBA, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds."

He continued: "Turning now to some of the further key aspects of your letter and paper, you reference the BBC’s coverage of the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefings.  

"As with the equivalent briefings in England and Wales, the BBC has to date shown all of the Scottish Government’s briefings, so they weren’t “reinstated” – they had always been there.  

"As I know you will recognise, the BBC must ensure that all of our coverage is not only accurate and informative but also duly impartial, fully in line with the demands of our editorial guidelines and with those of the Ofcom broadcasting code.  

"In the early stages of the pandemic, there was broad cross-party support for the measures introduced in Scotland and for their implementation, but there is undoubtedly increasing divergence of thought in Scotland on how policy decisions could be made.  

"The BBC has specific regulatory requirements placed upon it, both by its own editorial guidelines and by the Ofcom broadcasting code, around ensuring due impartiality when policy judgements are being aired. Impartiality, across the BBC, is a key priority for me, as I made very clear in my first week as director-general."

Davie said the MPs' call for the devolution of broadcasting was "clearly not a matter for the BBC" and on funding and the licence fee pointed them to polling which suggested it was the most popular model. He went on to say that the Scottish Parliament has a role in shaping the future of the BBC.  

"The BBC, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the DCMS signed a memorandum of understanding in 2015, itself approved by the Scottish Parliament that year, to ensure that the Parliament in Edinburgh was an important part of the process when the BBC’s charter was reviewed and renewed most recently, and on all subsequent occasions," he said.

"That renewal process included a large public consultation covering a number of the questions you discuss, including around the remit of public service broadcasting and how it is funded.  

"The BBC’s charter and agreement, running to 2027, was approved unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in October 2016, following scrutiny both in committee and in the parliamentary chamber.  

"The new BBC Scotland channel was also welcomed cross-party at Holyrood in a debate the following spring."  

Davie's response to the MPs' letter comes just days after it emerged some of BBC Scotland's most experienced journalists are leaving due to cost cutting.
Gordon Brewer, the frontman of Sunday Politics is quitting, as well as the news anchors Bill Whiteford and Isabel Fraser.

The National: Gordon Brewer at the BBC

The presenter Gillian Marles, and Reevel Alderson, Kenneth Macdonald and David Allison, long-serving correspondents, have also accepted offers of voluntary redundancy.

The newsroom departures are among about 20 from the corporation this month, as BBC Scotland seeks to cut its budget by £6.2 million by the end of March. Brian Taylor, the political editor, has already announced his retirement.