A FORMER BBC presenter – now an SNP MP – has put the subject of a Scottish 6 o’clock TV news bulletin back into the limelight.

John Nicolson, the member for East Dunbartonshire, was speaking at Westminster yesterday when he said that Scotland was perhaps the “only country in the world” where no foreign news was run on the national teatime news programme.

Nicolson, the SNP’s Culture, Media and Sport Spokesperson, said: “There could be Armageddon in Carlisle and it [BBC Scotland] would run an air-show in Carluke as the main news story.

“It is a most peculiar position and it is one reason why the SNP is keen on having a Scottish 6 o’clock news with proper news values – local, national, UK and international news chosen on the basis of merit, as happens on the radio.”

His remarks came after the BBC’s Audience Council for Scotland said the corporation should review its approach to the coverage of “controversial political issues” in the country in the wake of last year’s referendum.

In the BBC’s annual review, the council said some network programmes had appeared to adopt what was described as an “Anglified perspective” during the independence debate and focused too much on the official campaigns “at the expense of the wider civic and community engagement”.

The council, which advises the BBC Trust, said BBC Scotland should be given greater authority and resources to commission programmes for Scottish audiences and review its approach to the coverage of controversial political issues “to ensure that perceptions of impartiality remain strong across all audiences”.

According to analysis of audience councils and focus groups, 48 per cent of people in Scotland thought the BBC was good at representing their life in news and current affairs, compared with 61 per cent in England and in Northern Ireland, and 55 per cent in Wales.

Nicolson added: “The BBC Trust in Scotland reports that less than half of the people in Scotland believe that the corporation represents their life.

“That is the lowest level of trust in the BBC of any of the nations in the United Kingdom, but it is no coincidence, given the number of TV programmes that are commissioned in Scotland and the jobs in Scotland.”

He said a perceived lack of objectivity by the BBC during last September’s independence referendum left many Scots feeling a “bit like disappointed lovers discovering the infidelity of someone we rather cared for”.

Nicolson said this differed to the UK Government’s view on the BBC, with many on the Conservative frontbench feeling a “post-divorce visceral hatred”.

Nicolson, who previously presented BBC Breakfast, said the corporation’s attitude to gay TV figures had changed little since stars were regarded as “waiting for the right woman”.

He told how BBC press office staff were “aghast” when he told them that he had been honest about his home life in an interview with the Daily Mail.

He claimed he was informed that no one in any field had been openly gay.

Speaking during a debate on diversity in public sector broadcasting, Nicolson addressed the under-representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

He said: “When I came out as gay when I was presenting BBC Breakfast on BBC 1, which I did for a number of years, I found that I was the first mainstream TV news presenter to do so.

“When I told the press office staff that I had given an interview to the Daily Mail, and that when asked about my home life I had been honest, they were aghast and told me that no BBC presenter had ever been openly gay. I said: ‘Perhaps in news nobody has been openly gay before, but what about other fields?’

“They said that no one in any field had ever been openly gay. Larry Grayson and John Inman were, according to their BBC biographical notes, apparently just waiting for the right woman to come along.

“That was in the year 2000, and I am not sure that much has changed.

“Why does it matter? As (Labour’s Chi Onwurah) rightly said, the faces and voices on TV, especially in news, should reflect the society in which we live. It is all about trust.”

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