The Beatles and The Nine

Twice in one night, I found myself stuck to the sofa in shock as I watched the TV.

Towards the end of Episode one of the fantastic documentary The Beatles: Get Back I watched in disbelief as Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman sat chatting to each other while Paul McCartney writes Let It Be. They are literally the first people on the planet to hear this masterpiece and there they are gassing away.

I thought I couldn’t possibly see anything more bizarre than that. Until I switched on The Nine.

Some things in life deserve to have “The” in front of it. The Beatles are a case in point. The ultimate band, master songwriters, four young men at the cutting edge of music, culture and fashion. And then we have The Nine, which is something altogether different.

It was the first time I had watched the show and after ten minutes there I was again: in shock at what I was witnessing. BBC Scotland’s flagship news show has all the depth of an icecube tray and leaves you feeling as cold.

But maybe it is me. I am spoiled living in Catalonia as we are served very well by the three main channels on Spanish TV Telecinco, Antena 3 and RTVE. We are exceptionally well looked after by the Catalan channel TV3. Meanwhile, Scots are left high and dry.

With viewing figures dropping to the low thousands per episode I joined a no doubt, small cohort, to watch the show (30th November) to find a news programme that was completely incongruous to the needs of a nation.

As you no doubt missed the show I’d love to take you on a little trip through what was on offer. The rundown of the programme……

Storm Arwen has caused major disruption to the north of Scotland and many people are still left without power in Aberdeenshire.

As an Editor, you essentially have two options when dealing with a story like this: chat to people affected / in charge to get a feel for the issues or go deep and look at the “context” of the story.

Now a good news show (when it has time) does both; it looks at the impact and then it looks at the context. The Nine chatted to locals and showed a tit-for-tat from the Scottish parliament. Then bizarrely spoke to a local government official rather than a power company. There was no context.

An editor could have taken two very obvious contextual approaches to the news. The first is the climate crisis. Considering COP has just finished in Glasgow this would have been a very easy narrative to follow. Why are these storms happening? Is this something we are going to experience more? What can we do to be more resilient?

Or maybe the news isn’t the storm but the impact it has had on the energy supply. So an editorial decision could have been taken to look at Scotland’s energy infrastructure. Could our hosts have said: “with suppliers slow to reconnect people is this perhaps related to their monopoly positions, more on this later” Maybe we could see if we are perhaps too reliant on the national grid? In Scotland we only have 5% of homes on District Heating wouldn’t this be a good opportunity to look at that?

To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when other channels go deep, The Nine stays shallow.

Next up was a bizarre “soft” story about Puffins. I have no idea why this would appear in a serious news programme.

The meat of the show was the new COVID variant and this was covered in-depth. It was the only section of the show that offered any kind of hint of proper journalism. There was still an unnecessary reference to Boris Johnson and the NHS (which is of course nothing to do with
the Scottish Health Service)

A year and a bit on this one story has clearly given the editorial team sure-footedness that they lack on any other news item.

We then broke for two stories from the USA. I have no comprehension why either of these stories would be part of a Scottish news programme but it no doubt points to the US- cantered editorial at the heart of the BBC more generally.

The next piece of Scottish news was to relate the prison sentencing of some jewel thieves. Crime will always play a role in “regional” news programmes. But it shouldn’t always be there. I doubt this really merited coverage on a national news programme.

We then had a harrowing story about deaths in prison. This was another opportunity to go deep. But The Nine didn’t.

One thing the story highlighted was the horizons for the show; it struggles to place Scotland in any other context outside of the UK. Scotland’s deaths in custody were related to other UK nations. A much more useful comparison is the compare Scotland’s figures to other countries of similar size and income in Europe. This should be the default for The Nine. Nearly there! But three stories deserve a special mention.

A few minutes that can only be described as a propaganda piece about MI6 told us to be aware of the Chinese, the Russians, and terror groups. This seems like a piece that the BBC will have dutifully, at the behest of the “establishment”, dropped into every news show across the network. It had nothing specific to say to or about Scotland: it was London-centric establishment dribble.

The “news” show then dedicated more than 10 mins to sport. This in itself is strange for any flagship news programme. Sport isn’t news. Sport is sport. But stranger still, more than half of the segment was dedicated to Tiger Woods (who guess what, isn’t Scottish) and the “news” about Tiger? He is now semi-retired. Well, knock me out with a putter. What a waste of airtime on a news show.

The final and perhaps the most important story on The Nine was the news (proper news) that Barbados is now a Republic. Now as you are aware Scotland has the same (or did) Head of State as Barbados and Scots are split on the issue of Scotland as a republic. So did The Nine give any Scottish perspective or narrative? Did it host a discussion between a Scottish Republican and a supporter of the Monarchy? Did it dig into Barbados’s decision? Of course not. That’s way too deep.

One hour was enough for me and it has proved to be way too much for the vast majority of Scots. In no area in Scotland are we so poorly served as the media.

But there is no point just complaining about it. And that’s why I have been supporting Independence Live this year to beef up what it offers to Scotland and beyond. It relaunched this year and it is now: Telling Scotland’s Story.

If you want to see an alternative to The Nine and to the BBC, independent media and Independence Live RIGHT NOW needs your support. Please donate what you can.

And check out the brand new media show “The Media Mash” which takes place on 9th December at 8 pm and come and tell us what your views are of the media in Scotland.

Written by William Thomson, still stuck in shock to his couch in Barcelona.

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