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Scottish viewers remain concerned about the 'impartiality' of BBC news coverage, says report

BBC Scotland image from Stuart Beattie

A report from the BBC Trust has found that Scottish viewers tend to have a "lower opinion" of the broadcaster, and that public perception of the BBC in Scotland has barely shifted since the aftermath of the 2014 referendum on independence.

A review of BBC news and radio services across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, found that the overall approval rating for BBC TV News in Scotland was 7.2 out of 10 at the end of 2015. This was actually down two points from the beginning of autumn in the same year and only a slight increase of it's 7.0 score in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish vote.

During the consultation stage of the report, the BBC said that many concerns around the impartiality and fairness of its reporting were voiced. "But there is clearly no consensus: criticisms were made that the BBC was pro-nationalist and pro-unionist. Some respondents praise the BBC for maintaining impartiality across its television output," the report went on.

The BBC was criticised from some members of the pro-independence camp in 2014 over a perceived lack of impartiality, cumulating in a protest outside the corporation's Glasgow headquarters.

At the time, a BBC spokesperson said: "We believe our coverage of the referendum has been rigorously impartial and in line with our guidelines on fairness and impartiality."

The wide-ranging BBC Trust report said that overall UK audience perceptions of BBC news were "strong" but that the evidence gathered for the review indicated that audiences have "extremely high expectations" and these are not currently being met.

It also said that during public consultations in Scotland it found that some people had "very strong views about the BBC’s news in Scotland," and that compared to the rest of Britain, perceptions of the network in Scotland followed a pattern of being traditionally less positive "due to a complex mix of reasons, some cultural."

However, the report recognised that many people were happy with BBC news and current affairs coverage in Scotland, with BBC Scotland's TV news show performing strongly in terms of reach and quality.

More than 50 per cent of adults in the country said they watched Reporting Scotland each week and among those, seven of 10 agreed it was high quality and relevant to them.

BBC Scotland had tentative plans to introduce a 'Scottish Six' show to cover events North of the Border, but journalists have taken issue with the project.

The BBC's review has noted that in Northern Ireland audiences want more coverage of a broader range of subjects with a wider range of voices. In Wales the broadcaster said it will need to "find ways to ensure audiences are kept informed about Welsh matters, and that their expectations in areas such as Welsh political coverage and holding decision-makers to account are fully met."