But Is It News?

Ah, the Scottish Six of fond memory. In the 90’s a group of us presenters were actively encouraged by the  management at Queen Margaret Drive to campaign for it…John Milne, Ruth Wishart, Lesley Riddoch, myself and others appended our names. Against all BBC rules on impartiality and contractual clauses barring us from publicly commenting on corporation affairs, we were given the nod to write to the papers and point out the advantages of a Glasgow-based national and international news service. I was even allowed to pen a column for…the Daily Record. Mind you, it was still a proper paper in those days.

Pilots were done and the momentum in Scotland was powerful. But, surprise, London was opposed and, as ever, Scotland got what London wanted.

Mind you, even then we didn’t minimise the obstacles. Whatever looks right in principle, still needs practical steps to make it work. It will be just as difficult today as it was in the nineties. Just because the management sign up to an idea doesn’t mean they know how to make it happen. At every level in the BBC there are drones working out ways to stop things happening. Each department will find some reason to resist and reports objecting will be models of obscurantism requiring an Enigma code-breaker to decipher. If the clipboard jockeys in the darker recesses of the BBC don’t want to know…well, they didn’t know about Jimmy Savile, now did they?

The first thing that strikes me about this plan is the programme duration. A full hour is a huge commitment five nights a week requiring a complete re-working of the reporting model. Instead of two-minute packaged reports, the need will be for longer more discursive pieces with more detailed content flagging up the implications in the story to allow a studio-based interview to follow, either a two-way with the reporter or a relevant outside guest. That in itself is new because you rarely, if ever, see a live guest in the Reporting Scotland studio. That also means presenters conducting actual challenging interviews of an articulate (and possibly obfuscating) guest rather than reading pre-arranged questions lobbed to a Brian Taylor. (Most two-way interviews with news correspondents are basically questions written by the correspondent to make them look like interviews when in fact the whole report is scripted in advance.)

A 60-minute programme – without Channel 4’s commercial breaks – requires a skip-load of content. FMQ’s ain’t going to do it and neither is the Economy, Energy and Tourism committee at Holyrood. Political coverage, which will provide a staple of content, will need much more explanation and narrative linkage to Brussels, London and Edinburgh so Holyrood is put in its proper perspective instead of popping up in bite-size segments seemingly unconnected to the wider world. We will require the services of a genuine Rottweiler or at least an ankle-biting Highland Terrier of an interviewer with the detailed knowledge that was once the on-air preserve of Mr Mcwhirter. Talk of Brussels…there has been no BBC Scotland presence there for a decade and more. The last correspondent would be John Morrison whose sojourn was financially justified by the happy coincidence that he spoke Gaelic and therefore the language fund could be accessed. The BBC has got away for too long with ignoring Brussels as if Scotland had no direct connection to the European institutions – a shameful neglect that also meant no Scotland-based staff have been designated Europe watchers learning the EU ropes to inform Pacific Quay journalism.

This in turn opens another Pandora’s Box – will BBC network correspondents co-operate? Where Scotland has no presence on the ground – say in a foreign capital – BBC staff already serving there will be expected to produce for Glasgow. This is the point at which you realise what the corporation’s priorities are. In ascending order the duty of a correspondent is to 1) serve London 2) serve London and 3) serve London. ‘Network’ overrides everything else in all circumstances. The centralisation is eye-opening to any ingénue who imagines this is a truly British Broadcasting Corporation. London holds all and every lever. It gets first call on any correspondent, any story, any available service. Regional outposts like treated as backwaters. You want an interview with a BBC correspondent for your local programme? Form an orderly queue. Sorry, Glasgow, you’re behind Radio Suffolk and Radio Dorset.

That’s how it’s worked in radio which has always had a transnational and international remit, unlike television which is charged with reporting Scottish affairs only – until now. To be fair, correspondents are under a heavy strain as they are serving BBC outlets and many will give short shrift to requests for a separate item for Scotland. Many stories of course don’t actually have a need for a different treatment for Scots and can be taken straight from network – not too many though, otherwise what’s the point of a separate programme?

A lot can be shovelled in towards the end of a programme basically to pad it out. The really important part is the top where a heavy and meaningful item is needed each night. This is where judgment and planning come in. People working off diary, researching and constructing their own news material – breaking stories! – is a key source of lead items but only the small investigations team at PQ really has that experience. In addition pre-shooting needs camera crews dedicated to the job, not being diverted by a news desk panicking about a breaking story that day. BBC Scotland got rid of camera crews to save money just two years ago.

They will have to learn too the craft of building a news item into a story by exploring its ramifications, something you’re more likely to hear on weekend radio than a tea- time telly show with brief items of an intro and a she-says-he-says series of clips. This is something the new Head of News is well-placed to know about having done the job for network.

All this of course should lead to better journalism, new faces, more resources and an informed audience. The early omens are not good because what they need more than anything is a willing and enthusiastic staff. In fact they are already rebelling, incensed at the PQ management’s hallmark approach of failing to consult. Instead of working out the plans with the journalists, as ever they didn’t trust them with the information and then sprung a rush to produce a pilot show on them. No wonder they’re weary.

Two final points. Will a tea-time audience really watch a single hour-long news programme? Same presenters throughout? It will need some bells and whistles to hold ‘em for sixty minutes.

And, to the parochial-minded, moaning that Scots can’t produce a proper programme says more about you than BBC journalism. One reason why the current output is poor by comparison is resourcing. Another is the very agenda you complain about – television has no remit to cover anything outside Scotland. Like Scotland itself, Scottish journalism will grow with its independence.

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37 thoughts on “But Is It News?

  1. Sounds like it needs somebody at the top with the vision, imagination and commitment to see it done properly and the resources to do so. Sounds like this individual needs to be a bit of an operator at many levels including the key ability to coerce money out of the Beeb. Or have the nous to access other funds.

    On another point: Is John Morrison not still around and still speaking Gaelic? Couldn’t the same European language funds be accessed? Eorpa has produced quite a good output on Europe.

    Lesley Riddoch has built up an impressive range of contacts in Scandinavia. Her Northern Horizons series in Edinburgh has featured some interesting speakers.

    There was a recent radio Scotland programme on land use and farming in Norway which was impressively researched. I’ll dig out the link if you don’t know it.

  2. The fundamental problem for me with the existing “national” BBC news at 6 and 10 is that it is not national. A prominent story from England gets ignored if it occurs in Scotland. Essentially there is an over-emphasis on London and the South East.

    The BBC’s foreign news in its main bulletins used to be quite extensive and high polish. Now? Foreign countries barely register unless they are blowing lumps out of each other and even then it’s low brow and often partisan without any real attempt at in depth analysis.

    The fundamental problem that a Scottish Six will have is that many of their target audience (like me) have long since given up on television news and now prefer to get their news online and from multiple sources.

    It’s like someone announcing the invention of candles when we have all moved on to dimmable LEDs.

  3. Wish BBC Scotland had the ambition, depth and broad horizons of Eorpa on BBC Alba. One of the best programme for foreign stories in spite of the fact (or perhaps because of it) that it often appears to be relabelled reports form local news teams. Interested in your view Derek.

    • Agree Gerry – Eorpa has been consistently good on reporting from abroad for years. The insight it gives into the workings and machinations of the EU is far better than any other news programme in my view.

    • I was thinking of Eorpa as I read the article. They have some excellent correspondents (who also speak Gaelic) and must have some network of connections and outside broadcast know-how which could be built on. Perhaps an hour is too ambitious for now and we could manage 45 minutes, given that there always seems to be a recap moment on the Network Six at around 6.15.

      If the Network Six could be persuaded to keep English only news until after that time, it would be even better. We eould not have to watch all the stuff about NHS England, English GCSE and A level results etc.

      Lastly, a question, if BBC Scotland cancelled their camera crews to save money recently, on what have the spent the money thus saved?

  4. Correct Derek regarding perceived parochialism and the actual remit. If you give someone authority to report on Auchenshoogle and only Auchenshoogle. Then don’t expect hard hitting investigative journalism. Expect a narrow perpesctive, with a poor talent pool.

    The very thing the ultra unionists, London sychophants complain about. Only exists because Scotland is shackled in it’s outlook and content by London control.

  5. Good heavens, you would think there was no talent anywhere in Scotland or even some who moved abroad to England for lack of opportunity here, who might relish the opportunity to work on Scottish news and current affairs. There are folk like James Cook, shipped out to report on the mush in Hollywood and all those lovely folk who work on the Gaelic broadcasts.

    Aside from the technical aspects which can surely be overcome, what is news? It’s not just about the big story of the day, it’s about day to day life all over Scotland and how that fits into our place in the world. It’s not only about the mundane, it’s about our culture which could be showcased on a news and current affairs programme. Just look around social media and the talent which is lurking there. If the BBC can open itself to new ideas and new faces and co-operate with and embrace outside talent, why couldn’t an hour be filled with stories relevant and interesting to people living in Scotland?

    A lot of the “national” news we get from BBC now is barely relevant to me, just an exercise in distraction, obfuscation and propaganda; we have soundbites from politicians and correspondents indulging in opinion when they should be reporting. It’s as though we don’t exist. There is an opportunity to cast off the “drop the dead donkey” facile reporting we have to put up with now and develop something akin to a grown up news service.

  6. A Scottish Six will fail if it is the same craven Britnats at Pacific Quay involved in producing/presenting it. Balanced reporting BBC style will continue – SNP baad (the fatuous Jackie Baillie, SLAB), SNP baad (wee Wullie, SLibDem), SNP baad (Ruthie, Tory), total 6 mins followed by SNP (take your pick), 30 seconds being talked over by the ghastly Jackie Bloody Bird. It would not surprise me if it is being set up to fail so it feeds in to the “too wee, too poor, too stupid” narrative. Listening to the Britnat arsewipes Nelson Fraser and Alex Massie interviewed about a Scottish Six on the radio this morning says it all about BBC balance – a joke.

  7. I wouldn’t watch it because the BBC brand is forever tainted.
    All Trust has been lost and as long as the initial “B” is in the name you can forget it, as far as I’m concerned.

    • I’m as disgruntled and disgusted as you and haven’t been near any BBC news outlet in a rather long time, but I will be tuning in for the first few slots more in hope than expectation. But they are actually trying to meet us half way with this even if it is just a piece of realpolitik. As Derek says, done properly it could really inform people in a meaningful way. They also know Prof Robertson (emeritus) will be watching and calculating even if they pretend not to care.

      if it’s pish and awful we can always stop watching again and it doesn’t mean we have to consume any other output but we should still try it out, even for novelty’s sake.

      STV has announced they are going to do a digital equivalent so we can even compare and contrast and Aunty will have a competitor. if STV have any sense they will draft in Jack Foster and crew, but I won’t hold my breath.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald

    Too many of the comments are venting spleen about current presenters, recent interviewees, performance during the referendum, etc. However, we need to move beyond that and explore what is possible, as some have done by referring to Eorpa, and to others who have worked for the BBC before, but have maintained an international perspective from a Scottish base.
    There is an advanced technological resource on Pacific Quay and a lot of highly trained technical staff as well as other creative people in the streets around Prince’s Dock and within Glasgow. Many of the young people (and not so young) who are using blogs have a lot of creativity and are using the various media in inventive ways. So, presenting a daily hour long wide ranging news programme is eminently possible.
    There will be mistakes and sometimes features will be crass and will go down like lead balloons. But risks need to be taken and most people actually learn from mistakes. Of course the usual siren voices will sneer about flops; they always do. And when the Scottish cringe was at its strongest, too many would curl up in shame and slink away.
    Already, the usual Better Together/Unionist carpers are ‘warning’ of an SNP dominated broadcaster (as if the present broadcasters are wholly independent of Westminster and City interests). The Scottish electorate elects members of political parties in free elections. For the past couple of years, mainly due to the mediocrity of the SLab, SLibDems and SCons, people have had little feasible alternative to the SNP and even then only 50% of the electorate gave it their vote. We have seven parties contesting the forthcoming elections (not counting the various local and independent, single issue candidates). In any case, as has happened in years gone by, support for SNP (and SLab,and SCons) has waxed and waned and is likely to do so again. The argument about a Scottish Six is the same essential argument as the independence argument. Are we capable of doing it? Are we other than too wee, too poor and no’ very good? Are our genes deficient in the ability to create and organise?
    A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step …… oops does that make me a commie?

  9. Until the management of the BBC in Scotland is made ACCOUNTABLE to Scottish TV license payers,I can’t see much changing.
    For too long,they have been able to just ignore us and keep their London masters happy by toeing the establishment line and relying on funding in a similar way to the Barnett formula (i.e. at London’s discretion).
    Great idea but we shall see.

  10. A lot of TV’s problems with news is the producer’s insistance that we must have pictures. Radio news has no pictures and yet gives us news. If you discard the must have pictures “imperative” then the news part of the news becomes a lot easier and cheaper.

    The other thought is why do we need pieces for Scotland from correspondants overseas or in Whitehall? Why not copy from London’s “Six” and paste after 1830 when you know what they contain and how long they run?

  11. Derek is right to highlight the logistical and production obstacles involved in such an enterprise and my fellow commentators are right to point out that the roll call of Unionist lackeys will do everything in their power to see this fail,

    but let’s not overlook the wonderful opportunity a Scottish Six presents.

    As with the new financial powers for Holyrood, the Scottish Six presents another opportunity to build more Scottish institutions and make the path to independence that little bit shorter.

    When people start to see that their income tax goes straight to Edinburgh, and when they see more control of broadcasting resting in Scotland, they may begin to ask why bother with London?

  12. ‘Scottish Six’? Aye right. The problem is that BBC Scotland is institutionally biased in favour of the present constitutional arrangement. If they could present political news stories in a neutral fashion then BBC Scotland would have a chance of recovering. If it cannot do that then it is, imo, finished. Very few are watching. It is simply regarded by many as Colonial Media, the mouthpiece of the London Establishment.

    But if it did go ahead perhaps there would be less knife crime, eh?

  13. As a mere listener (I gave up watching Reporting Scotland before September 2014) one thing that I would be keen to see would be more Scottish local news. We have this, albeit in very short broadcasts, on Radio Scotland, at the moment. There can be no reason for part of a Scottish Six not devoting at least 10 minutes to genuine local news and features in our own areas. STV do this on a North/South basis (and with Glasgow I believe). A BBC Six could extend this and make it even more local. (I’d rather see/hear news from the west coast than from Aberdeen and Dundee as I do at present with the STV North programme,)

  14. “Will a tea-time audience really watch a single hour-long news programme? Same presenters throughout?”

    I bet no-one nowadays sits for an hour watching news. We dip in when it interests us and out when it doesn’t.

    “And, to the parochial-minded, moaning that Scots can’t produce a proper programme says more about you than BBC journalism. ”

    Good God, that is a travesty, when one considers that Scots were, still are, the backbone of news media in the UK for donkey’s years. The talent is still there but it has moved online. The quality of journalism online among Scottish bloggers is far superior to any produced by those in the ‘professional’ media so there is no shortage of talent.

    • Got to agree with your last point about professionalism. When I saw Robert Peston standing on a tyre swing last night ( ITV ) I thought he’s done that for a bet. I never got R Peston at the BBC ( for a communicator , he kind of goes round the round the houses to make a point) but he’s one of the big beasts we’re supposed to respect.
      Does the report mean his kind of specialism?

      So if he can play on a swing can Jackie Bird juggle four balls while softening her voice to emphasise the seriousness that Her Majesty’s pigeon has been found?

      Anyone remember a confident John Boothman being interviewed about how prepared BBC Scotland was for covering the ref?

      Well it wasn’t just John Boothman though was it? A certain Mr McQuarrie was also in charge . Lack of vision and box ticking then so what’s changed ?

      I do think we need a Scottish six and I agree Eorpa already does interesting reports , despite the fact I need to read the subtitles , they cover human issues we all can understand.

  15. What we do need, is to be rid of the current BBC Scotland management in its entirety for they must be responsible for the sorry state of BBC broadcasting in Scotland.

  16. The current management aren’t capable, aren’t trusted and are associated with the toxic brand they have created.

    Before anything could be achieved, a clean house order would be required.

    The talent, expertise and the imagination is out there, our host is evidence of that. The will and the inclination even, to do what is necessary?

  17. Not sure that there can ever be a way back for the establishment propaganda broadcaster. I have not watched any “news” or “current affairs” from them or their counterparts in the ITV stable for years now. I have other sources and can see no future for an organisation that is demonstrably dedicated to undermining the current Scottish Government and any positive case for independence (see G. A. Ponsonby and Prof. John Robertson for specifics).

  18. If BBC go for a six. It might be awful, and still run by the same sycophantic Brits. But it will be a catalyst for STV and others to follow suit. Once we break the London chains, then our media will begin to change. Otherwise we will have to put up with what we have, until we get independence.

  19. “Another is the very agenda you complain about – television has no remit to cover anything outside Scotland. ”

    Exactly. That is one of the causes of the cringe. All the ‘big news’ comes from London.
    Of course a decent budget will make a difference in quality too.

    It looks like there are various formats being proposed, and to make a difference it can’t just be like:
    “And now over to London for the big news”.

  20. My distrust of the veracity of BBC Scotland News means it will take a long time and a lot of effort on their part to make me watch for more than 5 minutes.

    They will really need to return to the true even handedness of a neutral broadcaster and remove the toxic members of staff away to somewhere harmless. They know who they are.

    Too much ill feeling on my part I’m afraid but I’m prepared to be convinced.

    If it works then great news for Scotland literally. If doesn’t then we are no worse off. We just continue to switch off and ignore the current SNPBAAD crap.

    The SNP are by no means perfect and they need to be challenged properly by sensible probing well informed and intelligent interviewers without a political axe to grind. They also need to be given time and allowed to respond properly to questions without interruptions which is the norm currently.

    Nobody in the unionist parties are subjected to this abysmal method of interview.

    The only SNP member not wholly subjected to this is possibly Nicola Sturgeon. I hope that is because she is First Minister. That position deserves respect by all in this country regardless of political affiliation. This is not to say she cannot be challenged. It can be done.

    The unionist perties are allowed to expound any rubbish they want without any fear of interruption. That shows a lack of respect too. They get an easy ride so they don’t have to push up their game and they can just wander along the same rut in the road going nowhere.

    Clean up your act BBC Scotland News. Do what it says on the tin not what London says.

    By the way I am not a member of any poitical party. I have been a strong liberal voter in the past until the current bunch of numpties took control. I did vote for independence and will continue to do so because I really believe we Scots should be free of this dreadful Union which has done us so much harm.

    So, I am currently party free and await a decent set of manifestos to peruse and then I can make my mind up properly.

    If none are forthcoming then it will be SNP SNP for me because they are doing their best for Scotland, in my opinion, against outrageous attacks by the MSM and poltical parties both here and in London.

    Let’s hear some real news and some of it could even be good.

  21. Scotland 2016 covered the Scottish Six. Ken McIntosh (ex BBC Scotland journalist, now Labour MSP) debating with Lesley Riddoch. Ken’s brain is Teflon coated, couldn’t see that constant coverage on BBC UK news of English junior doctors strike wasn’t relevant to Scotland, he thought no change was needed, after all we are part of the UK. Could hear the exasperation in Lesley’s voice. She mentioned Iceland who only has a population of 250,000 but has 11 tv stations so why on earth can’t Scotland do better. Ken’s response was an insult to Iceland, saying Icelandic TV was a poor standard. What this debate did tell me is that Ken is blinkered and can only follow the Unionist line that Scotland should stay in it’s box, know it’s place. Argggh!!

  22. A very interesting article particularly for someone like me who doesn’t know how the BBC works internally. (it’s all too obvious how it works externally to anyone who used to believe that it was a balanced reporter but then experienced its appalling anti-independence bias during the referendum). I agree with those above who suggest that there’d have to be a thorough clear out of current management and a great many current presenters and reporters for there ever to be any trust in a new service.

    I’d also like to add my voice to those praising Eòrpa. It’s an absolutely brilliant programme and has been for years. It continually looks at Europe and the wider world in a Highland and Scottish context and shows that there is a view from here that is different from the one we normally get – and sees us in a European context instead of some afterthought of Westminster. There’s nothing else like it (in any language I understand, anyway) anywhere else on TV in the UK.

  23. …. in the name of !@#$, 1984 doesn’t even begin to cover it !!, I’m at least glad that you’ve set the record straight Derek.
    I knew it was BAD, but this has really blown the lid aff the sewage farm (read :- BBC Scotland and their London Masters).

    An absolute shower of charlatans …. believe me, I’am using far more ‘fortified’ language as I write this.

  24. A Scottish Six? Hell No!!!

    I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone who wants independence for Scotland would want this. What news do we get from BBC Scotland at the moment? Reporting Scotland is nothing more than a 30-minute party political broadcast on behalf of Scottish Labour, with a few football stories and a weather forecast thrown in for good measure.

    All a Scottish Six would achieve would be to double the amount of anti-SNP / pro-Scottish Labour / Britnat propaganda on our screens at tea-time. And to add insult to injury, we’d have to pay for this ourselves, via the licence fee. No thanks.

    The issue here is not a lack of available talent in Scotland. The issue is that BBC Scotland is biased on two levels. Firstly, it is institutionally biased against the SNP and independence for Scotland, and will always say what the London bosses dictate, i.e. SNP Bad.

    Secondly, it is biased on a personal level- presenters like Jackie Bird and Eleanor Bradford are simply incapable of setting aside their own personal political bias. They make no effort to be impartial.

    BBC Scotland is beyond redemption, and a Scottish Six would only add yet another layer of Britnat propaganda, at our expense. At least I can choose not to buy newspapers, or subscribe to their online editions. I don’t have that choice with the licence fee.

    • You’re not looking at the big picture, Allan (bad pun intended). Scotland is well down the road to independence, it’s just that the constitutional arrangements haven’t caught up. The focus of Scottish politics is now largely Holyrood, with Westminster becoming increasingly less relevant. A news programme based in Scotland would be a further move down that road. That programme would, as you imply need to be much, much better than Reporting Scotland, and would need much more investment than at present, but let’s not throw away an opportunity in a fit of pique. The fact that this conversation is taking place is an indication that the high Heids yins at the B.B.C. are feeling the pressure. Why ease off now?

  25. The BBC cant change, The UK Government with the threat of the Licence fee hanging over them won’t let them , the most everyone can expect is for them to adopt a neutral stance on Scottish Independence , trying to force the management into a corner won’t help , the mistake by the management was made way back when the referendum was announced as alluded to by Derek Bateman , PQ management need a arbitrator to get them out of this fix they now find themselves in ,when half the country dosnt trust them ,someone with media experience , able to view impartially this perceived one sided view of Scottish news , the perfect person would have be the aforementioned Derek Bateman , unless his stance on Independence precludes his appointment , i don’t see why as it is perceived by half the country PQ have been steeped in Scottish Labour’s influence for years , call it a return of some ballance , what is needed is for politicians of all persuasions to be kept at a respectful distance from news output ,and be seen to maintain this distance and not return to partizan support for any one view , in this respect the top management appears to be tainted and in my opinion would required to be replaced anything short of this would not be accepted i believe , just a thought .

  26. BBC and Radio Scotland have been starved of financial and human resources for decades, and the people they do have are stale, one dimensional State Broadcasters, rather than journalists.
    One example—for several weeks, on a Wednesday, Labour have bussed in a couple of dozen cooncillors and trades union flunkies to Holyrood to “protest” about the Scottish government. BBC news has covered this as if it were an actual demonstration, and a news event, rather than a party political stunt. Camera shots to exaggerate the size of the “crowd” etc, when they should have been asking—“who is paying for this”?—was it Joe Public or Scottish Labour?
    I doubt it can work. The BBC in Scotland are no longer worthy of trust, and many of the people they have would have been just as happy in the old East Germany, as “journalists”.

    Most importantly. Would Jackie the Craw’s make-up last an hour?

  27. Our lovely cuddly goebbelites at the BBC have been spending the en tire day telling us that the Royal Bank of Scotland just posted losses of £2,000,000,000. Which is a bit odd as it was the English banking conglomerate RBS which did so. Formed in London, HQ in London. Majority of the business made up of Natwet Bank. Run from London by English cokeheads.

    But none of that matters as we can have outright racism in return for our forced compliance in the licence robbery.

  28. Nightly political broadcast for the Labour Party to be increased from 30 minutes to 1 hour, jeez haud me back

  29. I remember when the weather map was tilted, there was nobody available to “explain why” in Scotland as all the weather people “Heather the weather” had to run around BBC studios sotb.London control right enough. Auntie missed the boat in the 90s, as Derek said. They have never cared, we’ve been conditioned to being not surprised. They (BBC bosses ) don’t see it, don’t get it. We got the message long ago. If the BBC was a bank, astute credit agencies would give it “junk status”.

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