Scottish Broadcasting Commission

First Minister Alex SalmondFirst Minister Alex Salmond

Statement on the Scottish Broadcasting Commission

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday October 9, 2008

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Presiding Officer, in August 2007 this government established the Scottish Broadcasting Commission to undertake an independent review of broadcasting in Scotland.

That review is now complete. On September 8 the Commission published its final report.

Today I will set out how the Scottish Government plans to respond to the Commission's recommendations.

The Commission sets out a range of substantial recommendations to enhance the economic and cultural weight of the Scottish broadcasting sector.

Securing a better, fairer deal for the industry and building a platform for long term success. And these proposals would provide a vital economic boost to Scotland, amid challenging global conditions.

Presiding Officer, I would like to put on record our appreciation for the work of Blair Jenkins and the Scottish Broadcasting Commission.

In particular I welcome the constructive and consensual approach the Commission has taken over the past year - an approach which has been reciprocated by this Parliament.

And let all of us acknowledge the outstanding contribution of the late Ray Michie, both as a member of this Commission and a major figure in the democratic and cultural life of Scotland.

Presiding Officer, the Scottish Broadcasting Commission has brought substantial expertise to this national debate. It has sought views from across the political spectrum. And it has engaged the broadcasting industry and the wider public.

As a result, the Commission's agenda offers a firm and common purpose for the future of Scottish broadcasting.

The work of the Commission

Presiding Officer, even before the inception of the Commission, there was widespread acceptance that Scotland was under-represented by the main television networks.

Indeed, Ofcom's 2006 report showed that Scotland's share of total UK production had declined from 6 per cent in 2004, to 2.6 per cent in 2006.

The Commission responded swiftly to arrest this decline. And by framing its recommendations within the current constitutional settlement, it has enabled immediate action.

The Commission's recommendations are far reaching. They propose nothing short of a blueprint for a revolution in Scottish broadcasting.

The Scottish Government's response to the Commission will focus on three central aspects.

First, delivering a fair share of network production for Scotland.

Second, creating a new Scottish public service network, as a focal point for the long-term development of Scottish broadcasting.

And third, strengthening accountability and diversity in broadcasting, to ensure that Scottish interests are fully represented.

Delivering a fair share of network production

Presiding Officer, the Commission recommends Scotland receive a fair share of network production.

The Commission sets out the expectation that the BBC and Channel 4 should establish a substantial commissioning presence in Scotland.

And that both networks should devote a minimum of 8.6 per cent of programme budgets to commissioning programmes from Scotland. This target matches our population share, and thus has an objective basis.

Further, Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC, said in September last year that he regards this 8.6% target "as a floor, rather than any kind of ceiling".

Having uttered the very same phrase a mere six weeks before him, at the launch of the Broadcasting Commission, let me say I fully agree with Mark Thompson.

Where we differ is on the pace of change. The BBC wants eight years to make this change. The Commission argues strongly that it can be done in four years.

Certainly, new network commissions to Scotland will bring tens of millions of pounds of new investment into Scottish broadcasting.

The industry must be ready to take full advantage of these opportunities.

This Government will do all that we can in support. So we are acting on key recommendations from the Commission.

By the end of this year, Scottish Enterprise will produce a strategy for the economic development of the broadcasting sector, building on the Commission's analysis and recommendations.

Our skills delivery bodies will work in partnership with industry and our further and higher education sector to meet the skills needs of Scottish Broadcasting - now and over the long term.

And from its inception, as part of its remit, Creative Scotland will take on a leadership role in the sector, bringing together the key partners to move Scottish broadcasting forward.

New Scottish digital channel and network

Presiding Officer, the Commission's central proposal is for a new Scottish digital television channel. A channel which will form part of a wider media network of Scottish content - and be complemented by an online platform.

The Scottish independent production sector will be able to provide the bulk of programme content.

Scotland has never before had its own universally available television channel. It is high time that it did.

Culturally, economically, democratically, Scotland deserves its own Scottish network. And this will be an important complement to the newly launched Gaelic language channel, BBC Alba.

Moreover, this Scottish network will strengthen our creative economy. It will help to ensure that the best of our talent - whether writers, directors, producers, or actors - can achieve real success in Scotland.

This new network will also act a global shop window, showcasing our country and our creativity to our friends abroad - not least the Scots Diaspora, estimated at some 50 million strong.

The Commission argues that this Scottish network is the missing piece in the United Kingdom's jigsaw of public service broadcasting.

This Government is in full agreement. Linda Fabiani has already written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Andy Burnham, to make direct representation in support of the Commission's proposals, in particular for the creation of a Scottish network channel.

I will shortly meet with Ed Richards, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, to press this case.

In January 2009 the UK Government's Culture Secretary will outline important decisions on the future of public service broadcasting. We are determined that Scotland's interests are fully and fairly represented.

Concerning the funding of this new Scottish network, responsibility for public service broadcasting remains a reserved matter.

Thus we fully support the recommendation that the budget for the new Scottish digital network - estimated at between £50 and £75 million - should be fully funded, whether directly or indirectly, under the remit of public service broadcasting.

This is entirely just, given the UK Government already provides around £95 million annually to the comparable Welsh language Channel S4C.

Presiding Officer, broadcasting is vital to the cultural and democratic life of Scotland. And securing these positive changes will bring a significant economic dividend for Scottish broadcasting.

The immediate benefits may amount to an estimated £65 million in production activity by the major networks, BBC and Channel 4 - and an additional £50 to £75 million for the new Scottish digital network.

In other words, it offers the potential for a doubling of production - and the creation of a truly sustainable, highly creative cluster in Scotland.

Strengthening public accountability in broadcasting

Presiding Officer, the Broadcasting Commission has recognised that a stronger accountability framework will be necessary to deliver change.

If broadcasting is to be a window on the world, it must be a world we recognise - portraying Scotland's identity and cultural diversity, and the new confidence and ambition of our people.

This independent Commission was asked to make its recommendations in light of the existing balance of constitutional powers.

On that basis it has recommended that arrangements should be set in place to ensure Scotland has a greater influence over the broadcasting that specifically affects Scotland - such as BBC Alba and the new network.

We welcome the proposal that Parliament take an active role in considering Scottish broadcasting and the services audience receive.

We support the recommendation that Scottish Ministers assume greater responsibility for functions which directly affect Scotland. Specifically, for the appointment of Scotland's representation on UK broadcasting organisations - and for executive functions relating to MG Alba and the future Scottish Network.

The Commission proposes that Scotland should have an increased influence on broadcasting policy, to fully reflect the diversity of the nations of the United Kingdom.

This Government agrees. That is why we are pursuing Scottish representation on the Ofcom Board. Linda Fabiani has already written to Ofcom in those terms. And the Welsh Government has indicated its aim to seek similar representation.

Presiding Officer, news services have a vital role in Scottish broadcasting and in informing public debate in this country.

The Government was concerned by the conclusions of Professor King's recent report to the BBC Trust, which highlighted that "BBC network news and current affairs programmes taken as a whole are not reporting the changing UK with the range and precision that might reasonably be expected".

This is an important finding which needs to be addressed. The BBC is taking some action. And I welcome yesterday's announcement of changes designed to enhance the role and representation of the UK's nations within the Corporation.

However, this is a broad and perennial issue. So the Scottish Government will continue to press all the UK networks to ensure that news output meets the needs of Scottish audiences.

Conclusion

Presiding Officer, let me draw this statement to a close here.

The Commission's recommendations have set a clear and positive agenda for the future of Scottish Broadcasting.

The Scottish Government will respond to the recommendations where it has the power to do so, and we will report annually to Parliament on progress - starting in September 2009.

Delivering this broad agenda requires firm commitment from all partners - the UK Government, the regulator, the broadcasting industry and others. Each will have to step up to the plate and exercise responsibility.

Presiding Officer, this marks the start of a sustained effort to deliver high quality broadcasting that truly speaks for and benefits the people of Scotland - economically and culturally.

The support and engagement of colleagues across this Chamber has helped to bolster the case for change. It will continue to be an important source of strength.

So let me reaffirm this Government's commitment to work with all partners, openly and constructively, to deliver the change we need for broadcasting - and the change we need for Scotland.