First Minister Alex Salmond
Edinburgh International Television Festival
August 24, 2012
Edinburgh International Conference Centre
I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all of you. Edinburgh during the Festival period is a fantastic place to be, and I’m delighted that so many people from the television industry – from these islands and overseas – are here.
Those of you who went to Channel 4’s drinks reception in the National Museum of Scotland last night might – if you looked around the ground floor exhibits – have seen the oldest colour television in the world. It’s in Edinburgh because it was based on a design by John Logie Baird from 1928.
It took 40 years for colour television to go from invention to application in the UK, which seems remarkable given the change in human experience from 1928 to 1969. I’ll be arguing that this is symbolic of the glacial pace of adaptation of broadcasting structures in this country to modern reality.
Those of you who have been to BBC Scotland’s headquarters, at Pacific Quay, in Glasgow, may have been shown the desk used by Lord Reith, the first Director General, at the BBC’s original headquarters in Savoy Hill. It’s now in Glasgow because Reith was a Scot.
Those two objects are evidence of the fact that Scotland’s contribution to the early development of television, and public service broadcasting, is unparalleled.
Yet in 2012, when the digital revolution gives all of us a choice of hundreds of channels; when Edinburgh in August is again, as it has been for decades, the world capital of culture and communication; when people in Scotland are two years away from their most important decision in 300 years; Scotland does not have an English-language public service broadcasting channel of its own.
Now, when I was thinking about this speech, I started to think about how television portrays politicians around the world.
In Denmark, in “Borgen”, an ambitious female deputy assumes high office and governs ruthlessly. I have had to explain to Nicola Sturgeon, my deputy, that that is just a TV show...
In the USA, in the West Wing, a visionary leader wrestles with matters of conscience in a smart and humane way. Who says that television doesn’t reflect reality?
And in the UK, “The Thick Of It” shows a Westminster government in permanent omnishambles. That just shows that documentary TV is alive and well on these islands!
It struck me that there isn’t an equivalent Scottish version of any of these shows. For politics specifically, that might simply be because the unwavering competence of the Scottish Government simply isn’t exciting enough for viewers.
Or alternatively, it could be because there is no platform for such a show to be broadcast.
There is a shortage of Scottish content even on Scottish screens, let alone screens worldwide. That isn’t caused by a shortage of Scottish creative talent. Nobody could plausibly argue that in Edinburgh in August.
In my view, the cause lies elsewhere.
When Jeremy Hunt launched the UK Government’s local media action plan in January of last year, I was struck by his recognition of the “painful truth” that the UK probably has “one of the most centralised media ecologies of any developed country.”
That truth resonates especially painfully here in Scotland. It has a long history.
Kenneth Roy recently recounted in the Scottish Review of Books – and I don’t think it was apocryphal - that in the 1970s, when the Controller of BBC Scotland wanted to buy an extra key for an unmanned studio in Dundee, he had to refer the decision to London first.
Famously, John Birt’s memoirs revealed that in 1998 he enlisted the help of Tony Blair to scupper plans for an integrated six o’ clock news bulletin for Scottish viewers, the so called Scottish 6. Goodness – invading Iraq, stopping the Scottish 6 – was there no end to the Great Leader’s talents?
And in 2007, shortly after I first took office as First Minister, Ofcom published figures which showed that in 2006, only 2.6% of the UK’s network programming was commissioned from Scotland.
In August 2007 I made a speech about broadcasting in the National Museum of Scotland. In that speech, I announced the establishment of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, a body which included members from across the Scottish political spectrum, together with industry experts.
I also argued that “we have to transform the main framework for communications to become the truly ambitious and creative country we would all wish to be...We want to ensure the principle of editorial and creative control being exercised in Scotland on behalf of Scottish audiences. We want to create thriving production businesses taking Scottish talent onto an international stage. We want proper public service broadcasting for this exciting and energised nation.”
The perspective, as you can see, was internationalist, as well as nationalist. In a world where digital technology allows great content to be shown, and sold, around the world more easily than ever before, the neglect of broadcasting policy in Scotland was not just short-changing viewers here – it was undermining our ability to create programmes and formats which could have a worldwide resonance.
In today’s speech, I want to reflect on developments since 2007. And I want to make two main arguments. The first is that the Scottish Parliament has already played a significant part in strengthening broadcasting in Scotland since 2007. The second is that we need full responsibility for broadcasting policy – only then will broadcasting truly be Scotland's Window on the World - bringing us the best of content from every other country and allowing us to show the world what Scotland is capable of creating.
Improvements since 2007
The Scottish Broadcasting Commission’s final report, published in 2008, was endorsed by every single member of the Scottish Parliament. It highlighted declining levels of commissioning by United Kingdom television networks, and concerns about the range and quality of the current radio and television services in Scotland.
Its most important recommendation, by far, was the establishment of a new Scottish broadcaster, a Scottish Digital Network, which would provide public service broadcasting plurality to the BBC.
In the last four years there has been change for the better. The Scottish public sector is now more active in developing and supporting our television production industry – for example we have made major investments in skills, and you may have seen the stand here promoting the TV production scheme run by Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland to boost the Scottish production industry's export prospects.
Public service broadcasters are also working closely with Scottish production companies. The move of dramas such as Shed Media’s “Waterloo Road” – with investment in Scotland of over £25 million over the next 2 years – will be hugely significant in sustaining a skills base of talent in Scotland to encourage more home-grown programming.
There is already a vast range of talent among Scottish television production companies. From Raise the Roof with its Kirsty and Phil programmes to Hopscotch’s “Story of Film” for E4; from Tern’s new commission “Aberdeen Harbour” to the Comedy Unit’s “Burnistoun” - companies operating in Scotland are producing a vast range of shows which appeal to Scottish, UK or global audiences.
Because of this, in 2011 Channel 4’s investment in Scottish production reached a record £14.4 million. The rise in BBC commissioning has been even more significant – from 3.5% in 2006 to 9% in 2011 – an increase worth well over £20 million a year to Scotland’s economy.
And one other major success is worth celebrating.
BBC Alba, our national Gaelic language station, was launched in September 2008, and has now been available in Scotland on Freeview for just over a year. Last month more than 900,000 people watched it.
It’s worth expanding on that point. BBC ALBA broadcasts in a language which is spoken by approximately 100,000 people in Scotland, but it reaches 900,000. Its budget is scarcely 1/3 the size of BBC4’s, but last month, it had a larger reach in Scotland.
Whenever we have commissioned research on attitudes to broadcasting, people have said that they want more Scottish content on television.
BBC Alba’s audience figures show that this is not just what people say, but what they do: the viewers are voting with their remote controls.
Ongoing problems with the status quo
Yet all of this progress – welcome and overdue though it is – does not meet the needs of Scotland in the digital age.
At present, the limited scope provided for opt-out Scottish programmes in the UK television schedules, is the result of a broadcasting framework put in place more than 50 years ago.
That framework has never been substantially altered - despite the huge changes brought about by political devolution and digital broadcasting and all the other transformations in society and technology.
It means that despite Tony King’s vigorous complaints about news coverage of the nations to the BBC Trust in 2008, when Scottish viewers watch their main evening news bulletins, they frequently see headlines about issues which have no impact on their day to day lives, such as A-level results, or the dismantling of the health service in England – indeed, if Danny Boyle wants to do a paean of praise to the NHS in a couple of years’ time, he’ll have to come to Scotland. Maybe we’ll ask him – for the Commonwealth Games!
And it means that out of more than 600 television channels on satellite, or 50 channels on Freeview, only 1 – BBC ALBA – is devoted to general interest Scottish programming.
In an age of digital revolution, broadcasting has not adapted to devolution.
The reason for this is that control over broadcasting policy still rests so firmly with Westminster.
For example, let’s look at the chief recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission – the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network. That recommendation was based on the need to ensure sustainable competition to the BBC for Scottish public service broadcasting content. It was also firmly based on the evidence that the commission had taken from viewers, which convincingly demonstrated the appetite for more quality Scottish content.
The idea of a Scottish digital network was explicitly and unanimously welcomed by the Scottish Parliament. The then culture spokesperson for the Conservative Party in Scotland later went as far as to say that the establishment of such a network was the “settled will” of the Scottish Parliament.
However successive UK Governments’ key reports on Digital Britain, and on local television, did not mention a proposal which has been the central aim of broadcasting policy in Scotland for the last four years.
Alternatively, we could look at how the television licence fee was decided two years ago.
Nobody outside the BBC Trust and the UK Government knew that the licence fee settlement was being agreed until after it had happened.
Yet it was self-evident that all nations of the UK had a strong interest in that settlement.
As the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee pointed out, the whole process “undermined confidence in both the BBC’s and the UK Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.”
The UK Government is now planning a Communications Bill which it believes will determine communications policy in the digital age. Again, the Scottish Government has no formal say in how that Communications Bill will affect Scotland.
Broadcasting in an independent Scotland
All of this matters deeply.
You are all well aware of the importance of broadcasting to a nation’s creative economy, to its democracy, and to its sense of itself.
Despite the progress of the last five years, the status quo is still failing Scottish viewers. My view is that greater powers over broadcasting must be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
After all, the Scottish Parliament has protected free education and the NHS in recent years, while enacting world leading legislation on climate change.
It does seem to me that if we can successfully legislate on arguably the most important issue facing the planet, we can also take responsibility for protecting and enhancing the values of public service broadcasting for our nation.
The most secure way of ensuring a broadcasting framework that truly reflects the needs of Scottish viewers is for Scotland to be independent. That way, after all, decisions about broadcasting in Scotland will be taken by the people who choose to live and work in Scotland.
Broadcasting forms part of our wider vision for an independent Scotland to be a fairer and more prosperous nation. We want to create high-value jobs in key sectors of our economy, such as the creative industries. And we want to use the digital revolution to engage and include communities in Scotland who have been overlooked by broadcasters.
We will be publishing detailed proposals on independence, including for broadcasting, next year. But I thought it might be helpful here to set out part of the framework.
The first thing to make absolutely clear is that like any good liberal democracy, we would guarantee the independence of broadcasters. We would also ensure that requirements for broadcasting impartiality are in place.
The second point is that we would respect existing licenses. So if the Channel 3, 4 or 5 licences are renewed or extended prior to independence, their terms would be respected by the Scottish Government. Indeed I know that STV and ITV, in discussing their networking arrangements, have taken care to ensure that any such arrangements could continue after independence.
We would also establish a national public service broadcaster based on the existing staff and assets of BBC Scotland.
Further details on how that broadcaster would operate – and its continuing relationship with the BBC – will be published next year. However the basic principle that Scotland, as an independent nation, would have at least one national public service broadcaster, is utterly clear, and should be utterly unsurprising.
In Denmark, for example, which has a population of 5.5 million, there are two public service broadcasters, TV2 and DR, with a total of 8 nationwide channels. TV2 also runs 8 regional television stations.
In Norway, with a population of 5 million, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation runs three public service channels, together with a number of digital channels.
There are also three commercially run competitors.
In both of these nations, the existence of a strong broadcasting sector provides a wide choice of public service programmes, and a real stimulus for the television production sector.
In 2009, when we published a paper on Opportunities for Broadcasting in an independent Scotland, some of the press coverage was baffled by the fact that we used Denmark as an example. But programmes such as “The Killing” and “Borgen” are both fantastic examples of how quickly good quality shows can become international hits.
Ireland provides a further example of the potential economic benefits of a stronger broadcasting sector. In 2009, a total of £92 million of television production took place in Scotland. In 2009 in Ireland, which was reeling from the financial crisis, television production by the independent sector alone was twice as large, at almost £200 million.
With independence, news and current affairs provision would cater more effectively for viewers in Scotland.
There would be more opportunities to show Scottish comedy, culture, documentaries, sport and drama. We would be able to design a framework which met the needs of specific communities, whether in the south of Scotland or Shetland.
And, crucially, we would continue to provide open access for broadcasters, from the rest of the UK and elsewhere, who wish to provide entertainment and information to Scottish viewers.
Economically, a dynamic broadcasting sector would link with other creative industries – for example our film sector, our world-class video games sector and our theatre companies.
One of the frustrations I have with these magnificent festivals in Edinburgh is how few programmes there are to showcase the wealth of culture on display here. We do our best to counter that with our Expo fund, which ensures that the best of Scottish culture can be shown at the Festivals and then around the world. But there is no substitute for television broadcasts.
An independent Scotland could also use fiscal policy to attract additional production. Large media centres such as London sometimes exert an overwhelming centrifugal force. The existence of a national broadcaster for Scotland would help to counter this – but fiscal incentives may be needed to attract more television and film production to Scotland.
That point is especially important in a digital world, where online content means that location, and access to spectrum, will increasingly be less important. We should be targeting areas where Scotland excels, and make sure that specific productions and channels are based in Scotland.
We cannot, of course, foresee all of the opportunities which will arise in the next ten or 20 years. But with independence, we will be better placed to seize those opportunities, and to respond to challenges, as and when they arise.
Most importantly of all, we would no longer have a situation where urgent broadcasting policy issues for Scotland are largely passed over by a Westminster Government which lacks either the inclination, or the motivation, or simply the time, to see them as priorities.
That has been the fate of the broadcasting sector in Scotland since the 1920s, even when Lord Reith and John Logie Baird were in their prime. It cannot be allowed to continue.
We can no longer be prepared to live in a world where it takes 40 years to bring innovation to application, or where legislative frameworks are 50 years out of date.
From any European perspective, it is simply inexplicable that a country like Scotland - with its distinctive and continuous history and identity - should not have even one dedicated mainstream television channel.
From a Scottish perspective, what had once looked like rather an odd omission in our broadcasting system now looks more like a glaring gap in the media landscape.
Regardless of your view on Scotland's constitutional future, Scotland needs a broadcasting framework for Scotland which is adapted to the digital age, helps our creative industries, and meets the needs of Scottish viewers.
My strong view is that independence gives us the best possible chance of creating that framework. By doing so, it will ensure that broadcasting in Scotland boosts our economy, enriches our culture and strengthens our democracy.