STV News head defends exclusives track record in Scottish news pilot debate

THE head of news at STV has dismissed, as “frankly ridiculous”, a suggestion that TV and radio tend to follow newspapers when setting their news agendas.

Gordon MacMillan was rebutting a comment from the editor-in-chief of The Herald group of newspapers, Donald Martin, at a public meeting addressed by two rival bidders to run a publicly-funded news pilot on television’s Channel three in Scotland.

While the current provider, STV, is hoping to win the public cash – amounting to an estimated eight million pounds per year for two years – to provide news content on Channel threee in Scotland as part of a consortium also comprising Bauer Media and ITN, Martin was representing rival bidder, Scottish News Consortium, comprising newspaper publishers, The Herald & Times Group (which publishers The Herald), Johnston Press (The Scotsman) and DC Thomson (The Sunday Post), plus TV production company, Tinopolis.

At the meeting – being hosted by the judges charged by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to decide who should run the pilot – the two bidders, Scottish News Consortium and Scottish News Network (the one involving STV), each presented their cases to be the chosen provider.

However, only three out of around 100 people attending the meeting in Glasgow this afternoon declared themselves ‘members of the public’ with no vested interest.

And towards the end of the respective presentations, MacMillan responded to observations made by Martin, about TV and radio ‘tending to follow newspapers’, by saying: “It’s frankly ridiculous. STV can hold its head high about the exclusives it gets in.”

Of the two presentations, the SNC emphasised a ‘bottom up’ approach to newsgathering, involving the local community, including students.

The Scottish pilot – and similar ones scheduled for Wales and Tyne Tees/Borders – would operate courtesy of the public purse because it has been recognised at Westminster that companies such as STV are finding it increasingly difficult to raise sufficient advertising revenue to cover the costs of running a news service widely considered an essential counterpoint to the ‘nations and regions’ news provided by the BBC.

The Tories have intimated, however, that, were they to win the General Election, it’s unlikely the pilots will go ahead.

It was made clear during the meeting that both bids are entirely separate of each other, that it will be a case of ‘winner takes all’ when the identity of the winning ‘independently-funded news consortia’ is announced, around the end of next month.

Whoever wins the race will transmit their content via STV at no cost. STV will be fulfilling its licence-to-broadcast obligation, to provide local news, and the organisation providing the content, whether SNC or SNN, will have an outlet through which to transmit it.

For the 100-plus news staff at STV, their future is not expected to radically change, whoever wins: if it’s SNN, then it will likely feel like nothing has changed, given STV’s key involvement in it; if not, SNC will be required to honour employment legislation regarding the ‘transfer of undertakings’ (TUPE).