STV is being investigated by broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, following claims that Scottish Government sponsorship of some programming allowed it to influence STV content, towards more home-grown productions.
Said the Scottish Sunday Express, at the weekend: “Correspondence between Mr Woodward [Rob Woodward, STV chief executive] and the First Minister [Alex Salmond] – obtained by the Scottish Sunday Express under freedom of information laws – shows they had an 'interesting and productive dialogue' at a meeting at STV’s Pacific Quay headquarters in January last year. Topics discussed included STV’s 'aspirations to increase the amount of Scottish content', as well as the broadcaster’s commitment to a Scottish digital channel and a ‘Scottish Six’ news bulletin, which are both key SNP aims.”
The allegations were echoed in other newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph.
This morning, Ofcom announced the investigation as part of its standard complaints procedure, with the TV watchdog saying only that 'various programmes, over various dates and times', are under the spotlight.
Added the Scottish Sunday Express: “The documents were finally released to the Sunday Express last week after a seven-month wrangle with civil servants, following a freedom of information request in August last year. Opposition politicians last night [Saturday] demanded an explanation from the First Minister about any involvement in editorial decisions at STV, and asked if public money was used to support the channel’s new direction.”
The Scottish Sunday Express quoted alleged correspondence between Woodward and Salmond, with the former reported to have offered to “explore how we can incorporate our innovative thinking around television exposure for the benefit of the Government”.
Programmes to have been sponsored by the Scottish Government – under its tourism initiative, Homecoming Scotland – included STV's search last year for the Greatest Scot – won by Robert Burns.
Said a STV spokesperson: “Ofcom is currently investigating some of our programming and we welcome this investigation.
“STV has a robust internal compliance process and we are confident that we have complied with all relevant broadcasting codes and guidelines.”
Added a Scottish Government spokesperson:
“We warmly welcome that Ofcom are looking into this – which was occasioned by the press publicity. Of course, Ofcom are enquiring into STV rather than the Scottish Government, and we believe they have acted absolutely properly, as indeed has the government.
“The STV Homecoming programmes were the idea and initiative of STV, and it was totally appropriate to promote Homecoming in this way. The programmes also had the Daily Record as a co-sponsor. The content of STV's schedule and the material broadcast are obviously matters for STV itself, and the Scottish Government had no influence in the making, content or scheduling of the programmes.”
In a statement, the Scottish Tory MSP, Murdo Fraser MSP, said: “The serious nature of these allegations has been underlined by the fact that Ofcom has launched an investigation. It would be unacceptable if the SNP Government has being trying to use taxpayers’ money to undermine the impartiality of STV. Serious questions arise from the letters between the SNP and STV – they can’t simply be swept under the carpet.
“Mr Salmond’s attempts to manipulate the media for his own ends is well known but if he has been using taxpayers’ money to buy favour and influence then that would be a serious breach of power.
“The public needs to know: Did the SNP Government sponsorship, using taxpayers’ cash, for STV-made programmes help to facilitate the removal of popular UK-wide shows like the Bill from our screens? How much money has been paid to STV by the SNP Government in sponsorship and advertising since 2007? Specifically, how much was spent on sponsoring the programmes which replaced the popular UK-wide shows and why won't the SNP tell us?
“Why was one of Alex Salmond’s special advisers allowed to sit in on STV meetings and how great was the SNP Government’s input into editorial decisions?
“How much editorial influence did the SNP Government demand over programmes it was funding with taxpayers’ money?
“Has the SNP Government had any input into STV’s proposal for a Scottish Six news bulletin where STV will opt-out of the UK news schedule?”