Salmond outlines vision for national broadcaster in an independent Scotland

AN independent Scotland would have its own national public service broadcaster, operating using staff and infrastructure at BBC Scotland – according to the First Minister, Alex Salmond.

Speaking at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Salmond told delegates that he imagined negotiations that would follow independence would include dividing the assets and liabilities of the UK, including the BBC. He envisaged too the Scottish Government collecting the television licence fee from Scots – estimated to be around £320 million – a portion of which would be spent on purchasing programming from the BBC.

Four years ago, a commission, he had set up the previous year, recommended the creation of a digital TV channel dedicated to broadcasting Scottish content and he expressed – in his speech to delegates – frustration that, despite unanimous backing from MSPs, it had failed to be progressed by Westminster.

A referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future is being held in two years’ time.

Next year, the Scottish Government intends to publish more detailed plans about, among other things, any regulatory framework and to what, if any extent, advertising will be permitted, as part of a wider debate about how commercial the new broadcaster would be.

Enjoying himself, at one point made his own ‘Edinburgh Declaration’ that BBC soap opera, EastEnders, would be “safe” in an independent Scotland.

He said: “We [in Scotland] 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.”

Later, he said: “In an age of digital revolution, broadcasting has not adapted to devolution.”

Salmond added that a Scottish Government could use fiscal powers to attract TV production to the country and recognised that, since the establishment of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, there has been “change for the better”, including increased spend by the BBC in making programmes for UK-wide network screening from Scotland and, last year, a record £14.4 million spent by Channel 4 on Scottish production. It contrasted with an impulse for the Scottish Broadcasting Commission: according to broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, in 2006 only 2.6 per cent of the UK’s network programming was commissioned from Scotland.

He praised too the relatively recent establishment of Gaelic language digital TV channel, BBC ALBA, being viewed by nine times the audience of the 100,000 people estimated to speak the language.

“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,” he said.

But, at the outset, he claimed: “There is a shortage of Scottish content even on Scottish screens, let alone screens worldwide.”

He went on: “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.”

He continued: “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.”

Asked to what extent it would be a given that BBC Scotland staff and infrastructure would transfer, without a fight, across to an independent Scotland, he said he imagined the BBC (in whatever form it would take following independence) would wish to do business with a Scottish public service broadcaster, because of the budget at the latter’s disposal.

Pic: Rob McDougall.