Referendum White Paper proposes Scottish Broadcasting Service in the event of a Yes vote

AN independent Scotland would set up its own broadcasting service, funded by the TV licence fee gathered in Scotland that is currently used to fund the BBC.

The creation of a Scottish Broadcasting Service is part of Scotland’s Future, a 670-page White Paper on next year’s upcoming referendum on the country’s constitutional future.

Unlikely to come as any surprise to keen observers of broadcasting (indeed, the concept was flagged up at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last year), the SBS would – says the so-called ‘independence blueprint’ – provide TV, radio and online services as a publicly-funded public service broadcaster, “working with the BBC in a joint venture”.

The details are contained in chapter nine of the document.

Says the White Paper: “Under our proposals, a Scottish Broadcasting Service, providing TV, radio and online services, will be established as a publicly funded public service broadcaster, working with the BBC in a joint venture;

“On independence, the licence fee will be the same as in the rest of the UK, and all current licence fee payment exemptions and concessions will be retained’ [and]

“Existing licences for broadcasters in Scotland will be fully honoured.”

The chapter continues: “Broadcasting is a critical part of our creative industries, a key economic sector that is growing rapidly. In 2012, UK television exports are estimated to have grown by four per cent compared to the previous year, to £1.224 billion. It is an industry that provides skilled, well-paid employment with indirect benefits felt widely across our economy. The Scottish Government believes that much more can be achieved to boost the creative economy of Scotland.

“Scotland currently stands far behind countries and regions of similar size in terms of the hours of original television production and employment by our national broadcaster. The Scottish Government has successfully pressed for increased production in Scotland: in particular, the share of BBC network production made in Scotland rose from three per cent in 2007 to nine per cent in 2011, slipping slightly to 7.6 per cent in 2012. However, the money we contribute in licence fees should be doing more to service Scottish audiences, and to deliver jobs and opportunities here in Scotland for those involved in our creative sector and creative industries.

“In 2011/12, BBC Scotland’s total expenditure was just over £200 million on all of its activities, compared to a contribution to licence fee income of £320 million from Scotland. BBC spending in Scotland is likely to fall to around £175 million by 2016 through the ‛Delivering Quality First’ [budget cut] programme.

“The creation of BBC ALBA in 2008, and its availability on digital television since 2011, marked a step change in Gaelic broadcasting. Its weekly audience figures of 637,000 demonstrate an appeal considerably beyond the Gaelic-speaking community, showing the benefit of the Scottish Government’s investment in the service.

“In 2008, the Scottish Broadcasting Commission recommended the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network funded from licence fee resources. A greater level of Scottish public sector broadcasting would increase production in Scotland, reflect Scotland to itself, and increase plurality in publicly-funded public service broadcasting. The Westminster Government has not agreed to this proposal, and within the current constitutional settlement the Scottish Government has not been able to enhance Scottish public sector broadcasting.”

Later, the chapter continues: “Independence will directly affect broadcasting, which is currently reserved to Westminster. The BBC’s current charter runs to 31 December 2016, after the planned date for independence in March 2016. Channel 3 and Channel 5 licences are being renewed to 2025. The Channel 4 licence is also likely to be renewed to 2025 in the near future. As part of the Channel 4 renewal process, the Scottish Government is pressing for increased production from Scotland more in line with our population share.”

And it outlines various ‘priorities for action':

“This Government’s immediate priority for broadcasting on independence will be to develop a broadcasting policy for Scotland based on three principles: there should be an increase in production opportunities for Scottish producers, and an increase in productions that reflect life in Scotland and of Scots; Scottish viewers and listeners should continue to have access to all their current channels; and there should be no additional cost to viewers and listeners as a consequence of independence.”

And it goes on to say: “Existing arrangements will therefore form the starting point for broadcasting services in Scotland. The licence fee payable in Scotland at the point of independence will be the same as the licence fee payable in the rest of the UK. All current licence fee payment exemptions and concessions, including those for people aged over 75 and for people who are sight-impaired, will be retained.

“This Government will also respect existing charters and licences to broadcast when Scotland becomes independent.

“We believe that Scotland’s publicly-funded public service broadcaster should strengthen our democracy and foster cultural production and participation. It should be a trusted, reliable, impartial source of information. It should reflect the diversity of the nation and our world to the people of Scotland, and should seek opportunities to collaborate beyond our borders to pioneer innovation in entertainment, education and journalism.

“To deliver on these ambitions under independence, we plan to create a new public service broadcaster, the Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS). The new broadcaster will initially be founded on the staff and assets of BBC Scotland, and will broadcast on TV, radio and online.

“The SBS will offer a wide range of programming and content on TV, radio and online. It will reflect the variety of our nation in terms of geography, ethnicity, language, belief, lifestyle and taste. The SBS will be independent of government, impartial in its editorial view and given creative freedom in production. An expert panel will devise the SBS charter and propose governance arrangements to ensure that the SBS focuses on quality, serves the interests of the people of Scotland, and works in partnership with staff. These principles will subsequently be enshrined in legislation.

“The SBS will inherit a proportionate share of the BBC’s commercial ventures, including BBC Worldwide Ltd, BBC Studios and Productions Ltd and BBC News Ltd, and of their associated ongoing profits. Scotland’s population share of those profits ranges from around £13 million to £19 million per year.

“The SBS will receive licence fee revenue from Scotland, which is of the order of £320 million; £13 million from BBC commercial profits; and around £12 million from the Scottish Government for Gaelic broadcasting – a combined total for publicly-funded public service broadcasting in Scotland of £345 million. By comparison, RTÉ in Ireland spends approximately £286 million on providing full TV, radio and online services. The level of funding for public service broadcasting in Scotland means that there will be no necessity for the SBS to raise revenue from advertising. In addition, as the BBC’s spend in Scotland in 2016/17 is estimated to be only around £175 million, independence will mean almost doubling the level of public spending on public service broadcasting and production in Scotland.

“The SBS will start broadcasting when the current BBC charter comes to an end on 31 December 2016. On TV, the SBS will begin with a new TV channel and take on the responsibility for BBC Alba. On radio, the SBS will begin with a new radio station in addition to taking on responsibility for Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gàidheal. The SBS will also provide online services, including a catch-up player and news website. Over time, the SBS will develop its services to reflect the broad interests and outlook of the people of Scotland.

“Currently, BBC Scotland delivers a range of original programming for the BBC network. We propose that the SBS should enter into a new formal relationship with the BBC as a joint venture, where the SBS will continue to supply the BBC network with the same level of programming, in return for ongoing access to BBC services in Scotland. Through this new relationship between the SBS and the BBC, existing BBC services will continue, with the SBS having the right to opt-out of BBC 1 and BBC 2 – when appropriate – as BBC Scotland can already. Current programming like EastEnders, Doctor Who, and Strictly Come Dancing and channels like CBeebies, will still be available in Scotland.

“The SBS will continue to co-commission, co-produce and co-operate with the BBC network. The SBS will commission or produce a share of BBC network original productions reflecting the Scottish population share, in terms of both hours and spending. These arrangements will shift commissioning power and resources from the BBC to Scotland, while providing continuity for the BBC, consistent with its recent moves to decentralise from London.

“The SBS will be encouraged to explore the opportunities with other broadcasters for co-production and co-commissioning, beyond the joint venture agreement with the BBC, to build on the strengths that the Scottish production sector has in comedy, drama, natural history and factual entertainment programming.

“BBC charters are generally set for ten years, with the new charter due to begin on 1 January 2017. SBS co-operation on this basis with the BBC will be predicated upon there being a Westminster government that shares our commitment to publicly-funded public service broadcasting. Should it become clear in the future, potentially after the 2015 UK General Election, that there is a risk to the licence fee at Westminster, then the Scottish Government would establish a contractual agreement with BBC Worldwide Ltd to secure continued access to BBC Services for the people of Scotland. BBC channels are already broadcast live in Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland through contractual arrangements with BBC Worldwide.

“Channel 4 is also a public service broadcaster, similar to the BBC although on a much smaller scale, but it is funded from privately raised funds from commercial exploitation of assets, as well as from advertising and sponsorship. Channel 4 currently commissions around three per cent of its original output from Scotland. [Broadcasting regulators] Ofcom is currently consulting on Channel 4’s quota of programmes produced outside England, with a proposal that the volume could increase over time to a minimum of nine per cent of original production by 2020.

“Although on independence Channel 4 will have a licence extending to the end of 2024, this Government will work to ensure that a structure is in place by 2016 that recognises the need for an appropriate minimum level of original production, in terms of both value and hours, that reflects Scotland’s population size.

“In Europe, there are examples of channels that operate across different countries, including those with public service obligations. For example, ARTE operates in Germany and France, with two shareholders, ARTE Deutschland and ARTE France, who each have a 50 per cent share of the group and provide 50 per cent of the content. One possible long-term model for Channel 4 might be a company part-owned by a Channel 4 Scotland which controls a shareholding proportion matching Scotland’s population share, with the number of hours and proportion of spend also matching this level.

“We will also encourage inward investment in film and television production in Scotland, and use our new overseas network to promote Scotland as a location for film and television production. We plan to continue the existing fiscal incentives for such production, and, within the first term of an independent Scottish parliament, we propose to look at ways to encourage further development in the sector, through incentives, infrastructural investment and support for development, skills and training.

“Regulation of broadcasting is currently carried out by Ofcom, which also regulates telecommunications and postal services. The Scottish Government proposes that the economic regulatory functions of Ofcom should be included in a combined economic regulator. Appropriate measures would also be put in place to recognise the cultural significance of broadcasting within Scotland’s new regulatory arrangements. An independent Scotland will also co-operate with the rest of the UK on managing the spectrum, just as Ofcom and Ireland’s ComReg co-operate at present.”