TV Programmes ‘Lack Ambition’, Finds Scottish Broadcasting Commission

TV programmes have lacked ambition and imagination in presenting ‘the full range of Scottish culture, heritage and creativity’, according to a report from a commission set up last year by First Minister, Alex Salmond, to look at the future of Scottish broadcasting.

Yesterday, the Scottish Broadcasting Commission produced its second interim report, this time concentrating on the cultural importance of broadcasting in Scotland. And from a survey of over a 1000 people, 82 per cent of respondents said they would be interested in watching a new Scottish channel, if one were launched.

In addition, some 84 per cent thought it was important that television should ‘inform and teach you about Scotland’, but that 33 per cent were dissatisfied with how programmes try to meet this aim.

But BBC Scotland immediately hit back, with Head of Programmes, Donalda MacKinnon, saying: “We refute the suggestion that BBC Scotland programme-making lacks ambition and imagination”, adding: “The report is very selective in its observations and we believe does not give a fair reflection of the quality and range of production from in-house BBC Scotland teams and our partners in the independent sector.”

The Commission says it found the following key points:

“Frequent criticisms of the limited range of cultural content on television, with audiences missing out on Scottish talent and creativity applied to national and international subjects

“Scottish programmes – ie programmes made specifically for Scottish audiences, including news, current affairs, sport, and Gaelic – currently make up only five per cent of the schedules of BBC One and BBC Two in Scotland, but there is evidence from a new survey that audiences have an appetite for more

“stv’s Scottish programmes account for 6.5 per cent of their schedules, but [owners] SMG said in future it will produce Scottish programmes only if it can find a commercial rationale. This poses a potential risk to public service broadcasting competition in Scotland.”

Adds Commission chair, Blair Jenkins: “The Commission believes the cultural content of television is important because it is vital for social cohesion, national identity and a sense of history – the story of this nation’s journey, where it is and where it may be going.

“Much of the evidence we received conveyed a strong sense that broadcasting is out of touch or off the pace when it comes to recording and reflecting the cultural vitality and diversity of modern Scotland.

“Many commentators are convinced that television can provide a showcase for Scottish creativity and cultural activities and should be taking more risks instead of giving people more of the same.

“The evidence we have taken – and the survey for the Commission – indicate that there is certainly an appetite for more Scottish content but that this is not fully satisfied by the broadcasters with public service broadcasting obligations.

“This interim report opens up many issues and questions which need to be explored and addressed by the industry in order to ensure that our broadcasting truly reflects Scottish as well as international culture for viewers in Scotland.”

Since the 19th of this month, the Commission has been on tour, taking the views of the Scottish general public. It is expected to produce its final report in late summer. Its first interim report looked at the economic significance of broadcasting in Scotland (see here).

The survey also found 56 per cent of those surveyed thought there was too little coverage of the Scottish dimension in history and heritage programmes; that 51 per cent thought there was not enough coverage of Scottish material in factual and documentary programmes; and that 84 per cent said that competitive matches played by Scotland’s national football team should be shown live on free terrestrial television.

Continued MacKinnon: “The five per cent figure which the SBC report records against BBC One and Two Scotland output is simply wrong. In actual fact, in 2006/07, network BBC One and BBC Two broadcast 8603 hours of originated programmes, as noted in the BBC Annual Report. This total excludes repeats.

“In the same year, BBC Scotland produced 869 hours of originated television programming for audiences on BBC One Scotland and BBC Two Scotland.

“Therefore, comparing like with like, BBC Scotland was responsible for more than ten per cent of the comparable hours broadcast by network BBC One and network BBC Two in 2006/07.

“In written and in oral reports to the Commission, we provided extensive evidence of output which reflected the cultural and creative excellence of Scotland – from the National Theatre’s Black Watch to the RTS award-winning Boys Behind Bars, Highland Clans, Thomas Telford: The Man Who Built Britain and Did Your Vote Count?

“The report seems largely to ignore the thousands of hours of radio, on Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gaidheal, and the hundreds of web pages we produce to support our programming. It also fails to take account of the 240 hours of network television we produced last year, across the range of BBC networks, including programmes such as Caledonia Dreaming and The Cult of Hamish Macbeth.

“This country’s past has been charted in hugely popular BBC Scotland television programmes such as The Sword and the Cross, Art and Soul, Scotland ‘s Music and, for the last year we have been working on Scotland’s History,