Why Scottish Broadcasting Matters – Part Seven – Alex Salmond

This is the full speech given by Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, at a press conference held on August 8 2007….

August is a wonderful month in Scotland, a month in which we welcome people from many other countries to the major festivals in our capital city. It’s a time of year when you feel that the cultural conversation of the world echoes through the streets of Edinburgh and this great city becomes the international capital of creativity and communication … And it is creativity and communication that I want to speak about today.

Of course, they say the art of government – rather than the substance – is all about communication, but as far as this country is concerned I would go even further than that. I would say that Scotland is all about communication.

This is a nation that loves to express itself, to retell old stories and share new ideas, to pass on information, to hear what’s happening. We communicate passionately with each other as friends, as citizens, as family. It’s a very deep human need and we feel it particularly strongly in Scotland … It’s perhaps not surprising that we couldn’t wait for somebody else to invent the telephone or television.

But while we might always have enjoyed self-expression, we have perhaps at times lacked a little bit of self-belief. And in some measure, I think the broadcasting arrangements for Scotland have played a part in that incomplete sense of national self-confidence. I believe we have to transform that main framework for communications to become the truly ambitious and creative country we would all wish to be.

Broadcasting has a crucial and central role in our democracy, but also in obtaining the full cultural and economic benefits of our creative industries. That’s why my government supports the devolution of broadcasting powers to the Scottish Parliament. We see the policy as a means to an end, not just as an end in itself. We want to ensure the principle of editorial and creative control being exercised in Scotland on behalf of Scottish audiences. And we want to create thriving production businesses taking Scottish talent onto an international stage. We want proper public service broadcasting for this exciting and energised nation. That includes television news and current affairs, which seems to have been shrinking to an alarming degree in Scotland if the industry regulator, Ofcom, is to be believed.

The debate around the ‘Scottish Six’ for example – which has been discussed for a full decade now – is really just a shorthand for the much broader debate we need to have in Scotland about achieving a more relevant and informing blend of television news and current affairs across the output in Scotland.

I want to speak mainly today about the opportunities associated with broadcasting and television production, which are at the very heart of our creative industries. A recent report by The Work Foundation for the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, makes clear just how important the creative industries are. They now rival in terms of scale and growth even the financial services sector as a powerhouse industry, a major employer and a huge generator of wealth, one of the keys to the future prosperity of all economies.

One of the things that struck me in the report, apart from the sheer scale and potential of the creative sector, was a short contribution from the writer and producer Richard Curtis, the man behind movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill and events like Comic Relief and Live 8. Curtis, who has enormous experience and success in this area, is convinced of what he calls the “interconnectedness” of the four key areas of Theatre, Radio, Television and Film. And what he says is:

“Every section of theatre and radio and TV and film feed each other. Each depends upon the other – without four strong industries, the others would suffer dramatically.”

I believe he’s right that these activities are interconnected and interdependent. So what can we do to ensure that these four pillars of creativity are in place and solid and secure in Scotland?

I think we can have a high degree of optimism about our Theatre. I pay full tribute to my predecessor, Jack McConnell, for establishing the National Theatre of Scotland. Even this early in its existence, we can see how it has brought energy and excitement to its performances around Scotland.

Most notably, Gregory Burke’s Black Watch is winning major awards and attracting sell-out audiences. It is that rare combination – a smash hit and a critical triumph, now with the support of this government heading to the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The success of the NTS will benefit every other theatre company in Scotland, as audiences up and down the country rediscover their enthusiasm for live performance and well-written drama.

In keeping with the Curtis formula, I do personally wish that Radio Scotland could find room for more drama in its schedules. I know the drama department at BBC Scotland produces many fine single plays and series for the BBC’s UK-wide radio networks, but I do believe that Scottish audiences should get the chance to hear more Scottish drama on their own national service. Could there perhaps be more of a partnership between Radio Scotland and our theatre companies, to develop together the writing and acting talent that benefits both? It is time for fresh thinking in this area.

And if we can get Theatre and Radio producing new work together, introducing new writers, experimenting with different approaches – that will feed into our success rate in developing powerful television drama. And also comedy, and all kinds of programmes. Recently, however, we’ve had some disturbing news about network television production from Scotland. First, a report from Ofcom showed that our share of total UK spending by the big networks had fallen to just three per cent, half of what it was a few years ago and even that wasn’t very good.

The drop in investment here by the BBC alone was more than