Commission launched to look at future of Scottish broadcasting

THE future of Scottish broadcasting is be the subject of a commission of inquiry, launched by First Minister, Alex Salmond.

As predicted on, yesterday, it will be chaired by Blair Jenkins, a former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland.

Comprising around half a dozen people, the commission is expected to report its findings in about six months’ time. The exact composition of the body will be known within the next day or two when replies are received from all those invited to participate.

Today’s Herald newspaper is suggesting former First Minister, Henry McLeish, may be one of the members.

The commission will be seeking a full debate involving all interested parties.

Its setting up has been partly prompted by a dramatic fall in the number of network commissions from the BBC and ITV – ie programmes to be broadcast throughout the UK – going to Scottish programme-makers.

Speaking at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, Salmond said: “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.”

In the audience was Ken MacQuarrie, controller, BBC Scotland; Bobby Hain, stv’s managing director of broadcasting; Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4’s director of Nations and Regions; plus many other well-known faces from the Scottish broadcasting scene.

Added Salmond: “It was a previous BBC director-general, Greg Dyke, who championed the cause of greater ethnic diversity at the BBC, an organisation which he described famously and controversially as “hideously white’.

“Now Greg Dyke was absolutely right to identify that issue and begin to deal with it. The challenge now facing Mark Thompson, his successor, is not just whether the BBC is hideously white, but whether it is also ‘hideously White City’ – believing that talent and wisdom reside only in west London. And of course we ourselves must never come to believe that talent and wisdom reside only around Byres Road.”

Salmond ducked out of answering, later, whether one ambition was a separate regulatory body, ie a ‘Scottish Ofcom’, able to set its own programme quotas.

Said Jenkins: “My starting point is what we are trying to achieve. I think the last thing we’ll look at is structures.”

Salmond, Jenkins and Cosgrove all stressed that the debate should be more than whether Scotland ought to have its own, evening news programme that’s about international, as well as local, stories – commonly described as ‘the Scottish Six’.

Salmond also said that he didn’t believe a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) was possible unless Scotland was politically independent. But it didn’t prevent Minister of State at the Scotland Office, David Cairns, to suggest that a SBC would be “parochial” and “narrow-minded”.

But while the commission might look at how production companies could be assisted, including looking at how other nations use tax incentives, its remit will not include how feature film productions can be more easily attracted to Scotland.

In response, BBC Scotland said: “We welcome any debate on broadcasting as we believe BBC Scotland has a very strong story to tell and already contributes significantly to the Scottish economy.”