Broadcasting commission discovers disconnects

SOME TV programmes are being labelled ‘Scottish productions’ by network broadcasters – and therefore helpful when trying to meet geographic quotas – when, in actual fact, they have “very little financial or creative connection to Scotland”.

That was one of the interim conclusions issued yesterday by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, looking at the future of Scottish broadcasting and set up in August by First Minister, Alex Salmond.

The commission was yesterday issuing the results of its first phase of investigation – into the economic significance of broadcasting in Scotland. Still to come are cultural and democracy evidence-gathering.

The commission – whose chair is Blair Jenkins, former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland – also found that “issues of distance, relationships, trust and scale have a significant impact on achieving success in Scotland in what is still a heavily-centralised and London-based industry”.

Since November, the commission has been taking evidence from various parties, including network broadcasters themselves.

Other conclusions included:

* There are clear commitments by some of the UK network broadcasters to increase production from Scotland, but these need to be verified.

* Broadcasting and television production needs to be seen as a core part of creative industries and an economic driver in Scotland.

* There has been no identifiable cohesive, joined-up strategy for public sector support for the industry

Said Jenkins: “There has never been an investigation or review of this kind in Scotland since the dawn of television. No public body, administration, parliament nor government has ever sought to review the state of broadcasting in Scotland, nor spoken to the heads of broadcasting in the UK, in this way.

“In our investigation we have been able to explore what may be at the heart of the reasons for the recent decline in the volume of television programmes being commissioned from Scotland and seen on the networks.

“We have asked direct questions of broadcasters, industry leaders and producers. People have been frank, honest and constructive – which is exactly what we need.

“We are particularly pleased that we are already able to deliver a wealth of new information and insight into the industry and its decision-making and why broadcasting in Scotland is where it is.

“We have noted that since the work of the commission began, not only has there been an apparent increase in commitment shown by broadcasters and others to address the low level of production in Scotland, but this is already turning into action.

“We welcome recent announcements and commitments, but against the backdrop of the information we have published, and the very worrying report from [Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television] Pact last week [about reduced independent TV production in Scotland], it is clear we need to see much more being done.

“What we are publishing today is just the start of the body of evidence and information we are taking and considering in order to focus our recommendations when we report fully this summer. We hope this will stimulate and encourage debate and action within the industry.”

The commission has taken around 27 hours of formal oral evidence. Already, the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson; the BBC Trust’s chair, Sir Michael Lyons; Channel 4’s chief executive, Andy Duncan; and ITV’s executive chair, Michael Grade, have contributed to the commission’s deliberations.