Jenkins defends Scottish Digital Network proposal

THE chair of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission has put up a staunch defence of his organisation’s key recommendation – that Scotland gets its own, dedicated TV channel, comprising high-quality Scottish content – in the face of an alternative recommendation being touted by broadcasting regulators, Ofcom.

Yesterday, Ofcom delivered its final recommendations on public service broadcasting to the Westminster Government, for it to decide what to enshrine in law.

While it was positive towards the SBC’s Scottish Digital Network proposal – which would include a significant online presence – Ofcom suggested the provision of news, in competition to the BBC, might be done by a network of local outlets.

Said Ofcom: “The Scottish Broadcasting Commission has proposed the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network (SDN). SDN would provide news and other programmes via traditional TV and online methods. Responses to our consultation were in favour of this new network, alongside stv.

“Ofcom believes that there might be an alternative model for a SDN whereby the network would be a competitive fund which would support a series of inter-connected Scotland-wide television, local television, online and radio content.

“If resources and competing priorities allow, Ofcom believes that the Scottish Parliament and the UK Government should give further consideration to all of these options and funding methods in order to decide what’s best for Scottish viewers.”

But Blair Jenkins wasn’t so convinced.

He said: “It’s clear that Ofcom understand the importance of the Scottish dimension and they are very positive about the work of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission.

“It’s also very important that they have concluded that different parts of the UK will need different solutions for public service competition to the BBC in future and that an one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. So I welcome the Ofcom report as a very valuable contribution to the debate.

“Our key recommendation was for a new Scottish Network, a digital public service television channel for Scotland with an extensive and innovative online platform. Ofcom say this option should be considered by government, with another possible option being a competitive fund spread across different broadcasters.”

But he added: “We did look at the option of a fund [for a network of local providers], but decided, after much consideration, that you definitely need a core television channel to have the scale, impact and coherence to be a PSB competitor to the BBC in Scotland. That’s why Ofcom attach so much importance to Channel 4 at an UK level, as what they call a ‘second institution’ that is an alternative to the BBC. The same principle applies in Scotland.

“With just a fund, you have much less visibility for the public service content. It’s very fragmented and the programmes become hard to find. It’s exactly the reason why the Gaelic language service moved away from being a fund to being a dedicated channel. And it’s why we concluded that the Scottish Network was the most compelling and the most effective way to have secure and sustainable competition for the BBC in Scotland. The Network would be a competitive fund – but with a core broadcasting service at its heart.

“It’s crucial now that the political and public debate about Scottish broadcasting continues and that the consensus and clarity we have established are converted into outcomes and results for Scottish viewers.”