Broadcasting

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15 am, 4th December 2008

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3013, in the name of Ted Brocklebank, on broadcasting.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I begin by making a declaration of interest. As indicated in the register of members' interests, I have a shareholding in Scottish Television Ltd. The fact that those shares are languishing at a near all-time low says as much about my investment skills as it does about the current economic plight of STV.

The Commission on Scottish Devolution, chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman, published its interim report "The Future of Scottish Devolution within the Union: A First Report" on 2 December. The report states that devolution of broadcasting merits further consideration, although it accepts that it would be difficult to create a new Scottish digital channel, which Scottish Conservatives have long campaigned for, without the Scottish Parliament having a role in scrutinising and holding managers of that channel to account. I agree. Indeed, Conservatives said as much in their report to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission.

Like the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, I do not accept that a case has been made for the full devolution of broadcasting, but I have long argued that the Scottish Parliament should be much more involved in what is transmitted on television screens in Scotland and in how that is funded. It is no coincidence, in my view, that the drop in funding for network production of Scottish news and current affairs during the first eight years of the Parliament had much to do with the perception that broadcasting was a hands-off area that was reserved to Westminster.

I am delighted that the BBC in particular has promised to mend its ways and to allocate an increased share of network production to Scotland, although I believe that its aim should be to reach its target by 2012 rather than the more leisurely 2016. However, it is deeply concerning to hear that BBC Scotland is to shed another 74 broadcasting jobs, which is on top of the 100 who were made redundant last year.

In this climate, it is important that Channel 4, too, should substantially increase its share of production from Scotland. The excellent independent production sector in Scotland is being held back only by lack of continuity of work. In that regard, I welcome the arrival of BBC Alba. Even with limited funding, it has started to provide continuity as well as excellent audience figures.

The Office of Communications consultation on the future of public service broadcasting, however, reveals that for many broadcasters, including STV, the benefits of holding PSB licences will soon be outweighed by the cost of providing news and current affairs content at the required level. Indeed, according to Ofcom, that could happen as soon as next year for STV. That company has estimated that it could require a cash injection of some £5 million a year to allow it to continue to produce news and current affairs at present levels.

STV's situation is made worse because, along with UTV and Channel Television, it remains independent of ITV. ITV's chief executive, Michael Grade, has called for a single, United Kingdom-wide licence and has warned of the real possibility of ITV handing back its PSB licence. That would not be in Scotland's national interest, particularly with so many policy issues now devolved to Scotland, and certainly not in terms of employing Scottish journalists, many of whom, as today's sad news from The Herald indicates, face a bleak future.

STV remains committed to its public service broadcasting role. However, if ITV goes nationwide, that would place a question mark over whether STV would be able to acquire highly popular network shows such as "Coronation Street", "Emmerdale" and "The X Factor". Michael Grade argues that ITV subsidises the three independent licensees to the tune of £25 million a year—a charge that STV refutes—but there are understandable fears that a nationwide ITV could end up competing head to head with STV in Scotland.

In the turbulent, ever-changing world of broadcasting, should we care if our main commercial channel goes to the wall? I believe that the Scottish Parliament should be extremely concerned about that possibility. Even in troubled financial times, we should not forget the basic free-market principle that competition between providers drives up quality and choice. That position is echoed in the findings of the TNS System Three poll that Ofcom commissioned, in which 76 per cent of Scottish respondents said that it was important to have a choice of TV news providers in Scotland.

Competition is the lifeblood of broadcasting and the media in general. I spent some three decades of my life working for the commercial TV sector, before working as an independent programme maker. The main competition was usually the BBC. Despite the BBC's recent difficulties and despite concerns about the spread of its activities, I remain a huge fan of it, and BBC Scotland in particular. In my days as a producer, the subsidised BBC could always outspend us, but few at the BBC would question the vital role that the commercial channels have played in spurring creative competition.

Among the many scoops that we achieved at little Grampian Television in my time were that we were the first United Kingdom regional TV company to broadcast in colour; we were the first to adopt the new lightweight electronic news-gathering cameras; and we were the first to broadcast live by satellite from a North Sea oil rig. Ken MacQuarrie of the BBC has generously conceded that competition from Scottish commercial TV companies was one of the main drivers in keeping BBC Scotland ahead of other regional centres.

I remain convinced of the need for competition, which is why we call on Ofcom to implement the enhanced evolution option, as favoured by most respondents to its consultation, with STV or a successor Scottish licensee providing PSB for Scotland, including the Borders region, as part of a wider UK network. We agree that additional funding will be required to do that. In that regard, Ofcom has identified several possible options. Potentially huge sums will be realised with the sell-off of the digital spectrum—some estimate it at £33 billion. Funds will be available, too, from unspent moneys that were previously allocated to the BBC for the digital switchover—some £130 million per annum. Of course, there has also been talk of top-slicing the BBC licence fee.

Since broadcasting is reserved, we do not believe that it is our role to plump for any of those options today, particularly since broadcasting is changing so quickly, but we do say that the funding issue must be addressed. We await with interest the announcement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham of Labour's broadcasting plans, which we hope will be produced as early as February. We will look to him to give strong support for commercial PSB competition for the BBC in Scotland and to indicate how that might be funded. We also look forward to his support for the proposed new Scottish digital channel, especially if Labour adopts the partially commercially funded model that Scottish Conservatives advocate, which could also provide a stabilising role for STV and avoid the need for a duplicate infrastructure. However, we accept that STV's existing problems need to be addressed before then.

We firmly believe that a digital channel, partly funded by commercials, could also allow for the development of city and local TV, which is widely available throughout Europe, with Spain alone having 1,000 channels. Such broadcasting is also highly successful in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It has been suggested that up to 16 local TV channels could be viable in Scotland, which could provide up to 330 new jobs. However, we think that the Government should urgently engage with Ofcom to ensure that the spectrum is available for the roll-out of a vital new digital service.

A future Conservative Government will be as committed to local TV as it will be to commercial PSB competition for the BBC in Scotland. I commend the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament notes that 4 December 2008 is the final date for submissions to Ofcom's Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Review, Preparing for the Digital Future; recognises that, while broadcasting is reserved, there is a need for a healthy, competitive Scottish-based television programme-making sector outwith the BBC, notwithstanding that organisation's historic, respected and pivotal role in Scottish broadcasting; recognises the role of STV as the only remaining Scottish-based commercial PSB provider; prefers Ofcom's enhanced evolution option with a commercial TV channel continuing to provide PSB for Scotland as part of a wider UK network; recognises that STV's survival as a PSB provider is at risk in the current economic climate, particularly since ITV is now advocating a single UK-wide brand, and calls on Ofcom to explore all options to ensure that there is PSB competition for BBC Scotland in the nation's rapidly changing broadcasting landscape.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 9:23 am, 4th December 2008

I am happy to speak in support of both the motion and the amendment, which is in my name.

As I said in the 8 October debate in Parliament on the Scottish Broadcasting Commission's final report, much of what underpins the commission's recommendation on a Scottish digital channel is the belief that STV cannot survive in its current form. The commission was right that there must be plurality in public service broadcasting to ensure that the public have choice, that there is breadth and depth of news and current affairs coverage, and that quality and standards are maintained. Nowhere is that more important than in Scotland, where devolution has increased the need for the public to have access to impartial and accurate factual broadcasting about public life in Scotland.

Unfortunately, increasing commercial and financial pressures on the broadcasters has seen investment in news and current affairs decline. I echo Ted Brocklebank's concerns about the additional job cuts at BBC Scotland and the impact that that may have on the quality of broadcasting that is produced for Scotland by Scotland. Scotland needs vibrant and viable commercial public service competitors to the BBC, to ensure that the public continue to have access to a range of news and current affairs sources, and that, through competition, standards and quality are maintained. However, the reality is that, in its current form, the future for STV is bleak.

As a result of the actions, or inactions, of Ofcom and the UK Government, a situation has developed in which one company—ITV plc—operates as a near monopoly that can dictate the future direction of commercial public service broadcasting. When ITV was first set up—which happened before my time—it was deliberately given a federal structure, which is something that Liberal Democrats instinctively like. The principle was that a number of different regional broadcasters would come together to form a national network that would provide a mix of regional and national programming. Admittedly, some of the regions owed more to the geography of transmitters than to natural regions, but the idea was that no single broadcaster would be dominant, so the ITV schedule would be made up of programmes made by different regional companies. Indeed, there were strict rules against companies holding more than one franchise. Those rules were relaxed by successive Conservative and Labour Governments, as different licensing regimes and different franchise proposals were developed for ITV. However, the principle of plurality remained within ITV, and it retained a federal structure.

The present Labour Government has abandoned that principle by lifting completely the restrictions on how many franchises can be held by one company. That opened the door for the creation of the ITV plc monster, which now holds more than 90 per cent of the ITV franchises. ITV plc has virtually monopoly control of the ITV network and full ownership and control of the spin-off digital channels ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4. There is some abuse of that position in the broadcasting on those channels of programming that ITV does not own in its entirety. ITV plc has used that dominance to pressure the regulator to remove its public service broadcasting obligations and to reduce or eliminate completely its regional broadcasting requirements.

It was inevitable that the digital age would bring changes in the broadcasting landscape, given viewers' increased choice over what to watch and when to watch it. It was inevitable that the wider choice for advertisers would mean that ITV would no longer be the licence to print money that it once was. However, the failure of the regulator and the UK Government to prevent the creation of ITV plc by ensuring the retention of independent regional franchises removed plurality in public service broadcasting, which has made it easier for the new monopoly ITV plc to put a gun to the heads of the regulator and say, "Agree to our demands or we walk away." That is the context in which I fear for the future of STV. In an environment in which the ITV schedule is increasingly dictated by ITV plc, with fewer and fewer public service or regional broadcasting commitments, STV will find it increasingly difficult to provide commercial justification for regional opt-outs from popular network programmes. We need only look at the outcry when BBC Scotland moved "Spooks", which was broadcast throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, to make way for "A History of Scotland". I fear that it is only a matter of time before STV is forced to bow to the inevitable by falling under the wheels of the ITV plc juggernaut so that there is only one ITV franchise for the whole of the United Kingdom.

There is much to concern us in Ofcom's second public service broadcasting review. As I mentioned in the October debate, there is no requirement for ITV to commission any of 75 per cent of its programming from anyone other than ITV plc, leaving STV and UTV in the wilderness. To my mind, we should not support the enhanced evolution option, but it is the least worst option in the Ofcom review. The review is a desperate attempt by Ofcom to do a Canute and hold back the tide that is washing over it, but I fear that it is too little, too late.

The amendment gives us an important opportunity to touch on two other matters in today's debate. First, it is totally unacceptable that digital switchover will create a two-tier—or possibly even three-tier—system. Those who are fortunate enough to be served by a main transmitter will receive the full gamut of free-to-view digital channels; those who, by accident of geography, receive their signal from a relay transmitter—as is the case in much of Scotland, including in Cupar and Strathmiglo in my constituency—will get what has latterly been referred to as Freeview lite, which actually means restricted availability of programming. My constituents might be lucky that they will be unable to watch some of the rubbish that appears on digital television, but they will also not have access to high-definition broadcasts. Surely, as licence fee payers, my constituents are entitled to the same service as everyone else. All licence fee payers are paying for digital switchover, so all should be entitled to the same services as a result of switchover. It is a disgrace that that is not the case. Ofcom must do more to ensure that that happens.

Finally, on the seventh multiplex, I do not claim to be an expert on the technicalities, but I understand that digital switchover provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enable transmitters to provide additional spectrum in Scotland. It is important that Ofcom takes on board the needs of Scotland—perhaps through a new Scottish digital channel—for local television by ensuring that we have access to that spectrum.

I move amendment S3M-3013.1, to insert at end:

"; further believes that all Scottish residents should have access to the full range of broadcasting following digital switchover, and calls on Ofcom to ensure that all relay transmitters are capable of transmitting the full spectrum of free-to-view broadcasting and that the 7th Mux is enabled in Scotland."

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 9:29 am, 4th December 2008

It is timely that the debate is being held today, given that 4 December is the closing date for responding to the Ofcom consultation. Sadly, the debate is also timely following yesterday's news that BBC Scotland intends to cut even more jobs in addition to those that it cut earlier this year. It is hard to correlate that with Mark Thompson's commitment to production expansion in Scotland, which he said would have a floor, not a ceiling, of 9 per cent. Understandably, many in the Parliament and beyond will be concerned about jobs and programming.

I generally support the motion, but I cannot support its reference to supporting Ofcom's enhanced evolution model. Our response to the consultation, which is now on Ofcom's website, states that the Scottish Government has no preference for any of Ofcom's long-term models, provided that they are adapted to take full account of the recommendations of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission report.

We recognise that a commercial broadcaster can make a vital and vibrant contribution to broadcasting in Scotland. STV has a strong history, has a familiar and valued brand, and is a strong contributor to competition. As a provider of national and local news, STV is one of the strongest channel 3 licensees, with 42 per cent of people relying on it as their main source of news about Scotland. STV plays an important part in the Scottish broadcasting industry and makes a valued contribution to the economy.

We also recognise that STV is part of a complex licensing agreement with ITV that can pose difficulties, bring benefits and raise concerns. Most recently, those concerns have been about how STV can maintain its public service broadcasting commitments if ITV walks away from its public service broadcasting licence. I know that STV remains committed to being part of the public service broadcasting landscape in Scotland. STV can continue to play a part in offering variety and competition in Scotland. We said as much in our response to Ofcom. However, as Ofcom's review suggests, we should also look at alternatives. We should not be restricted to focusing on plurality of news.

The Ofcom PSB review recognises that the requirements of the nations of the UK extend to

"sufficient content ... to address their distinct political and cultural needs".

Research that was carried out by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission found that audiences in Scotland are less satisfied with current levels of provision in other key genres of programmes about Scotland. The proposed Scottish network would satisfy that demand for more Scottish programmes. In research that was carried out for the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, 82 per cent of those who were asked stated that they would be interested in watching a new Scottish television channel. The Scottish network would increase the opportunities for Scotland to see itself in a variety of quality programmes that would be available to all.

For an example of the desire for quality programming, we need look no further than BBC Alba. Its success since its launch in September shows that there is an appetite for quality Scottish content. The new channel secured viewing figures of 600,000 in its first week. Like members from all parties in the Parliament, I urge the BBC trust to give the new channel Freeview carriage so that it can reach all of Scotland and achieve its potential.

Ultimately, Ofcom has put forward a number of proposals for consultation. In the 8 October debate on the Scottish Broadcasting Commission report, I urged all members to respond to Ofcom's consultation. I hope that many have taken that opportunity to shape the future of public service broadcasting in Scotland.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 9:33 am, 4th December 2008

Presiding Officer, I apologise to members, to you and to Ted Brocklebank for not being present for the opening speech. I was held up with an important constituency matter.

I welcome the way in which the Conservatives have chosen to use their debating time this morning. It is timely that we should debate broadcasting on the closing date for responses to Ofcom's consultation on its second public service broadcasting review. It is always helpful to have a timely debate.

As we have discussed in previous broadcasting debates, seismic shifts have taken place in broadcasting, as Ofcom reports have highlighted. The old regime, which existed for more than 40 years, was based on a deal that provided a monopoly on TV advertising. We also know from previous debates that, this year, Google made more money from advertising than did any of our television companies. We can see how things have changed dramatically. We will see quite dramatic change in the collapse of the old system, with 2012 being the final date for complete digital switchover. Digital platforms bring many opportunities, but there are many challenges and issues to resolve.

I take this opportunity to support what the minister said about the challenges in the industry and yesterday's announcement about the loss of more jobs at BBC Scotland. The BBC is an important part of our plurality in public service broadcasting, and I am sure that we will all continue to scrutinise its output, because we want quality to continue at the BBC.

Ofcom's work makes it clear that the public want to preserve public service broadcasting. That is the common ground that lies between us. Although we might have slight differences of opinion with the Conservatives about how that might be achieved, we are clear that the overall objective is to preserve what people want, and that is public service broadcasting—news and current affairs and other programmes that the public purse is expected to support.

We do not always get around to talking about radio, from which many people get their news. For example, many drivers listen to the news on their way to work or on the way home. We must pay some attention to radio's importance in this debate. We must be prepared to address any gaps in radio provision.

No one does not support the plurality of television. There are many different providers, such as Channel 4. Let us not forget Five, which has been an excellent provider of news and children's programmes. However, there are concerns about the ITV network and the proposal that ITV will eventually swallow up STV's identity. That would be a backward step and we should comment on it. STV has been particularly successful in providing local news to several local communities. It has drilled down into different communities to provide news where people want it. It has been a great success, and I hope that it will continue.

The motion provides enough scope for us to be able to support the general tenet of the Conservatives' position. We will not rule anything out, but we are not stuck on any particular model either. We are looking for options, partnership and plurality. Above all, we want quality in our public service broadcasting and programming. If we can achieve that, we will have done something important.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative 9:38 am, 4th December 2008

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate. My speech will focus on the experiences of the Border TV region, and the challenges that ITV has faced in delivering the public service broadcasting commitment.

We agree that Ofcom in Scotland should be strengthened to ensure that the people of Scotland get a fairer deal from public service broadcasting. However, I am disappointed that Ofcom did not do more to champion the interests of the consumer during the review of local news services in the Border TV area. Although we agree with Ofcom's view that ITV should focus on programmes that have been made in the UK, network news, and national and regional news services, the proposed merger between Border TV and Tyne Tees is ill-suited to delivering those objectives and to achieving the most benefit for the Border TV area. Although Ofcom has given the green light to the proposals for Border TV and Tyne Tees, it is critical that Ofcom keeps a watching brief over the PSB commitment to the Borders to ensure that PSB is not further diluted and that ITV is held to its promises on the local opt-outs.

Experience in the Borders demonstrates the challenges that broadcasters, including STV, face in providing PSB. Despite being relatively successful, the continued existence of the local Borders news service could not be justified, given the economic challenges facing ITV. Border TV has provided local news and programming to the Scottish Borders, south-west Scotland, Cumbria and the Isle of Man for almost 50 years, and has the second largest geographical region in the ITV network. Despite the difficulties of catering for such a wide and diverse audience, the flagship daily news programme "Lookaround" has some of the highest ratings of any BBC or ITV regional news programme in the UK.

In March 2005, a Sunday newspaper highlighted those exceptionally high ratings when it reported that while "Scotland Today" and "North Tonight" drew a 26 per cent audience share, and "London Tonight" took a 28 per cent share, "Lookaround" was watched by a whopping 42 per cent of the Border TV region's population at 6pm on weekday evenings. Although I acknowledge that those ratings might have slipped in recent years, Border TV news continues to have some of the highest ratings in the UK.

Why does it have such a success rate? Why does it score so much better than the STV regions? The Sunday Herald put that question to the then managing director of ITV Border, Paddy Merrall, who said that ITV Border news was "more relevant to people". That goes to the heart of the matter: TV should be relevant to the communities that it serves. We only need to look at the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 to see the valuable public information service that the channel provided by giving people the latest, up-to-date news and public information on the problems as they unfolded. Similarly, in the past few hours, Border TV news has been providing a critical service to my constituents in Kelso during the gas network failure. That will be unlikely to happen when the news is coming from the north-east, with a local news opt-out. The loss of our local news service would be another example of people in rural communities being marginalised.

I fully acknowledge that the broadcasting market is developing, with a wealth of new platforms and services, including digital and multi-channel television. With broadband, there is also greater use of the internet to access news services. That might be the norm 10 or 20 years from now, but for many rural parts of Scotland there is no access to adequate broadband coverage—many have no access to broadband services at all. Furthermore, many people, particularly the elderly, still do not have access to computers and so cannot hope to gain access to alternative forms of news coverage if local news disappears completely. They depend on the local television services that are currently provided by ITV Border.

Ofcom must resist the agenda of urbanisation and centralisation. It must consider all the PSB options that are being proposed, and bear in mind the rural and diverse nature of parts of Scotland. The Scottish Conservatives believe that broadcasters have struggled to keep pace with the changing political environment. There has been a decline in Scottish programming and funding for Scottish programmes, which has damaged the creative industry in Scotland. Public service broadcasting must be reformed before the licences run out in 2014. I hope that the lessons of Border TV will be taken on board.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party 9:42 am, 4th December 2008

Today's debate is timely, especially after yesterday's announcement that BBC Scotland is set to lose 20 posts from news and current affairs, as well as another 54 positions, including producers, assistant producers, directors and researchers. That is in addition to the 96 positions that were cut earlier this year. If the BBC wanted to make job cuts, it should have done the decent thing recently and sacked two people as opposed to the fudge that it came up with. That would have saved the licence fee payer millions of pounds that could have been reinvested to maintain jobs, talent and skills in the corporation.

The debate is about broadcasting and competition in Scotland and the role of STV, which I will come back to in a moment. However it would be remiss of me not to mention yesterday's other shocking announcement by Newsquest that it is sacking its employees and asking them to apply for their positions, with up to 40 not being filled. That was a disastrous announcement for the media in Scotland. However, I wonder to what extent the announcement was another element of the hangover from when STV, under the Scottish Media Group, owned the Newsquest titles.

Referring directly to the motion, having received the Scottish Broadcasting Commission's conclusions, and looking forward to the Ofcom report, I am pleased that broadcasting is being taken seriously in this chamber. In these tough economic times, competition is largely put aside while survival is uppermost in the minds of most businesses. With the recent events in Scottish broadcasting, survival might well be the appropriate word.

It could be argued that there is internal competition between STV and ITV around public service broadcasting provision. However, I am concerned about the future of commercial public service broadcasting in Scotland because of the potential lack of competition for the BBC.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government's submission to the Ofcom review states that the Scottish Government shares Ofcom's view that the BBC should not be the sole provider of public service content. The stage 1 findings of the Ofcom review, which show the importance that audiences place on the continued availability of high-quality, original content that meets public service purposes, came as no surprise. Stage 2 of the review attempts to take forward the choices that are available to give audiences the tailored local output that they ultimately desire. John Lamont discussed that. It is ironic that the Scottish Broadcasting Commission reported in October that a substantial increase in investment in Scotland by the UK public service broadcasters is required. Yesterday's announcement and Michael Grade's comments about STV being subsidised highlight that that view is not being paid attention to or that there is no commitment to ensure that what has been proposed will be carried out.

Broadcasting is vital to Scotland's economic, cultural and democratic health, and, as I am sure members of all parties agree, more high-quality content should be produced here. Unfortunately, the recent report by the Producers Alliance for Cinema and TelevisionPACT—revealed that independent network television production in Scotland fell dramatically in 2007. A mere two hours of independently produced drama were produced in Scotland for broadcast to the whole of the UK, which is worrying for the Scottish broadcasting industry. That enhances the Scottish Broadcasting Commission's case for a Scottish digital channel. It is time for London-centric broadcasting to come to an end and to allow Scotland to shine with the talent that is on offer here.

An interesting piece of information emerged with the damp squib that was this week's Calman commission report: the agreement with the Scottish Broadcasting Commission that there should be a greater focus on broadcasting in Scotland. The Calman commission went further in stating that the Scottish Parliament and ministers should take a more active role in considering the broadcasting industry. As a nationalist, I welcome any support to bring more—indeed, ultimately all—powers to the Parliament. Normal self-respecting nations have such a right.

In conclusion, I stress that the principle of competition between public service broadcasters creates a healthier industry for audiences as well as for broadcasters.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 9:47 am, 4th December 2008

Mr McMillan's inventive interpretation of the Calman commission's findings is interesting.

Debates on broadcasting in the Parliament usually focus on, or are dominated by, the role of the BBC, which is, of course, the most important of our public service contributors. Today's debate centres on STV's role, on a day that is overshadowed by threats to jobs at three of our most important newspapers. The cumulative impact of commercial pressures, technological changes and developing viewing and reading habits, which are so altering our media landscape, has never been more starkly illuminated in recent times.

Before I turn to the decisions that will affect STV's future, it is important to express our concern, as Stuart McMillan has done, about the more than 200 jobs that are at risk at The Herald, the Sunday Herald and the Evening Times. Newspapers have, like STV, been badly hit by falling advertising revenue. Not only are advertisers switching to online media, the crucial sectors of car and property advertising have been weakened by the downturn in the economy. The readership of all newspaper titles is in steady decline, but no one should be in any doubt that staff cuts or the loss of entire titles has serious consequences for an informed Scottish public and electorate. Journalists will be anxious about what their new conditions of service will be and, indeed, about whether they will have a job to return to. I urge the owners of the Herald group to sit down immediately with the National Union of Journalists to rethink its overly dramatic approach to what we recognise to be a difficult situation.

The similarities between the pressures and decisions that the print media and the broadcast media face are clear. Nearly every member has expressed their concern, which I share, at the prospect of the proposed job losses at the BBC. I worry about the effect that such job losses would have on the quality of programme making at BBC Scotland. Mr Brocklebank highlighted the fact that Ofcom's consultation on public service broadcasting closes today, so we have the opportunity at least to signal our support for the maintenance of a competitive public service broadcasting sector in Scotland. The Scottish Broadcasting Commission's findings and the BBC's welcome commitment to expand its production in Scotland have been positive recent developments, and I include in the list of recent positives the attitude and approach of STV's new management.

It is clear that STV is in a difficult position. The switch to digital and the realignment of advertising revenues are just two of the factors that brought into question its ability to fund its public service commitment. The extra, uncalled-for worry is ITV's attitude in bidding, in competition with STV in effect, for a single national licence for the whole of the UK. I am not sure that a national ITV would be in the interests of Scottish viewers—in fact, I doubt that it would be in the interests of UK viewers. I suspect that we would end up with little to distinguish the commercial broadcaster from the myriad other commercial companies now available on the digital spectrum that serve up cheap American programming to complement some British-made but mass-market productions, with the fig leaf of a public service obligation to ensure that it retains its listing on front pages. I have no doubt that we would lose any commitment to reporting Scottish and local news and Scottish sport, weather and—dare I say it—politics.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

You may, but I cannot give you extra time, Mr Macintosh.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I will not do so if I will not get extra time. I am sorry.

With a national ITV, I doubt whether we would be left with any Scotland-based ITV programme production. That would have obvious and serious implications for regional and national diversity, not to mention the impact that there would be on Scotland's creative economy.

STV is pitching for some form of subsidy in order to maintain its news and PSB programmes but, if support is needed, it should not come from licence fees. I am more sympathetic to a couple of other bids from STV, notably for recognition and status as an independent producer, not just as a broadcaster, and for it to have a central role in any future new Scottish digital channel.

These are worrying times for the broadcast and print media in Scotland. As politicians, we are used to getting kicked around the columns of the dailies and Sundays—if one believes everything in the papers, we sometimes respond by kicking journalists around the football park—but all members know about the importance of a vibrant, competitive and independent fourth estate. There is no doubt that we would miss STV if it were gone. Let us try to ensure that at least some of the changes that are radically transforming our choices as readers, viewers and listeners are shaped by, if not taken in, the public interest.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party 9:51 am, 4th December 2008

Members have mentioned the timeliness of today's debate. As Linda Fabiani, Ken Macintosh and other members have said, it is unfortunate that it has become timelier—it is timely not only because Ofcom's consultation is drawing to a close but as a result of yesterday's announcements on restructuring and redundancies at the Herald newspaper group and BBC Scotland. As members have said, those announcements will be a body blow to the broadcast and print media in Scotland, and they must be disappointing news to staff as the Christmas holidays approach.

The recent Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television report, which Stuart McMillan mentioned, shows that there were "deeply disturbing" falls in independent network television production in Scotland in 2007. According to PACT, only two hours of independent drama produced in Scotland were broadcast to the whole of the UK during 2007. In comparison, across all the major broadcasters, 10,661 hours of programmes were made in London. On top of the situation being "deeply disturbing", it is dismal, disappointing and desperately London-centric.

It is against that backdrop that we must debate our aspirations for Scottish broadcasting, what we see as the broadcasting future in Scotland and how we can protect what exists at the moment and ensure that Scotland does not fall further behind. That is a pity, given that there was so much excitement about the publication of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission's report and so much enthusiasm about what new technologies and new, fresh ideas could bring to the important Scottish broadcasting industry.

I do not need to remind members that broadcasting has enormous socioeconomic and cultural importance and that it is an important tool that informs, teaches and allows us to develop our imaginations. The programmes that we watch often bind society together through providing shared cultural experiences that enrich our lives. Unfortunately, however, Scotland has been and continues to be almost marginalised from having an appropriate level of coverage.

The Scottish Broadcasting Commission noted that the BBC remains the cornerstone of public sector broadcasting but found in the evidence that it gathered that there was a perceived lack of ambition in BBC Scotland productions—although that cannot necessarily be said of the First Minister's Reverend I M Jolly performance during "Children in Need". The commission also heard that BBC Scotland's output did not accurately reflect the energy and vitality of modern Scottish life, and that its cultural and creative content was limited.

I do not want to sound overly negative about BBC Scotland, because I thoroughly enjoy much of what it puts out—most notably "A History of Scotland", which has already been mentioned; I and, I am sure, others find it compelling viewing. However, despite the BBC being the backbone of public service broadcasting, Ofcom's review noted that people want broadcasting to continue beyond it. It would be great if that could be done via STV, but I would be keen to explore options outwith Ofcom's proposals, which seek to find ways to move forward into the digital era and are being regarded as the only game in town.

The commission suggested that there should be a new Scottish network to provide Scottish viewers with more high-quality Scottish programming, to create opportunities to be innovative with content and to nurture talent on and off screen, among other things. It is essential that we achieve those aims if we want programming to reflect our communities properly, whether in news output, sporting events, dramas or documentaries.

Whether or not members agree with the proposals for a Scottish network, it is clear that we must work together to get a broadcasting industry that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. The industry should realise the potential of a country whose brightest and best talents often move to London to pursue their careers. We need an industry that is capable of producing programmes that do not have to be twee or kilted to tick the "Scottish made" box and that can make programmes and documentaries that are not always about Scotland but which can be about absolutely anything, with no limit to what is achievable.

If Scotland aspires to having a broadcasting industry that is fit for purpose, it needs to aspire to being a normal independent country that is fully in control of its broadcasting and which can respond to and reflect the unique needs and wants of the people who live here. Countless other small nations do that. With the digital age upon us, it is time for Scotland to switch on to its potential and get tuned in.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour 9:56 am, 4th December 2008

I, too, congratulate the Scottish Conservatives on choosing the subject, and Ted Brocklebank on his well-informed introduction. As he said, there has been a revolution in media in the past few years, particularly in the use of digital TV, the internet and mobile phones, and the convergence of all three. The discussion has changed. I wonder seriously whether, just as the debate on the Scottish 6 o'clock news—if members recall it—is now as irrelevant as telegrams, discussion of a purely Scottish network is also out of date and, if I may say so, rather parochial.

I have read the Scottish Broadcasting Commission report carefully. I must say that I find it disappointing, as it contains little of substance on the programmes, ideas and schedules of which a Scottish network would consist—all we get are generalities. If Scottish producers make good programmes—and they do, such as "Rebus" and a range of others—those should be seen throughout the UK and abroad just as much as in Scotland. What do we in Scotland want to see that others do not? That needs to be spelled out. I have my doubts that there are many such programmes, except perhaps news and current affairs—I can understand that.

Members have received a letter from the NUJ stating that it wants to retain the quality of BBC Scotland. I must ask where it has been, as the quality is pretty poor at the moment. I agree with Iain Macwhirter's comments to the commission on that. I will give a few examples. In the mornings, members should switch from that awful parochial kailyard stuff on "Good Morning Scotland" to the "Today" programme, which has erudite people such as Jim Naughtie, who, incidentally, went to Keith grammar school.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

No.

In the evening, rather than listen to "Newsdrive" with Abeer Macintyre whining away, members should switch to Radio 4, where they will hear the mellifluous wit and wisdom of Scotsman Eddie Mair. Would anything that is proposed by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission bring those excellent presenters back to Scotland? I doubt it.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

No.

I saw the most astonishing example yesterday. I do not know whether any members were watching "Reporting Scotland" when Jackie Bird talked about five presenters who had limited medical information disclosed by a doctor in Fife. We almost had Jackie Bird interviewing Jackie Bird about that astonishingly parochial matter. I do not find the commission's argument convincing.

On a note of consensus, I share strongly the concerns about the future of Scottish television, particularly with the worries about SMG's financial situation. I have seen programmes on the ITV network and spoken to people south of the border about what has happened when local commercial stations have been taken over by ITV. For example, a centre in Plymouth was closed down and local news and current affairs coverage is reducing. If anything comes out of the debate, I hope that it will be a unified agreement to fight that and to try to protect STV from being swallowed up by the ITV national network.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 10:00 am, 4th December 2008

It is always difficult to follow a comedian, especially one with such enormous potential as my old friend George Foulkes.

In the past, when one has considered Scotland's cultural wellbeing, thoughts have turned to traditional and classical music, dance or literature. In that august company, the electronic media, especially television, seem like precocious upstarts, yet we must not underestimate the effect of television on Scotland's cultural life today. It transmits directly to our living rooms images of national and local news, sport, music, dance and drama. Television is now an important adjunct in the glue that binds our society together—it defines how we relate to one another and what sort of people we are; it is like a mirror showing us how we appear. Just as a mirror allows us to adjust our hair or remove an unwanted speck of dust, television allows us to adjust how we interact as a society, especially if the picture of ourselves that is presented to us is not to our liking.

What if the mirror was not totally reliable and reflected a slightly different society? In those circumstances, it would not be so useful. The fact is that Scottish society is subtly different from the model that pertains in the rest of the UK. For example, we have different health, education and legal services and our traditional forms of cultural expression differ slightly. That is why it is important that we have a healthy Scotland-based television programme-making sector that we can rely on to meet our needs. Until now, those needs have hardly been met.

That is not the only contribution that television makes. The making of television programmes in Scotland breeds a colony of artists, presenters and technicians and gives employment to them and to a host of support workers. The presence in our midst of such talented folk enhances our cultural life, not only through the programmes that they make but through what we might term the extracurricular activities and their contribution to the wider economy. If anything happened to eliminate that pool of talent in Scotland, we would be impoverished, culturally and financially.

I appreciate that BBC Scotland has a pivotal role in that respect, but we cannot rely on that institution alone. First, it alone cannot be relied on to produce enough work to keep those talented people based in Scotland. Secondly, as previous speakers have alluded to, the BBC has not exactly been dynamic in its treatment of Scottish affairs. The recent sackings and job losses do not bode well for the future. Competition is required so that high standards are achieved. For those reasons, it is essential to provide an environment in which other programme makers can flourish.

Ofcom's second public service broadcasting review recognises the challenges that face PSB in the years ahead and proposes three models for the post-switchover digital world. I do not have time to rehearse all the options, but it is arguable that none of them meets Scotland's needs. There are many options for the long-term future, but for now it is important that we maintain the integrity of STV, which is BBC Scotland's only major commercial competitor, and resist the suggestion that ITV be given the single UK licence. Instead, STV should be a PSB licence holder for Scotland and part of a network of UK licence holders that can commission programmes in Scotland and benefit from access to desirable UK networks. With pressure, that could increase the output of programmes that are made commercially in Scotland.

A healthy and competitive programme-making television sector benefits Scottish culture and the Scottish economy. As Scotland's needs differ from those of England and its regions, a one-size-fits-all UK policy is inappropriate.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour 10:04 am, 4th December 2008

I welcome the opportunity today to debate again the important subject of broadcasting. I should probably restate my interest as a member of the National Union of Journalists, a small shareholder in STV and a former employee of that company. Indeed, for two years, I was head of public affairs for Scottish Television, responsible for its corporate reputation with analysts and shareholders and in charge of the output from the press office to publicise its programmes. Things were very different 12 years ago when I had that job, although "Taggart" was still investigating murders in Glasgow, just as the programme is today. The fact that it is, and the fact that that programme has sustained its popularity for such a long time is testimony to the quality of its production and the fact that audiences continue to watch it. If it were rubbish, they would not.

Mr Brocklebank is to be congratulated on bringing broadcasting to the floor of the chamber yet again. As we know, today is the final day for submissions to Ofcom about its review of public service broadcasting and preparing for the digital future. In the previous debate, we made our views on that matter known. I certainly support the recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission that a new Scottish digital channel should be created. However, a debate is still to be had as to how that would be funded.

There is no doubt that advertising revenues for commercial stations such as STV are being squeezed, just as they are in the newspaper industry. Equally, there is no doubt that STV must be allowed to maintain its public service broadcasting licence. I will sound like a member of the SNP, but I do not believe that one single UK ITV licence will be good for the broadcasting industry in Scotland.

I mentioned one iconic STV programme, but there are others, and there is no doubt that losing the STV logo would be a serious threat to programme making north of the border. That would be felt particularly in the newsroom, where I once worked. Ofcom has already agreed to STV cutting in half its non-news output, but it also recognises that some public funding will be required to protect the flagship news programmes.

Regional television news has an important role to play in Scotland. It is also important that there should be competition for BBC Scotland, all the more so when we hear news of further planned cuts in staffing at BBC Scotland, including 20 posts in the news and current affairs department. As has been mentioned, the question needs to be asked how BBC Scotland intends to increase output produced in Scotland to 9 per cent if it is cutting staffing levels now.

At this point, I record my concerns about yesterday's announcement that all members of staff at the Evening Times, The Herald and Sunday Herald have been sacked and invited to reapply for their jobs. Some of those people are my constituents and, as a former father of the chapel at STV, I am disgusted by the tactics of the management. The Herald is one of the oldest newspapers in the English-speaking world and those who work for it deserve better, no matter what the company's current financial position.

Last week, I sent a letter to Ed Richards, the chief executive of Ofcom, in which I argued for STV to be given independent producer status. That would allow it to bid for commissions from both the BBC and Channel 4. If BBC Scotland and Channel 4 are to increase the amount of programming that they commission from Scotland—as they said they will—what I suggest seems a logical step. Sir Michael Grade, the boss of ITV, might not think much of Scottish programme makers or even of STV. If that is the case, he can have no objection to the company offering its wares to other networks. Then the audience can decide.

As others have mentioned, broadcasting is an important industry in Scotland. STV has played, and continues to play, a significant part in that industry. We should continue to lobby for it to retain its PSB licence for news and a separate news identity and do everything that we can to promote programmes made in Scotland for the Scots.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 10:08 am, 4th December 2008

I, for one, am pleased that George Foulkes took part in the debate. He demonstrated clearly that we cannot satisfy all viewers and reminded me of a constituent who came to one of my surgeries to demand that I personally reduce the number of adverts on Border Television because he was furious about their repetitive nature. When I tried to point out that that was the whole point, he was little convinced and I lost a vote in the process.

Ted Brocklebank brought today's debate to the chamber in the context of the Commission on Scottish Devolution. Helpfully, the commission pointed to broadcasting as an area for further consideration of devolved powers and Liberal Democrats welcome that. It touches on the core of our amendment, which Iain Smith outlined. We have argued for some time that there is scope not just for accountability but for equal and joint reporting by the BBC to the Westminster and Holyrood Parliaments, taking into account particular aspects of Scottish society and culture with our separate education system, kirk and so on, as well as our topographical and geographical considerations. I have experienced that live issue in the past few weeks in the Border TV area that I represent.

The minister knows that several issues were raised in the members' business debate that I secured about the digital switchover that took place on 6 and 20 November in the Border TV area, with which the Presiding Officer will be familiar. Indeed, the core of that debate is reflected in our amendment this morning, for which we seek support.

Iain Smith outlined the structural changes to ITV and local and regional television in the context of the centralisation agenda which, as John Lamont said, has had significant impact in the Border TV area. We debated that subject too. It has meant that there has been a dilution of local coverage and news gathering in the production of current affairs programmes and the main evening news bulletin in particular. I am glad that ITV responded to representations to ensure that there is protected news broadcast time at the start of the bulletin in the south of Scotland, but it is only six minutes at the head of the bulletin. That is a diminution of what happened previously and it will provide a reduced service to the Borders.

Today's debate is not academic; it is immediate. I am glad that the minister has been sympathetic so far to Liberal Democrat calls for equal provision of digital services in rural parts of Scotland—particularly right now in the Border TV area—as per our amendment. I am pleased that the minister has written to the UK Government expressing those views. I hope that she and the Government will take the next step and support our amendment at 5 o'clock this afternoon. I will be interested to hear her views on that when she sums up.

I was fortunate to be at the Selkirk transmitter on the morning of the switchover—I was told by the technician not to touch any buttons. Some 53 per cent of viewers in my constituency in the Border TV area will receive a second-class, diluted digital service. That is the highest such proportion in the UK, which is unfair. That situation needs to be addressed now in the light of our belief that this Parliament should have more powers over broadcasting. It is not a matter of glib commercial consideration; it is a matter of justice and fairness when my constituents are being discriminated against. Voting for our amendment today will send a signal that the Parliament is not satisfied with that situation.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 10:12 am, 4th December 2008

It is unfortunate that Ofcom has signed off a reduction in the obligations of the ITV network to public service broadcasting and we should seek to reverse that decision if we can. It is possible that, if we do not resolve the situation soon, we will lose a key public service broadcaster. That is why the debate is so crucial.

Ken Macintosh said that we have concentrated on the BBC's role as a PSB provider; it is politicians' responsibility to ensure that we have a balance of competition and plurality by focusing on STV's role. Stuart McMillan and Ken Macintosh were right to make the connection between the news about the Herald group and the response to the challenges of the BBC and the industry generally, which has been to cut jobs. Ken Macintosh made the crucial point that cutting jobs does not improve quality and that if we do not give the public good-quality information, they will be less informed. Let us not underestimate how important that is.

The biggest challenge that we face will be to find the funding mechanisms that will bring resolution. We are genuinely open minded about the funding of public service broadcasting, which has to be considered in the context of public sector provision, as well as the new digital channel. We can see the challenge to the public purse of maintaining public service broadcasting and providing funding for a new digital channel.

Aileen Campbell referred to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission. I put on record again that the commission has done excellent work. The commission has created a dynamic about broadcasting in the Parliament that would not have come about otherwise. Not surprisingly, however, I do not agree with Aileen Campbell that Scotland on its own would be able to provide the quality and the public subsidy that are needed. We need to consider how much the UK Government will raise by selling off the old spectrum and ask whether some of the funds should come from that.

The public want good-quality provision and, if the new digital channel comes about, it must focus on that. George Foulkes, who reminded us of the existence of telegrams as a method of communication and demonstrated how far we have come in that area, rightly pointed out that Scottish viewers want quality programming, whether their choice is "Spooks" or "Heroes". They want a mix of high-quality programmes. They want to see programmes that are made in Scotland, but they also want to see programmes that are made elsewhere. Perhaps George Foulkes, as ever, is boldly going where no one else dares to go. Perhaps he is saying the things about our output that others are thinking.

When it comes to news and current affairs, the public want everything, including online news and podcasts. We have to work out how we are going to give the public everything, and that is a serious challenge.

Ian McKee made an excellent speech about healthy programme making, which is crucial to us because it enhances our cultural life, whether or not our preference is "Still Game", which I believe is now exportable to the rest of the UK even if it does have subtitles. However, we can argue about that at a later date.

David Whitton made the important point that STV has provided a competitive edge in public service broadcasting and has the potential to make more programmes. As he rightly pointed out, giving it independent producer status is something that should be considered for the future.

There is a lot at stake if we do not resolve the situation. We will support the motion and the Liberal Democrats' amendment at decision time.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 10:16 am, 4th December 2008

Various stances have been taken in this interesting debate, but there is a general recognition of the importance of quality and plurality in public service broadcasting. The Scottish Government wants to ensure that public service broadcasting fully meets Scotland's needs in the future. We have the benefit of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission's report to guide us on the matter. As I said earlier, we used the report's recommendations as our starting point for formulating our response to the Ofcom review. I remind everyone that we are committed to taking forward the Scottish Broadcasting Commission's recommendations. Members have expressed support for that.

The debate focused on STV and the necessity of competition in public service broadcasting. The Scottish Government recognises and values STV's contribution to broadcasting in Scotland, but I remain a wee bit concerned that the only safeguard to plurality in Scotland is in the hands of a commercial company whose decisions are based ultimately on commercial factors.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

On plurality and the minister's concern about a commercial competitor, if the new digital channel comes along under the funding model that she describes—in other words, if it is fully funded—the only competition for the BBC would be another totally subsidised Scottish digital channel. That does not sound like competition to me.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Everything that I have said, and everything that I put in the response to Ofcom, suggests that plurality means considering and discussing all the options and coming up with the best option for Scotland. We have not adopted any particular model.

Pauline McNeill mentioned radio, as she has in the past. I agree that radio is an extremely important part of broadcasting. Often in the morning, it is on the radio—especially local radio stations—that people pick up the news and current affairs that relate to them. Be they in Glasgow, Skye or Fife, people hear things on local radio that interest them. The Scottish Government wants to ensure that radio services are maintained. Recently, officials sent a submission to Barry Cox, the chair of the UK digital radio working group, setting out the issues that we have with any proposed move towards digital radio in the UK, and especially about coverage throughout Scotland.

That brings me to the Lib Dem amendment. I completely understand where it is coming from. I have stated before in the chamber that we have concerns about coverage in the Borders, Perth and other places as digitalisation is rolled out. We will abstain from the votes on the Lib Dem amendment and the motion. That does not detract from our sympathy with what has been said, but I have a firm reason for our abstaining from the votes: Ofcom cannot force the commercial operators to upgrade the relay transmitters. However, discussions are taking place between Ofcom and the commercial operators to try to move the matter forward, and all members should support those important discussions. On the seventh mux, the Scottish Government has already sought an assurance from Ofcom that it will fully consider the Scottish federation of local television's submissions on the matter. We support the sentiment behind the Liberal Democrats' amendment and I assure them that they have our support on the matter, as I have stated many times before.

I close by reiterating my recognition of the value of STV to Scotland. It is valued by viewers as part of the broadcasting industry, and it is valued as a contributor to the economy. It has some much-watched programmes, and I hope that it remains part of the public service broadcasting landscape in Scotland. It is a recognised and valued brand that has the potential to continue to maintain variety and plurality in Scotland.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 10:21 am, 4th December 2008

I hope that it is clear from Scottish Conservatives' speeches that we warmly welcome Ofcom's second major review of broadcasting in Scotland, which provides an exciting opportunity for Scotland to contribute to the debate on the future broadcasting model for the UK. We have no doubt that public service broadcasting needs to be reformed before the licence runs out in 2012.

I hope that we have also made it clear that there needs to be a healthy and competitive Scotland-based television programme-making sector outwith the BBC. The fact that surveys constantly show that Scottish audiences want a choice of channels for watching Scottish news reflects the quality of the regional news that is offered to them.

That is significant given that 85 per cent of the Scottish population use television as their main access to news and information. The public undoubtedly place considerable importance on the portrayal of Scotland in broadcasting. They believe that coverage should be inclusive and should provide for all audiences in Scotland and reflect Scotland's character.

I am sure that it is a source of considerable concern to Parliament, and maybe even to Lothian and Borders Police, that Lord Foulkes has daily trouble with the radio knobs in his car as he seeks the mellifluous tones of Jim Naughtie and John Humphrys. However, he is right to point out that the BBC and other broadcasters face a fast-changing political and technological environment in Scotland.

As Pauline McNeill said, there has been a decline in Scottish programming and funding for Scotland, which is damaging to our creative industries.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I wonder—as a former presenter of "Good Morning Scotland"—whether Elizabeth Smith would like to dissociate herself and the rest of Parliament from Lord George Foulkes's opinions.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Margo MacDonald, too, has mellifluous tones.

There are exciting opportunities for programme makers who choose to make the most of our strong independent sector. Scotland is the second-biggest production base outside London, with approximately 100 production companies. As my colleague Ted Brocklebank rightly said, we welcome the BBC's decision to allocate an increased share of network production to Scotland, but we hope that the target will be reached by 2012 rather than by 2016. We also hope that the increase in Channel 4's share of productions from Scotland and the introduction of BBC Alba will help to provide work for the excellent independent production sector.

We must recognise that it will become increasingly difficult for PSBs to provide and improve the services that they offer. Ofcom's review highlighted the fact that public service broadcasting is at a crossroads, and John Lamont flagged up some of the implications for the Borders. Audiences might value competition for the BBC, but we need to monitor carefully the underlying economic challenges that public service broadcasting faces.

Audiences might place a high value on UK-made public service programming from a mix of providers, but Ofcom makes it very clear that the costs of making programmes is going up while their main financial benefit—privileged access to spectrum—is going down. For example, if ITV is to retain its PSB licence, the cost of having two STV licences will exceed the benefits probably by 2009-10. As a result, the Scottish Conservatives believe that the evolutionary method of reforming public sector broadcasting has most merit, even if that view is not shared by the minister. Under such an approach BBC, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five would continue to provide public service programming as they do at present, with either reduced commitments or extra public funding. As Ken Macintosh said, competition is vital if the media are to maintain transparency.

As UK broadcasting history shows, Conservative Governments have largely been responsible for plurality of provision. For example, we licensed ITV way back in 1955—just before my time—and oversaw the launch of the new satellite Channel 4 in 1982 and Channel Five in 1997. I have to say, without wanting to sound too modest, that that is why we are championing a new Scottish digital channel. Such a move would give a welcome boost to smaller independent production companies to provide local news and documentaries. I once again emphasise our commitment in that respect.

Mr Blair Jenkins has made it clear that there is a greater need for accountability within Scotland for the programmes that are run, and for greater influence on policy in responding to demand for different types of programme. The public are concerned about the variety and quality of the programmes they watch, so we must ensure that a workable future for public service broadcasting is developed.

As the executive summary to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission Report says:

"Broadcasting is important to the economic, cultural and democratic health of the nation. At its best, it has a unique power and impact which can enrich ... our thinking", our discussion and our society's knowledge. I hope, therefore, that a solution will be found to secure the future of public service broadcasting.

We welcome the debate and I commend the Scottish Conservative motion to the chamber.