The Scottish Broadcasting Commission’s report (Platform For Success: here) has now had time to sink in, and it makes uncomfortable reading for quite a few of the key players in the future of Scottish broadcasting.
For the government, and the First Minister in particular, the SBC’s endorsement of the BBC-led status quo – the broadcast union, if you will – must be a little disappointing.
The report agrees with the critics of the BBC that Scotland is ‘marginalised’ within the corporation’s UK operations as a whole (as are the UK’s nations and regions in general), and echoes the call of Anthony King and many others for the BBC to get its act together in adapting to the cultural challenges posed by a devolved United Kingdom; but it stresses in no uncertain terms that the country has “benefited from being part of the overall broadcasting ecology of the UK”, and that the BBC remains the “cornerstone” of the UK’s, and Scotland’s, public service broadcasting system.
As for Scottish television, the report’s authors seem to have all but given up on it as a future source of anything other than purely commercial content. While stv remains committed to provide local news and non-news content in return for its licence to broadcast, the future of commercial public service broadcasting is precarious.
The report notes that ITV may soon give up its public service obligations, since it will no longer be able to afford them post-analogue, and that stv will follow suit.
If that scenario happens (and we await the big report from [broadcasting regulators] Ofcom, due this Thursday, for further guidance on what is likely to happen to ITV), BBC Scotland will have no competitor in the production of Scottish output.
Because broadcasting plurality is a guiding principle of the UK system, this would be bad news, and the SBC has a solution.
The Scottish Network would inject plurality into the system, making up for the loss of stv as a public service broadcaster. More than that, it would provide a platform for Scottish-produced content of all kinds, on air and online. With or without stv in the game, a Network of the kind proposed would address many of the concerns which have been expressed about the perceived failures of Scottish broadcasting, both at home and within the UK network structure.
The proposal for community radio stations is also welcome. We are, as a nation, curiously neglectful of local radio at the community level. With digital technology, this deficit in our broadcasting ecology can and should be remedied at relatively low cost.
BBC Scotland doesn’t come out of the report well either, accused of limited range in its programming, and inadequate reflection of Scottish life.
BBC Radio Scotland is criticised for its lack of “ambition and space for originality in programming”, and the BBC managers are urged to review its role, remit and funding. The BBC itself is criticised for neglecting Scotland and the other devolved nations, a sin to which it has already confessed and promised to address. The SBC report provides further ammunition for those who expect the corporation to take that commitment seriously.
The SBC pays lip service to the now-redundant Scottish Six, with its conclusion that the Network “does not exempt the BBC from considering” it. But with a Network dedicated to Scottish content of all kinds, including news and current affairs, what would be the point?
The report raises some big issues. If there is to be a Scottish Network, and in my opinion it’s an idea whose time has come, will