Scottish broadcasting matters. It plays a crucial role in Scotland’s cultural and civic life. A thriving television production sector is essential for sustaining and further developing the excellent Scottish creative talent and skills base which is the foundation stone for the success of our industries.
The Scottish television industry has been the centre of a media controversy in recent weeks, but it is not the only high profile scandal to rock the broadcasting world, and there are parallels between the two.
Recent media news has been dominated by coverage of two deceits: one concerning a trailer for a documentary about the Queen, and another concerning television phone-in competitions for viewers.
BBC director general, Mark Thompson, and ITV chairman, Michael Grade, have pronounced on the gravity of the situation, senior BBC editorial staff have been suspended and both the BBC and ITV intend to halt commissions from RDF, the independent television company responsible for A Year with the Queen. Perhaps of greater concern for Scottish interests, RDF is also owner of IWC Media and The Comedy Unit.
Following an inquiry into premium rate call television*, broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, concluded that:
+ Compliance failures were systemic;
+ Revenue generation was a major driver in the growth of these services;
+ Some broadcasters appeared to be in denial about their responsibilities to ensure programmes delivered on the transactions they offered to viewers; and
+ There was an apparent lack of transparency…resulting in a lack of clarity about responsibilities.
In the case of the Scottish television industry, it can be argued that there has also been a systemic failure: the failure of our Public Service Broadcasters – ie the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five – to fulfill their individual and collective public service remit to Scottish viewers and producers. The reasons for this failure bear some similarity to those Ofcom found for the premium television call scandal:
+ Compliance failure is widespread (look no further than the declining share of Scotland’s share of network television commissions portrayed in Ofcom’s latest Communications Market Report**, which showed that Scotland’s share of network commissions fell from six per cent three years ago to four per cent a year later and to three per cent last year);
+ A focus on internal finance has been allowed to supersede public service obligations in certain key areas;
+ Broadcasters are in denial about their responsibilities to viewers; and
+ There is a lack of transparency – exemplified by past suggestions that not all out-of-London commissions claimed by broadcasters are genuinely so*** – and by the apparent confusion over whether BBC in-house production supports or competes with Scottish indies.
However, the public admission of culpability and the gravity of response from our Public Service Broadcasters on the call TV and Queen documentary problems are in stark contrast to their attitude towards their responsibilities to the devolved nations of the UK.
This was very evident at a recent Ofcom conference in Cardiff.