Proposals to transfer broadcasting powers to Scotland have been set out in a paper published today by the Scottish Government. It is one of six papers, prepared by Ministers, proposing amendments to the Scotland Bill that aim to support Scotland’s economic recovery.

The broadcasting paper identifies priority areas:

To have the right to establish public service broadcasting institutions
To be involved in future licence fee setting arrangements
To have responsibility for approving licensing decisions made by the UK Government for local television stations which will broadcast within Scotland
To have the ability to intervene in local cross-media mergers that affect Scotland
To have the power to add or remove events from the list of those that must be shown live on free-to-air television

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Broadcasting is of vital cultural importance to Scotland. It strengthens our democracy and makes a valuable contribution to our economy. However, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have virtually no powers in relation to broadcasting.

“That must change. There is a clear need for greater accountability and responsibility for broadcasting in Scotland and it is agreed across the political spectrum that Scotland needs its own distinctive broadcasting space to reflect our society, our culture, our debates and decision-making.

“The Scotland Bill in its present form does contain provisions on broadcasting in relation to the BBC Trust and MG Alba [the Gaelic language channel]. While these are welcome, they do not go far enough. Our proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill will give Scotland a stronger voice on broadcasting. They will enable us to make progress establishing a Scottish Digital Network, which is a priority at Holyrood but an afterthought for the UK Government.

“We firmly believe that Holyrood should have the power to establish the Scottish Digital Network as a public service broadcaster - independent from government - with a focus on producing quality content. It should be publicly-funded, with the television licence fee the best possible source of funding - as recommended by the Scottish Digital Network Panel.

“We want to strengthen, not weaken, Scotland’s broadcasting sector which is why we are calling for the right to approve future licence fee settlements. This will ensure Scotland receives its fair share of the £315 million generated each year by licence fee payers north of the border.

“Scotland was short changed by the recent licence fee agreement. It was negotiated in secret and closed off a potential source of funding for the proposed Scottish Digital Network, while providing a top slicing of £95 million of support annually to the Welsh-language channel S4C from 2013. The equivalent spend on BBC ALBA is just £8 million per year.

“Scotland also needs a say on broadcasting decisions which could affect Scottish media companies. It is our view that these decisions require the formal involvement of the devolved nations. The Scottish Government has consistently been supportive of local television and believes the Scottish Digital Network is the best way to support local television services in Scotland.

“We also believe that it would be appropriate for devolved administrations to have the power to add or remove events to the list of those which must be shown on free-to-air television for their nations. In Scotland, this might mean granting protected status to qualifying matches for major international tournaments played by the Scottish men’s national football team.

“It is clear that current broadcasting arrangements are not meeting the needs of devolution in Scotland. We are proposing sensible and proportionate changes to the Scotland Bill which will improve accountability and responsibility for broadcasting in Scotland, to the benefit of all.”

June 29th, 2011 - 14:10 UTC
by A.Sennitt
(Source: Scottish Government)