Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by SMG Television (PDB 3)


    —  Scottish Television & Grampian Television are regional, not national broadcasters. Both companies are licensed to broadcast by the ITC and have explicit and stated commitments to make programmes for and about their respective, clearly defined areas. These regional programmes—858 hours per annum for Scottish and 400 hours for Grampian—are made up of a broad range of genres but their core is News and Current Affairs.

    —  Under the 1990 and 1996 Broadcasting Acts, the ITV companies are mandated to carry a national news service supplied by a Nominated News Provider. This will continue under OFCOM, the new regulator set up in the forthcoming Communications Bill.

    —  The structure of Scottish and Grampian's news and current affairs output post-devolution has not altered significantly but programming content has, reflecting the fact that the majority of issues affecting and of most interest to our viewers is devolved to Holyrood.

    —  All Current Affairs programmes made by Scottish and Grampian are broadcast in both regions.

    —  Both companies maintain a Westminster Correspondent (as prior to devolution) who contributes to regional news bulletins on Reserved Issues.

    —  Staffing has expanded post-devolution, to include a Scottish Political Correspondent, a Parliamentary Producer and the number of Edinburgh-based journalists has expanded from 5 to 10, demonstrating the importance and newsworthiness of the capital city in a devolved Scotland.

    —  Recent research carried out by the ITC (Public Service Broadcasting: What Viewers Want, January 2001) found that News was one of the most important genres broadcast by ITV. News coverage, both regional and national was considered essential.


  1.1  Grampian Television and Scottish Television cover a hugely diverse area, with two thousand miles of coastline, many islands, several dialects and two languages. The stations have production centres in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness. We broadcast to an audience of nearly 5 million people which constitutes 10 per cent of the UK television audience. Scottish and Grampian's regional programming reflects their own unique areas and Scotland's different political, legal, educational and religious institutions. In addition, we have to take account of cultural differences and a national sports infrastructure and calendar.

  1.2  Both stations are part of the ITV network of 15 distinct franchises. The federal nature of ITV is such that there is a core network schedule of programmes, including News and Current Affairs, funded by the owners of the 15 franchises. Income from advertising is the major source of revenue for the channel accounting for well over 80 per cent of the divisional income. Each franchise holder pays for the core schedule on an "ability to pay" basis which is determined by each area's share of ITV's total revenue.

  1.3  In addition to the core network of programmes, each company also has regional programming commitments as part of its licence that is awarded by the Independent Television Commission (the ITC). The number of regional hours varies from company to company and formed part of the franchise bid. For Scottish, the level is currently 16.5 hours of original production per week; for Grampian 7 hrs 40 minutes. Smaller companies such as Border and Channel TV produce as little as five hours per week. News and current affairs are at the heart of that regional service and have a minimum requirement. The network's news service is provided by ITN who have recently been awarded the contract for a further seven years. ITN's function is to provide national and international news to complement the regional news provided by programmes such as Scotland Today and North Tonight. All of the ITV companies have access to material from ITN for use in regional programmes if required and of relevance. There is also a reciprocal agreement between Scottish and Grampian to transmit some of each other's output. For example, Platform and Crossfire transmit in both regions, essentially giving current affairs pan-Scotland coverage.

  1.4  ITV spends £1billion a year on original production for the core national schedule and each company's regional commitments. This is Europe's largest budget for a commercial channel and ITV's ability to sustain this investment is dependent upon its ability to derive advertising revenue through the creation of an audience that is commercially valuable to advertisers.


2.  Programmes

  2.1  This year Scottish Television will produce and broadcast over 460 hours of news and current affairs programmes for viewers in the Scottish Television franchise area. The Scottish Television news and current affairs department employs some 60 journalists and editorial staff, and is based in our Glasgow and Edinburgh newsrooms, with Parliamentary Correspondents on the Mound and at Westminster.

  2.2  The structure of our news and current affairs programming is as follows.

    —  Scotland Today—nightly 30 minute Monday to Friday news programme broadcast at 180 to an audience of up to half a million Scots. The programme is the current holder of the Royal Television Society Award for the Best Regional News Programme in Britain.

    —  Lunchtime Scotland Today—daily 30 minute Monday to Friday news and features magazine programme broadcast at 13.10 to an audience of up to 180,000 Scots.

    —  News bulletins—broadcast from 05.25 to 23.30 Monday to Friday and twice daily at weekends.

    —  Platform—weekly Thursday evening 30 minute political programme broadcast for approximately 20 weeks each year at 23.30 to an audience of between 100,00 and 140,000 Scots.

    —  7 Days—weekly 60 minute Sunday morning news and current affairs programme broadcast for 36 weeks of the year to an audience of between 70,000 and 100,000 Scots.

    —  Scotland Today Specials—monthly 30 minute current affairs programme broadcast on Tuesday evenings at 1930 to an audience of between 200,00 and 300,000 Scots.

    —  Election and By-election Specials and Results programmes—this year, for the General Election, we co-produced The Scottish 500 with Grampian Television (a 60 minute audience debate programme broadcast in peak time), and Election Face to Face (a 30 minute single interview programme), together with through the night results' programming and a "day two" special results programme.

    —  Also this year, we produce two hour-long one-off documentaries, The Salmond Years and The Dewar Years.

  2.3  Scottish Television also broadcasts the following political programmes produced by Grampian Television:

    —  Crossfire—a weekly Thursday evening 30 minute political programme broadcast for approximately 20 weeks each year at 23.30, to an audience of between 100,00 and 140,000 Scots (in the weeks Platform is not on air).

    —  The Week in Politics—Thursday evening 30 minute review programme looking at events in the Scottish Parliament.

    —  Politician of the Year—annual one-hour political awards programme broadcast in late November.


  3.1  The structure of programming has not changed significantly since devolution. All the Scottish Television news and current affairs programmes currently shown were broadcast prior to devolution. The Week in Politics and Politician of the Year, made by Grampian Television but also broadcast on Scottish Television, are new to our schedules and are being made as a consequence of devolution.


  4.1  The content of our existing programmes has altered significantly in the post-devolution era.

  4.2  Scotland Today is the main evening news programme regularly watched by up to half a million Scots. In its thirty-year history the programme has always covered political and parliamentary matters. Traditionally it has had a Westminster Correspondent and a Political Correspondent. However, post—devolution, the political staffing has been expanded to include a Scottish Political Correspondent and Parliamentary Producer to cover Holyrood and a new Political Editor, in addition to the Westminster staff.

  4.3  The programme's Edinburgh staffing has also been increased, from five to ten journalists, to reflect the increased importance of the capital, and to provide additional non-specialist journalists to report on policy matters relating to the Scottish Parliament.

  4.4  Taken together, these changes mean that typically there are many more political and parliamentary news stories covered on Scotland Today.

  4.5  The programme's agenda, in common with all the other national and regional news services in the ITV network, is principally concerned with domestic news stories. UK and International stories are covered in the ITV news, broadcast immediately after Scotland Today.

  4.6  Given this concentration on domestic Scottish issues, it is inevitable that devolution has had a profound impact on content. When the bulk of domestic policy responsibilities was devolved to Edinburgh, as regional broadcasters, our news programming had to reflect this change.

  4.7  It is on the Mound that our elected MSPs debate the issues that matter most to our viewers—health, education, law and order, jobs, housing, transport and the environment. The new Parliament has allowed much more detailed scrutiny of these issues and in turn has given broadcasters the opportunity to report on these important areas more often and in a more relevant way for our viewers.

  4.8  However, at times of major national stories such as the current crisis, ITN provides coverage and context for our viewers. ITN also provides us with national coverage of the General Election and we contribute to this coverage, reporting Scottish results to viewers throughout the UK.

  4.9  Prior to devolution our news programming might only deal with one political story a night. It is now common for Scotland Today to carry three reports from the Mound. These pieces will not always be straight reportage of a debate, but will more typically deal with a relevant policy issue, seeking reaction from Ministers and MSPs, attempting to demonstrate how the policy proposal or debate is impacting on our viewers' daily lives.

  4.10  On important domestic policy issues, devolution has undoubtedly led to improved accountability. Holding to account a small number of Scottish Office Ministers based for at least part of their working week in London was not always easy. It was often difficult to secure access to relevant ministerial interviewees. It is now much easier for broadcasters to get access to the relevant responsible Minister and to hold that Minister to account in interviews or live appearances in our programmes.

  4.11  In the first months of devolution the novelty of this access and indeed the novelty of the Scottish Parliament itself led Scottish Television, in common with other broadcasters to concentrate almost exclusively on Edinburgh. We temporarily withdrew our correspondent from Westminster and only covered the Commons on an ad hoc basis. However it soon became clear that important stories were still emerging from London.

  4.12  Powers retained at Westminster on issues like social security still had an impact on our viewers' lives and we re-appointed, with Grampian Television, an experienced Westminster Correspondent. The post remains today and Scotland Today regularly reports from London on UK Parliamentary matters.

  4.13  The running orders for three fairly typical editions of Scotland Today from the past 10 years are attached in Appendix One.[1] They cover programmes broadcast on the 1st March 2001, 1st March 1996 and 1st March 1991. We also enclose VHS copies of the three programmes.

  4.14  The most recent programme includes a live interview with the Scottish Executive Minister directly responsible for the main issue of the day, dealing with the Foot and Mouth outbreak. It also covers drug policy and a report on the Freedom of Information legislation proposed by the Executive. In comparison with the earlier programmes coverage of issues is clearly improved, and the programme can be seen to be holding a Minister to account. Prior to devolution, this level of accountability was far less frequent and more difficult to achieve. For a summary of the political stories covered in the three programmes see (2).

  4.15  Other political programming—again, in Platform and 7 days, content has altered significantly since devolution. Where issues that have been devolved to Edinburgh are under discussion, MSPs appear regularly. But the programmes often deal with UK and International politics and MPs also appear regularly. In the coverage of the current conflict in Afghanistan, MPs have been interviewed frequently both in packages and live reports. In the run up to and during the recent general election, Westminster MPs received significant levels of coverage. Indeed, on election night, Scottish and Grampian Television reported from more Parliamentary seats than ever before, filming some 55 results.


  While the structure of news and current affairs broadcasting at Scottish Television has not changed significantly since devolution, the content of programmes has altered. Politics is covered on news programmes more often and in a more detailed manner than before 1999. The focus has inevitably been on the Scottish Parliament but Westminster remains important and is covered regularly in news and political programming.


1.  News Programmes

  1.1  Broadcasting of news and current affairs at Grampian Television has undergone a variety of changes since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. These changes have occurred in terms of structure and content in three general programme areas:

    —  North Tonight, the nightly news programme

    —  Other existing programmes such as Crossfire & Grampian Midweek

    —  New programmes now produced as a result of the Parliament.

  1.2  North Tonight is the main nightly news programme is Grampian Television's flagship programme. It broadcasts five nights a week between 1800 and 1830. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament has not in any way altered the fact that we make such a programme, and if the Parliament did not exist, we would still be making North Tonight in full compliance with our licence commitments, as regulated by the ITC. This bulletin has always contained items related to parliamentary matters. However, since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, there is no doubt that we have focussed considerable attention on events there. This is a clear response to a change in the way we are governed in Scotland. Important devolved matters such as health, education and legal affairs are debated and discussed on a daily basis and we are there to cover them. We have a political correspondent and a researcher working full time in Edinburgh for that reason. This does not mean, however, that we have abandoned Westminster. For a brief spell after 1999, we re-located our political correspondent to Edinburgh and covered Westminster on an ad hoc basis. It soon emerged that there was still much news of importance to Grampian viewers to report at Westminster. As a result we re-established, with Scottish Television, our sister broadcaster in Scotland, our Westminster correspondent. That remains the current position. Running Orders and scripts for three selected programmes from 1997-2001 are contained in Appendix Two.[2]

2.  Current Affairs Programmes

  2.1  The key programme in this category is Crossfire, Grampian's weekly political programme. Crossfire transmits approximately 20 programmes per year, and its function is simple —to cover the political scene in Scotland, with particular reference to Grampian viewers, in more depth. This is exactly what the programme does. Again, as with North Tonight, Crossfire would be produced even if there were no Scottish Parliament. However, the existence of the Parliament means we cover in some detail the events that take place there.

  2.2  Our Westminster correspondent contributes on a regular basis to the programme, and we ensure Westminster receives attention, particularly at times of major national stories such as the current crisis in Afghanistan and when reserved matters are the subjects of debate. We also make sure local MPs are able to access these programmes where appropriate.

  2.3  The other programme affected by devolution is our weekly social action programme, Grampian Midweek. Here, most of the issues the programme covers are devolved and therefore it is not surprising that our main government focus is the Scottish Parliament.

3.  New Programmes

  3.1  There are now two new programmes produced by Grampian Television directly as a consequence of the existence of the Scottish Parliament. The Week In Politics was commissioned by Grampian TV to look at events on the floor of the Parliament and in the committee rooms with particular reference to Grampian viewers. It is a unique programme, and it usually occupies the slot immediately after Crossfire, so creating a strong political zone in our Thursday night broadcasting. The programme has a small but influential audience, and is now seen as an important part of our political programming in the new parliamentary landscape. The other programme which has come into existence specifically because of devolution is The Scottish Politician of the Year. Awards in the programme include Scottish Parliament Politician of the Year, Backbencher of the Year, Debater of the Year, MSP to Watch, and, crucially, Westminster Politician of the Year. It is fair to say such a programme would not exist if the Scottish Parliament did not.


  In conclusion, it is clear that in some ways devolution has not affected news and current affairs broadcasting in Scotland. Many of the programmes we make would have been made anyway. But content is different. Westminster remains an important source of news and current affairs, but by definition, devolution has caused us to look elsewhere for many of the stories we cover.

1   Not published, available from SMG Television. Back

2   Not published, available from SMG Television. Back

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