Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)




  80. Order, order. Good morning gentlemen. May I start by thanking you very much for agreeing to come and see us this morning during our inquiry into broadcasting in Scotland? For the purposes of the record would you like to introduce yourselves? If there is any statement you want to make at the beginning, please feel free to do so.

  (Mr Ross) I am Sandy Ross and I am the Managing Director of Scottish Television.
  (Mr Emslie) I am Donald Emslie and I am the Chief Executive of SMG Television.
  (Mr Thomson) I am Derrick Thomson. I am the Managing Director of Grampian Television.
  (Mr Robinson) I am Neil Robinson and I am Controller of Programmes and Border Television.
  (Mr Emslie) Good morning ladies and gentlemen, Thank you very much for the opportunity to give evidence to your Committee this morning. We have introduced ourselves and we are here representing all the ITV broadcasters in Scotland. May I make some introductory remarks so that you perhaps understand the way that SMG in particular is organised? I shall also make some introduction remarks on behalf of Border Television but I am sure Neil will chip in as and where appropriate. SMG is the media group based in Scotland. All the executive directors live and work in Scotland. We are now a multimedia business covering television, newspapers, cinema, poster contractors in terms of poster sites and also a radio business. We have grown from Scottish Television PLC as many of you will remember us in days gone by. The TV business includes Scottish and Grampian Television but we also have a network production business which makes network programmes for ITV, Channel 4 and many of the other UK networks. That is through SMG TV Productions, but we are now also responsible for Ginger Television which we acquired as part of Virgin Radio last year. All of us here today, Scottish, Grampian and Border are regional broadcasters and our remit is to broadcast to our respective regions. This remit is to make programmes for our regional viewers, which are of interest to our regional viewers and covering the affairs and the culture of our respective regions. Scottish provides just under 900 hours and Grampian 400 hours; Border produces 300 hours. The vast majority of these hours, for all of the broadcasters, is taken up by news and current affairs. Regional news is our special remit and contribution to broadcasting in Scotland. In the context of this inquiry it is important to point out that the editorial control of Scotland Today for the Scottish Television franchise, North Tonight for Grampian and Border's Look Around programme by definition will be regional and very local as that is our special remit and that is of particular interest to our viewers. It is also worth pointing out that we are all ITV broadcasters, therefore we are bound in to the terms of the ITV network. It is a federation and we all contribute to the network commissioned programmes. A very big part of that is ITN's news output and underneath the Broadcasting Act, as ITV broadcasters, we are mandated to cover UK and international news through the nominated news contractor, which is ITN. That output has to be simultaneously broadcast across the United Kingdom. That is why you have the pattern of regional news across the ITV network at six o'clock and ITN comes on at half past six. We effectively have a news hour between six and seven. The advantage we have in Scotland, particularly post-devolution, is that our regional news now comes on at the top of the hour at six o'clock. Therefore we have the ability to cover across Scotland the main news stories of the day affecting Scotland and then go to the international and UK news, which is provided by ITN. If I can sum up and then open up to questions, our regionality is very important to our business. In this expanding market of television channels, some 200 channels now, the vast majority will be networked and therefore ITV's contribution and very special contribution will continue to be its regionality and our ability to cover and produce regional programmes for the viewers in our region, but also making network programmes from Scotland to be broadcast to the rest of the United Kingdom. Through our submissions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry in the consultation leading up to the Communications Bill we made this point very strongly. Certainly going through the consultation ITV will continue to be a public service broadcaster, concentrating on original and regional production, but based and funded through commercial relationships with advertisers.

  81. You told us about the news programme changing to six o'clock. As you know, we are particularly interested in the effects of devolution on news programmes. Have there been any other effects on the structures of news and current affairs broadcasting since the advent of devolution?
  (Mr Emslie) One of the biggest changes, which affects Border's region probably more than

  ours, is that ITV agreed to fund a separate opt-out for Border in their transmission systems, so that Scottish viewers of Border were better served than they perhaps were pre-devolution. Through Scottish and Grampian we make available to Neil and his colleagues at Border Television all the regional programming we make, which he can then use to increase his Scottishness for his schedules. That is one very constructive effect post devolution. The other one is that politics and current affairs now get more of our coverage within our news programmes than they did before. We have staffed up in order to cover both Holyrood and Westminster and certainly from our point of view we have a bigger newsroom in Edinburgh now than we had prior to devolution. These are two of the principal changes to which I could alert you.
  (Mr Ross) In structural terms, as the person in charge of our budget for covering news, the immediate effect it had on me was to place additional cost on the budget because we had the cost of paying for the parliamentary feed from Holyrood. SMG had to take that cost on behalf of the various broadcasters. It is fair to say that there is not really much of an interest south of the border in the affairs of the Scottish Parliament. That was a cost to us. There was then a further cost in that we staffed up our Edinburgh newsroom so that we were better able to cover the affairs of the Scottish Parliament and that was both in front of and behind the camera and in news journalists in the Edinburgh newsroom. The other interesting thing was and we submitted as part of our submission three running orders from Scotland Today at various intervals.[3] If you have the time to go through these running orders what you will find, I would suggest, is that there is more coverage of politics in a general sense in our regular six o'clock news programme. One of the interesting ways that coverage has changed is that because MSPs, because they are in Edinburgh, are much more accessible to us. Sometimes a story will come along, which may not necessarily be a political story. One of the ways our newsroom will move the story on during the course of the day will be to use an MSP who has something to say on the story or a comment to make on the story and their very accessibility makes it easier for us to do that and use that resource, which they are, in Edinburgh for our newsroom. Having said that, if you go and look in particular at our Sunday Seven Days programme, we do still try to be very broad and general in that programme on a Sunday morning and it is the only programme in Scotland which does that. For example, in the programme on Sunday last, we started off with a major item on the current ScotRail dispute in Scotland, a major newspaper review in the middle section on what was in the Scottish newspapers that day and we had as our guest Peter McMahon. I think most of you would agree that Mr McMahon was a major story last week. We then did an interview with Paul Ferris, the gangster who was released from prison last week and is returning to live in Scotland. It was on the front page of a number of newspapers. We then had a major item on the Holocaust Day with an interview of a survivor of the Holocaust and we finished up with an item on the war in Afghanistan and its potential spillover into Somalia. There, we had David Pratt, the Foreign Editor of the Sunday Herald and in fact one of the members of this Committee as guests taking part in that discussion. That was a fairly wide-ranging programme. That is what we try to do.

  (Mr Robinson) From Border Television's viewpoint, we have never been a large network producer so regional programmes have been our glory. We have concentrated on providing a regional service for our viewers. Effectively what we have been able to do since devolution is editionalise our news output. The affairs of the Scottish Parliament are not of a great interest to people who live south of the border, so much of the coverage we give to the affairs of the Scottish Parliament appear in our news editions which can only be seen across in Scotland.

  82. You spoke just now about accessibility. Since setting up in Edinburgh, have you diminished the numbers of staff you have in London to cover Westminster and in Europe?
  (Mr Ross) One of the things we did shortly after the setting up of the Scottish Parliament was to question, from a cost point of view as well as an editorial point of view, whether we still needed a Westminster correspondent. For a short period we did not have a Westminster correspondent. We brought him back and we based him in Edinburgh but pretty quickly after that we realised that a whole number of issues and a whole number of stories still came out of Westminster and we re-instated our Westminster correspondent. We now have a Westminster correspondent, Rae Stewart, who is here on behalf of both Scottish and Grampian. Having said that, on days when Rae is not here, if the story merits attention we have a very, very good relationship with the nominated news provider, ITN, and we are able to call upon crews and staff in London to provide us with material.

  83. Has it had any effect on your coverage of the European Parliament?
  (Mr Ross) We do cover the European Parliament but that tends to be on the basis of the newsworthiness of the story. It is interesting that a lot of the matters of the European Parliament have tended in one sense to be of more interest to our viewers in Grampian, just because of the nature of some of the industries in Grampian. Grampian Television possibly has a closer relationship with some of the European issues than Scottish has tended to have.
  (Mr Thomson) I would agree with that entirely. In terms of fishing and agriculture, again depending on the newsworthiness of the story, and the relevance to the North East, whenever that occurs we send somebody to cover it.
  (Mr Robinson) As far as Border Television are concerned we retained our Westminster correspondent. There was no change there. I have been at Border Television now since 1986 and we have had the same Westminster correspondent in all that time—Simon Page. He tells me he is now busier than he ever was. Certainly in the 1980s he was working more directly for me then when I was Head of News and we covered fewer stories in Westminster than we do now.

Mr Sarwar

  84. I can understand that with devolution there is more focus on the Scottish Parliament and the viewers want to see what is happening in the Scottish Parliament. Do you think there is a fair balance between Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and Brussels? My feeling is that it might be the case that because of the cost involved if you have a representative in London and in Brussels it probably adds to your cost. Is it a cost saving exercise that you have more folk in Scotland and in the Scottish Parliament?
  (Mr Emslie) It is not a cost issue. In the initial stages of the setting up of devolution, a lot of our attention and resources were focused on Scotland and that was understandable, given it was the setting up of the Scottish Parliament, it was post the election and editorially it was driving the agenda in Scotland and we were then responsible for covering it. The balance has now perhaps returned and we are very aware of the importance of the Westminster Parliament in Scottish politics and to the Scottish viewers and we try to cover it as best we possibly can with the resources we have. We always had one correspondent down here. Scottish and Grampian have never had a European correspondent in recent times. ITN has a correspondent covering the European Parliament and we feel quite comfortable being able to get access to their material and if necessary, if the story develops, we can fly people out there very, very quickly. We do cover the ground and it is not a cost issue. The editorial agenda is driven by our Heads of News and Current Affairs and they are tasked with making sure that all the stories, both the news stories and the political stories, are adequately covered.

Mr Lazarowicz

  85. It is not just a question, I suppose, of the numbers of staff or the ability to be able to call in people when required, it is also a question of the balance between the different centres: Edinburgh, London, Brussels. One of the things which the BBC told us last week in their memorandum[4] was that they now had a greater coherence in coverage of parliamentary activity between these three institutions. How far do you think the coverage of these different institutions is part of a coherent whole or how far is it one where you have an emphasis initially on the Scottish dimension, with opt-ins when required from London or Brussels?

  (Mr Ross) You do get a sense of that. You have to look at our programmes overall. What you have to appreciate is that many of the things are very important to our viewers in terms of health, transport, and things like that which are being dealt with by the Scottish Parliament on a day to day basis. Therefore the agenda of the daily news programme to a certain extent tends to concentrate on that. You then take into account our dedicated political programmes like Platform at Scottish or Crossfire at Grampian and the Seven Days Sunday morning programme. Across a week if you look at the range of material and the balance of material which is covered in these three programmes, I would think in a normal week there will be a balance of coverage between the different institutions.

  (Mr Emslie) In terms of the coherence of the structure, the Heads of News and Current Affairs at both Scottish and Grampian are effectively running our entire news and current affairs output, so it is one production team reporting to executive producers. They are in one department, so Scottish Seven Days, Platform and Scotland Today are within the one production unit and in Grampian's case, North Tonight and Crossfire are within the same production unit. There is a great deal of coherence in terms of controlling and driving the editorial agenda.

  86. May I come back on one point which also strikes me in this particular area also relates to something we were told by Mr Robinson earlier on? It is the balance not just between Scotland and London and Brussels but also within Scotland and the degree to which it is possible to reflect a reasonable concern within Scotland. Just as what happens in England may not be of direct interest to most Scottish viewers, it may well be that what happens in the west of Scotland is not going to have the same interest in eastern Scotland or wherever. I understand from the submission that in the Border region, that as well as the Scottish/English division there are also opt-outs within the Scottish product, if I understand it correctly. I wondered how far the use of that kind of regional coverage in Scotland has been considered as well as in the Borders area.
  (Mr Robinson) Within Border TV there is only one split and that split is between the Scottish viewers in our region and the English viewers in our region. We do not sub-split between Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. There is only one split.

  87. I thought there was mention of a Selkirk opt-out at one point.
  (Mr Robinson) Yes, that was how it started. We started small and we expanded as the transmission engineering allowed us to do that. We took advantage of advances in the engineering and the transmitter modifications which allowed us to extend our Scottish edition from just the area around Selkirk to cover the whole of southern Scotland.

  88. Is there a case for saying there is a gap in the provision of local TV, city-based TV or regional-based TV within Scotland?
  (Mr Emslie) It is difficult to answer that because the recent attempts to set up city-based television, whether it be Edinburgh television or Lanark television, have found it very difficult to make the output and the concept a commercial reality. There is no real proof, even when these services have been set up, that there is a demand from the viewers. Within both the Scottish output and the Grampian output, and I am sure the same will be said for Border, while we broadcast to our whole regions, we do try to balance the agenda within our programmes in our respective regions. So we monitor very closely the balance of stories which come from Edinburgh and Glasgow within Scotland Today and I know that Derrick balances the stories which come from Dundee, Inverness, the Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Derrick in particular has a very demanding task, given that he is covering an area which is effectively the size of Switzerland and the geographical difficulties of covering an area like the Grampian region are logistically quite difficult. We do try to balance the agenda. To go further would require significant investment in transmitters. When the transmitter masts were set up, each region had a main transmitter which feeds all the other transmitters and to create opt-outs east, west and north and south would be significantly beyond any commercial reality in terms of the investment. We balance the agenda but we cannot split the regions.
  (Mr Robinson) The balance is measured independently by the Independent Television Commission. In the reports they publish annually and certainly in recent years, they have been content, so there has been a fair geographical and other balance across Scotland.

Mr Weir

  89. One of the things the BBC told us last week was that their regional editors for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, have a fair input with BBC national news on how Scottish stories are covered in the national news bulletins. I appreciate the structure of ITV and ITN is different and how you broadcast your news is back-to-front to the way the BBC do it, but I wondered whether you had any editorial input into how ITN cover major Scottish stories in their national news bulletins.
  (Mr Emslie) That is developing and you raise a very valid point. ITV have a commercial relationship with ITN and we effectively buy their services and they are a third party supplier to ITV. You are right that we are different from the BBC in that we do not own our own news output. Since devolution, we have been working very closely with ITN about how ITN cover devolved matters, how they explain the difference between the Ministers in England and Wales versus the devolved responsibility in Scotland. We have made some inroads into that and we are working to enhance that. We also have just finished negotiating the new contract with ITN and I was responsible for chairing that committee and negotiating the new contract. One of the principles of that new contract was to enhance the regionality within ITN and to try to get a much closer relationship between ITN and the regions. Several steps which have been put in place are that the correspondent for ITN and the person who will now be responsible for filing Scottish stories from later on this year will now be based with us in our regional office and will be one of our reporters who works with us and with ITN. ITN have also provided us with a satellite linking system where we can get access almost instantaneously to all their pool footage and their pool coverage. They will capture it as part of their news gathering organisation, they will stick it up on their satellite and it will be downloaded in Border, Grampian and Scottish. That will be a significant benefit to us to be able to cover the UK agenda by using ITN's footage. There is a much closer relationship and that relationship will develop under the new terms of the contract which does not begin until 1 January 2003. A lot of these developments will be coming in now.

  90. If the BBC hypothetically went down the road of a Scottish Six, do you see any pressure on your organisation to follow suit? Given your different structure is it in fact possible? I was interested in what you were saying about a satellite feed directly into your organisations.
  (Mr Emslie) If the BBC decide to go and produce the Scottish Six, that is a matter for the BBC and that would be discussed within BBC and within Government. There are certain differences between ourselves and the BBC in terms of the nominated news provider, also the primary legislation in the Act would actually prevent it at the moment in that we are mandated to broadcast simultaneously the UK and international news from ITN and that currently goes out at half past six. Therefore our structure is different. We think the balance we have at the moment gives us a good news hour in terms of regional news first and ITN news second. We have been discussing with ITN how we might be able to sleeve the news programme in terms of using a mechanism of headlines first at the six o'clock news and then going to regional news and then back to ITN news. If you look at our lunchtime news programme and indeed the way that the news is constructed some nights of the week at ten o'clock on ITV, ITN comes up at ten o'clock and then hands over to the regional news programme and then it comes back to ITN to sum up the headlines. All of these mechanisms could be used and we are trying and testing them right now and we will make some decision going forward into the latter part of the year.

Mr Robertson

  91. I was interested to hear what Sandy Ross was saying about the accessibility of the Scottish Parliament and what this means for the viewers. Going back to the balance, does this mean that whenever any political interviews are required, no matter whether it is a devolved or reserved matter, you are going to the Scottish Parliament, in effect you are picking somebody off the street?
  (Mr Ross) No, it does not mean that, but it will always be a matter for the Head of News on the day to decide. It is very specifically an operational matter for the Head of News at Scottish Television. He will decide on the news agenda of the day and what the best way is of taking a story forward. He will always try to find the most appropriate person to interview.

  92. Yet you said earlier that it was the accessibility of the Scottish Parliament that you used. Are you saying now that is not the case?
  (Mr Ross) The accessibility of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament obviously helps. To be quite honest, on a daily basis they are dealing with and discussing the kind of matters which are quite important to our viewers at six o'clock. Therefore if there is a specific story which affects transport or housing or health, which have all been fairly large issues in the last two or three weeks, these are all devolved matters.

  93. When was the last time Scottish Television did anything in Europe?
  (Mr Ross) We did a whole feature on David Martin when he stood for election about seven or eight days ago. We interviewed David, we had Martin Geissler, one of our reporters, live in Brussels reporting on the events of the day. We interviewed David at the end of the day when he failed to win the nomination.
  (Mr Emslie) May I make a further point which is not directly related to political coverage? During the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeiss we were transmitting live from Holland most days of the week and we put a significant investment into that. If the stories are there, then we shall go and find the stories.

Mr Carmichael

  94. On the last point you made about the issues of interest being devolved, one of the first ones which came into every list you produced was transport. You yourself were talking about Seven Days earlier, the Sunday programme. I may be doing it a slight disservice because I only caught it intermittently as I was trying to entertain two children on Sunday morning, but I seem to recall that it featured a debate between Kenny MacAskill and David Davidson about railways. What aspect of railways is devolved?
  (Mr Ross) ScotRail is a Scottish based company and they were discussing the current dispute on ScotRail.

  95. Do you not think that might have been an issue which would have been more appropriately covered by MPs?
  (Mr Ross) We take the decision on the basis of what is happening during the week. As I understand it, transport is a matter which is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and ScotRail is a company which deals with the Scottish Parliament. That was the reason we decided to approach it in that way.

  96. What I am suggesting to you is that it is natural, in fact it is quite right, that you say you have a parliament which is much more accessible, much more familiar, much easier to deal with in many ways than this place. What I am suggesting to you is that occasionally that can tend to produce a slight editorial laziness because you go to the people you know without necessarily thinking about where the ultimate responsibility lies. What do you think of that?
  (Mr Ross) It is possible.

Mr Joyce

  97. Harking back to the structure of news and current affairs, I think that SMG's output, and I only see Grampian and STV, but it is really strong right across the board and I especially commend your choice of the people you have to interview on a Sunday morning. It is a very strong submission as well and there is a kind of structural logic running right through it. One kind of thing which is absent from your submission which was not absent from the BBC's is this focus on what would be your six thirty bit, the ITN network bit. The BBC clearly feels, although it produces good output at the moment, that this business of the Scottish Six is a really, really major issue for the BBC. Looking at your submission and listening to what you had to say just now, it does not seem to have the same resonance for you. You represented it there as a contractual issue and whilst many things can be improved one way or another, it did not seem to be something which was at the very centre of your thinking. Why would that be the case, that you would not feel it was terribly important to produce your own version of ITN in Scotland?
  (Mr Emslie) The fundamental difference between us and the BBC is that the BBC have a guaranteed income of £2.2 billion and it is very easy for BBC London to decide how much they want to spend within the nations and regions, whether that be BBC Scotland or BBC Wales. We are a commercial broadcaster. Our only source of income is advertising income from advertisers. We are a commercial broadcaster and our remit within the UK industry as part of ITV is slightly different from that. We have to fund the 900 hours of Scottish and 400 hours of Grampian out of our own resources. We also have to pay a further £37 million into ITV in order to get the network programming back. The ITN news budget is a significant news budget and as relatively small regional contractors, which Scottish and Grampian and Border are, our combined share of ITV's income is probably somewhere between 6.5 and 7 per cent; so we are talking about a total income from advertising of less than £140 million. ITV this year will have about £1,700 million of income. Our income is able to support our network schedule and indeed our regional schedule and invest in the business for the future and we have to return value to shareholders. We are an almost entirely different business and our economic models are different. There is no denying that we would find it very difficult to resource financially within our economic model an ITN operation for Scotland.

  98. So you are businessmen, running an operation which presumably responds to what the consumer wants and there is a commercial logic to the shape of your provision. Would it be fair to say then that the same commercial logic will not apply to having a Scottish produced version of ITN? Is that essentially what you just said?
  (Mr Emslie) I did not say there was no commercial logic. We would find it difficult. Because of the scale of having foreign correspondents, the sheer size of the ITN budget, which is some £37 million on its own just to cover the half hour news for the United Kingdom, we would find it difficult to find that within our own resources, to have a separate contract with ITN to do exactly for Scotland what they do for ITV. The viewer research that we do would lead us to believe that our viewers are happy with what we are showing at the moment and it is even different between what you do and see in Scotland compared to what you see in Grampian and Border. Grampian and Border viewers value the localness and the viewers in central Scotland like the fact that Scottish Television is much more regional and may be a little bit more national in terms of its aspirations than Border and Grampian. Also, when asked the question about ITV and Trevor McDonald presenting UK and international news, they support that, they welcome that and they like that. There is no rush from our viewers to tell us that they want to see a Scottish Six on ITV.

Mr Weir

  99. I do not want to get bogged down on this issue completely. I took it from your earlier answers that you had at least considered the possibilities if it proved there was a demand for such a service when you were talking about the satellite links and the sleeving and various other options.
  (Mr Emslie) It is right and proper always to consider our output and ITN always consider how they move their programme on, how they refresh the content, refresh the look, refresh the presenters, change what they are doing and we all do that because we have to keep continually changing. In a very changing environment then we have to make sure that we can compete. While the cost, given our own resources, would be very difficult to manage, you have to consider ways of how we might be able to move our news programme on if the BBC decides to go with a six o'clock news.

3   Not published available from Scottish Media Group. Back

4   Ev 1. Back

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