Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
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.
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 timeSimon
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.
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
(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.
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
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
(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
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.
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.
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
(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.
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
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.
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