Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Culture, Media and Sport (PDB 8)
1. This memorandum is provided at the request
of the Scottish Affairs Committee to inform its inquiry into the
effects of devolution on the structure of news and current affairs
broadcasting in Scotland.
2. Broadcasting is a matter reserved to
the UK Parliament. This reflects the fact that increasingly broadcasting
is no respecter of national boundaries, and that establishing
the multiple systems of regulation that would be necessary if
responsibility were devolved would risk impairing the competitiveness
of the UK broadcasting industry.
3. The UK has a well-established tradition
of regional broadcasting, delivered principally through the Channel
3 network and the BBC's regional variations and local radio services.
Broadcasting also plays an important role in supporting the creative
industries throughout the UK through regional production and commissioning.
4. The UK Government sets a framework for
broadcasting through the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 and through
the BBC Charter and Agreement. Further details are given in paragraphs
5-12 below. Within this framework, responsibility for what is
broadcast on television and radio rests with the broadcasters
and the broadcasting regulatory bodiesthe Governors of
the BBC, the Independent Television Commission, the Welsh Fourth
Channel Authority (S4C), the Broadcasting Standards Commission
and the Radio Authority. They are independent of the Government
and responsible for safeguarding the public interest in broadcasting.
1990 AND 1996
5. The Broadcasting Act 1990 sets out the
procedure to be followed by the Independent Television Commission
(ITC) in connection with consideration of applications for a licence.
Under section 16(1) of the Act, the ITC must ensure that a proposed
Channel 3 service complies with a number of requirements set out
in the Act. These include, at section 16(2)(a), that a sufficient
amount of time is given in the programmes included in the service
to news and current affairs programmes which are of high quality
and deal with both national and international matters. Such news
programmes must be broadcast at intervals throughout the period
for which the service is provided and, in particular, at peak
viewing times. These provisions are extended to Channel 5 by virtue
of section 29(2)(b).
6. In addition, section 31(1) of the 1990
Act specifies that a Channel 3 or Channel 5 licence shall include
conditions requiring the licence holder to broadcast in the service
news programmes of high quality dealing with national and international
matters, and to broadcast these programmes at intervals throughout
the period for which the service is provided and in particular
at peak viewing times.
7. Under section 25(2)(d) of the 1990 Act
the ITC must ensure that Channel 4's licence includes conditions
requiring it to devote a sufficient amount of time in Channel
4 programmes to news and current affairs programmes which are
of high quality.
8. Under section 16(2)(c) of the 1990 Act,
the ITC must ensure that a sufficient amount of time is given
in the programmes included in a Channel 3 service to (i) a suitable
range of regional programmes, that is programmes (including news
programmes) which are of particular interest to persons living
within the area for which the service is provided and, (ii) where
appropriate, a suitable range of programmes for each of the different
parts of that area or for each of the different communities living
within it. The ITC must also ensure that any news programmes so
included are of high quality.
9. Under section 16(2)(d), the ITC must
ensure that a suitable proportion of the regional programmes included
in a Channel 3 service in accordance with section 16(2)(c) are
made within the area for which the service is to be provided.
10. The Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996
make specific provision for broadcasting in the Gaelic language,
although there are no specific requirements with regard to news
or current affairs programming. Section 183 of the 1990 Act establishes
the Gaelic Television Fund, administered by the Gaelic Television
(now Broadcasting) Committee and section 183(4) specifies how
the Fund may be applied by the Committee. Section 184 of this
Act makes provision for the broadcasting of Gaelic television
programmes on Channel 3 in Scotland. Section 32 of the 1996 Act
makes provision for the digital broadcasting of Gaelic programmes.
BBC CHARTER AND
11. The Agreement between the BBC and the
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport sets out requirements
relating to programme content and standards for the Corporation's
public services. Clause 3.2(c) of the Agreement requires the BBC
to provide programming containing comprehensive, authoritative
and impartial coverage of news and current affairs in the UK and
throughout the world to support fair and informed debate at local,
regional and national levels. Clause 3.2(g) requires it to provide
programming that reflects the lives and concerns of both local
and national audiences.
12. Clause 3.2(h) requires the BBC to provide
programming that contains a reasonable proportion and range of
programmes for national audiences made in Northern Ireland, Scotland,
Wales and in the English regions outside London and the South
13. The Communications White Paper, published
in December 2000, set out proposals for a new framework for communications
regulation in the 21st century. It made clear the Government's
commitment to retain and strengthen the regional and national
dimension to public service broadcasting and to ensure that it
continues to meet the needs of different communities and cultural
interests. The White Paper also confirmed the strong support for
the regional identity of Channel 3 companies and recognised that
Channel 3's distinctiveness and strength lies in its regional
commissioning of new and high quality programming.
14. Under the three tier structure for the
regulation of broadcasting proposed in the White Paper, public
service broadcasters will be required to agree targets for regional
(and sub-regional) programming, and/or for regional production,
with the new regulator of broadcasting and telecommunications,
the Office of Communications or Ofcom. Ofcom will also have a
role in ensuring the availability of news and current affairs
programming in peak viewing times.
15. The White Paper also set out the Government's
intention to give careful consideration to the recommendations
of the Gaelic Broadcasting Task Force. The Government hopes to
be able to issue its responseon which views will be soughtshortly.