| Examination of Witnesses (Question
Numbers 360-369) |
10 NOVEMBER 2009
Q360 Mr Ainsworth: Can I ask how
you would make that case to my constituents in Surrey, who, if
you are thinking of using top-slicing of the licence fee, obviously
pay their licence fees but cannot watch your television programmes?
What is in it for them?
Mr Hain: I think this is about
viewers in Scotland, and the important thing from our perspective
as the broadcaster in most of Scotland is to do what we can to
ensure that the news service that they enjoy, rely on and use
daily somehow manages to persist into a digital future.
Q361 Chairman: You said that you
were looking to form partnerships in this new arrangement. This
Committee has received evidence from both the Scottish Newspaper
Publishers Association and the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society
strongly opposing any public funding for STV local news output
on the basis that this may give you an unfair competitive advantage.
How do you respond to that?
Mr Hain: I think the merits of
our case will need to be considered by those making the decisions.
I am slightly confused by the role and the position of the Scottish
Daily Newspaper Society, which purports to represent all of the
Scottish daily newspapers and yet, on the one hand, they are saying
the idea of the use of public funds would be a bad idea and, on
the other hand, several of their members have formed a Scottish
consortium to bid for the same money. I am not really sure if
they think it is a bad idea or a good idea. What I am absolutely
convinced about is the strength of the offering that we provide,
the quality of the news, and that is what this debate is really
about: are we going to be able to make that continue as we move
into a digital world?
Q362 Chairman: But you do not see
the position in Scotland being similar to that in the English
regions, where there are going to be these new independent regional
news consortia looking for funding to provide the local news on
the ITV bulletin?
Mr Hain: No, we see that there
is every possibility that that could be the same kind of make-up
of consortium. We are speaking to a number of different potential
partners in different media and I think there is every chance
that, as we finally come forward with a new proposaland
I would hesitate thereI would say that what we have unveiled
as the integrated news bulletin is a vision, it is not a clear
proposal yet, it needs working on and it needs refining, but we
did think it was important to have a debate around our news and
what news content in Scotland means and what it should look like.
We think there is a very strong chance that we will team up with
other players in Scotland, or maybe elsewhere, to come together
to provide such a service. The consortium idea we absolutely get
and see the value of and we will be investigating that as we move
Mr MacMillan: It is also worth
noting, perhaps, that we have offered to make our video material
available to third parties as part of this proposal so that some
Scottish newspapers may also be able to benefit from some of the
video material that will be gathered under this proposal.
Q363 Chairman: You are in active
conversation with particular Scottish newspapers?
Mr Hain: A number of partners,
not just newspapers.
Q364 Mr Watson: Do you accept that
a subsidy would give you a competitive advantage over your commercial
rivals in different media like newspapers and radio?
Mr Hain: I do not think it would.
One of the things that we have to be very clear about is that
the use of any public funds to sustain Channel 3 news has to be
absolutely transparent and clear. There will need to be very clear
accounting for every penny spent, and that will go towards the
provision of Channel 3 news or Internet news, for example, online
services for the consortium, as agreed but what it is not is simply
a top-up funding mechanism for STV which would put us in a position
that was any more favourable than competitive media.
Q365 Mr Watson: Will you be giving
the video content and online newspaper sites for free?
Mr Hain: That is our proposal,
Q366 Adam Price: The Scottish Broadcasting
Commission's idea of a digital channel for Scotland seems to have
been buried by the Digital Britain Report, which did not include
it amongst its recommendations. Do you think that is a shame?
Mr Hain: We support the idea of
a digital channel. As a broadcaster who does see returns and the
value of material relevant for the audience, which is not available
on other channels largely, we do see the editorial idea behind
such a channel has merit. What we have said all along is that
we do not think establishing a channel should be at the expense
of STV's news and, as a matter of priority, one of the first areas
that we need to look at is how can we continue to provide news
which does have a very high and loyal audience that expects it,
actually a different audience from the BBC, which is an important
point to make. This is an audience that the BBC does not always
reach. This is a different audience in society, a different television
audience for our news from the BBC. It expands the reach of public
service broadcasting. We have said all along that, attractive
though a channel would be and we would love to produce for a such
a channel, there are channel management operations that we might
be able to provide for such a channel, it should not be at our
expense and the priority is what happens to regional news.
Q367 Adam Price: You see in the future
architecture of Scottish television that STV could continue to
sit alongside a new national digital channel?
Mr Hain: Yes. Also I think that
the idea of, not just a channel, but potentially a fund for content
that could be distributed either through existing channels or
online is an attractive one. I think that the creation of more
content for Scotland not being made elsewhere is attractive.
Q368 Adam Price: That is the idea
that is being mooted in Wales, the content.
Mr Hain: Yes.
Adam Price: Thank you.
Q369 Chairman: I think that is all
we have for you. Thank you very much.
Mr Hain: Thank you.