Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

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 proposal—and I would hesitate there—I 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 forward.

  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, yes.

  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.

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