Scottish independence: TV licence fee pledge

SCOTLAND’S culture secretary insists income from the existing licence fee would be enough to run a new national public service broadcaster in the event of independence.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop made the claims at the Salford Media Festival. Picture: Jane Barlow
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop made the claims at the Salford Media Festival. Picture: Jane Barlow

Fiona Hyslop insisted there would be no need for advertising to produce a high-quality service which would effectively replace BBC Scotland’s output.

And she pointed out that of the £320 million million expected to be raised by the licence fee in Scotland 2016-17, only £175 million was due to be spent north of the border.

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Although details of exactly how the new broadcaster would take over following a “yes” vote are not be revealed until next week’s independence white paper, she said the government would “put in place the necessary steps, working in a continuing relationship with the BBC”.

Addressing a major industry conference in England, she said Scotland’s “huge” pool of creative talent was not well-served by existing broadcast arrangements or reflected by currents level of production north of the border.

And she pledged that the “deficit in opportunities” for producers and other creative figures operating in the broadcasting world would be meaningfully addressed in an independent Scotland, with a new mainstream TV channel.

Different models adopted around the world are being explored by the government, including Denmark, France, Australia and Ireland.

‘Open access’

First Minister Alex Salmond outlined plans for a new public service broadcaster - “based on the existing staff and assets of BBC Scotland” - at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last August, claiming viewers in Scotland were currently being “short-changed.”

Addressing the Salford Media Festival, Ms Hyslop said the success of BBC Alba, the national Gaelic channel, in its first five years had already shown there was an appetite for public service broadcasting in Scotland.

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Ms Hyslop said there would be “open access” to broadcasters from outwith Scotland post-independence, with the aim of increasing the number of productions both “for and from” the country.

She also committed the Scottish Government to honour all existing broadcasting licences and said there would be no question that shows like Coronation Street or X-Factor would still be available for viewers in the event of a “yes” vote next year.

The BBC’s “Scotland-only” budget is thought to be around £100 million, but this does not include the cost of UK network productions made north of the border, which is thought to be worth another £75 million.

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Ms Hyslop said: “The importance of publicly-funded public service broadcasting to a nation’s democracy, creative economy, and to its sense of self cannot be underestimated.

“Whether online, TV and radio, these broadcasts are a daily part of the lives of everyone in Scotland, but their opportunities to access programming commissioned, produced and developed in Scotland is still far too limited.

“Scotland’s production talent has a well-earned reputation for developing and producing high-quality programming and content. We must have a framework in place that allows them to fulfil their potential and flourish.

“I believe that we should learn from the best traditions of publicly funded public service broadcasters, whether from the BBC or from further afield.

“The BBC is a substantial presence internationally in broadcasting, capable of commissioning, co-commissioning, producing and co-producing content programming that is world class.

“Alongside that proud track record though, is the curious position of the digital revolution giving all of us a choice of hundreds of channels; yet

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Scotland does not have an English-language publicly-funded public service channel of its own.

“It is paradoxical, to say the least, that the Scottish Government does have some powers over broadcasting in Gaelic, yet has almost no powers over English language broadcasting in Scotland.

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“Similarly that Scotland can have a nightly news programme covering international and national news in Gaelic, but not in English, defies any common sense.

“Our partnership approach with the BBC on Gaelic has been fruitful, but it is clear that Scotland in general is under-served by the BBC under its current structure and our current constitutional arrangements.

“Following independence we will put in place the necessary steps, working in a continuing relationship with the BBC, to ensure that the people of Scotland continue to have access to the services they currently enjoy.

“After independence we will establish a national publicly-funded public service broadcaster based on the existing staff and assets of BBC Scotland.

“In addition, when compared to the expenditure by nations of a comparable size on their primary public service broadcaster it is clear that Scotland’s currently level of licence fee would be more than sufficient to provide a high-quality service, and as such I would not envisage the Scottish broadcaster carrying advertising.”

Film sector wants help

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Ms Hyslop has been targeted by leading figures in the Scottish film industry who are demanding greater support for the sector, amid claims it is teetering on the brink of disaster as just £3 million is available for major productions each year. Pressure is mounting on the government to commit to investment in the nation’s first proper studio facilities, although £2 million has been ring-fenced for a “loan fund” for such a project.

Ms Hyslop insisted there was “considerable activity” within the TV and film sectors in Scotland, adding: “I want to see our screen industries flourish.

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“With access to all fiscal levers following independence, future Scottish Governments could set policy in the round to best suit our own industry, through a balanced combination of fiscal policy, funding mechanisms and other supports, just as countries such as France and Ireland have introduced specific measures.”