Whoever wrote Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop’s keynote speech for today’s “Where now for Scottish Broadcasting?” gathering in Glasgow got the topic trinity right – what will be the respective contributions of the longed-for Scottish Digital Network, the existing broadcasters and the public agencies in addressing the cultural, democratic and economic deficit that characterises the existing state of affairs. Addressing those themes the Minister made much of the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership (SCIP) which she and no doubt every one else in the room feverently hopes will bring a much needed joined-up approach to the broadcasting and creative industries nexus. Ms Hyslop was however noticeably less keen to pick up the gauntlet laid down by Blair Jenkins when he set out his vision for the future network’s role in Scottish life. In a speech redolent of Jeremy Issac’s famous 1979 McTaggart lecture (widely seen at the time as a job application to head up Channel 4 – in his case the pitch worked) Jenkins raised spirits with talk of how Scottish broadcasting had moved on from the ‘spiral of decline’ of just three years ago and was poised to enter a new future, one however that still had to be fought for as ‘nothing in life happens if you just cross your fingers and wait’.
Envisaging a service which would offer audiences the full spectrum of programme genres, provide new opportunities for programme makers and address social inclusion and the ‘digital deficit’, Jenkins reminded the gathering that our Parliament had unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission report over a year ago but that “consensus in Scottish politics is a rare thing and shouldnt be squandered”.
The choice of funding model – taking a slice of the proceeds from auctioning off released spectrum or top-slicing the BBC Licence fee – was up to Government but regardless of the route (the former being his clear preference) the commitment to fund a new service needed to be fought for and that was the implicit challenge to Fiona Hyslop. Sadly it was one she wasnt prepared to take up, arguing (somewhat confusingly) that rather than argue over how the funding cake might in future be sliced up we should look to the growth of the Creative Industries as an economic goal and avoid too much emphasis on the cultural justification for public investment in a new broadcaster. This rather avoided the issue at hand, since the extra demand which a new channel could inject into the production sector and its wider creative industries supply chain can only be created by public investment in setting it up and a sustainable revenue model – precisely what Jenkins was calling on all present to sign up to. With advertising and subscription both effectively ruled out the only options left are the ones he set out which leaves the Scottish Government facing the question – will you vigorously pursue Westminster for a commitment to a Scottish Network, and the means to fund it, or not?
Jenkins is convinced that such a commitment could be secured in this election year and the new channel launched in 2012. He could be right but it will take a concerted effort by not just the Culture Minister but a cross party coalition to keep such a prospect high up the political agenda. Judging by the evidence of today’s event, Blair may have raised the standard but the clans have yet to gather…