By Angela Haggerty
SKY’s former head of programming and CEO of Channel 5, David Elstein, has warned that an “imbalance” in Scottish coverage from the BBC could become an issue in next year’s independence referendum and called for Scotland to have its own channel.
In a recent blog post on OpenDemocracy.net, the TV executive said it was “impossible” to discuss broadcasting in the UK without the BBC being at the heart of the debate and said it was time for a dedicated Scottish channel.
“I gave evidence last month to the House of Lords Communications Committee that is investigating how to measure media plurality,” he said. “What I did not emphasise then, I emphasise now: a channel run by Scots, for Scots and funded by Scots is overwhelmingly overdue, both as part of that process of devolving editorial authority, and – just as importantly – as an expression of the Scots nation.”
Mr Elstein said that the BBC collected “well over” £300m from Scottish licence fee payers “but returns far less than that in terms of programme budgets and commissions.” and said the imbalance was “crying out” to be rectified.
He said: “A bi-partisan Scottish Broadcasting Commission, appointed by the Scottish Parliament, reported in 2009 that there was a need significantly to upgrade the quality, extent and identifiably Scottish nature of broadcast content in Scotland. A key component of the report was the recommendation that a dedicated volume of output be broadcast by a Scottish Digital Network.
“In the four years since the SBC’s report, there has been little progress on the Digital Network, which consequently already has a slightly dated air about it.”
The comments come just days after the BBC Trust announced the launch of a 12-week consultation to gather views about the BBC’s reporting of the independence referendum. Mr Elstein noted that media regulator Ofcom was already putting pressure on the Trust to “find ways to offset its dominant place as a news provider by extending internal plurality”.
He added: “Granting far greater independence to BBC Scotland is one way to meet this demand. The bigger step – a fully independent Scottish network, funded by the licence fee – needs to be built above this, and can be delivered by a determined campaign launched as part of the independence campaign.”
The former Sky programming boss said the BBC’s income – £3.6bn from the licence fee, plus another £1.5bn gross and £150m net from commercial activities – was controlled from London and warned that the UK’s regions were not well enough serviced.
Mr Elstein went on to say that 2015 would be the year the BBC faced a range of pressures “over its scale and scope, its governance and its financing” as the renewal of its Royal Charter approached.
Last year the TV executive called for the BBC to be broken up after the scandal of the Jimmy Savile affair.
Mr Elstein wrote: “The arthritic response of the BBC to the Savile affair has exposed an unnecessarily complex management structure, a confused and confusing governance system, and an urgent need to break up the monolithic news and current affairs department.”