What is the role of Broadcasting in Scotland?

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  By John Drummond
 
Control of broadcasting is handled differently across the world.  However in most cases there is a degree of state control.
 
The first major broadcaster in the UK, the British Broadcasting Company (now known as the British Broadcasting Corporation) was formed 90 years ago.  It prides itself on being independent of government control.

By John Drummond
 
Control of broadcasting is handled differently across the world.  However in most cases there is a degree of state control.
 
The first major broadcaster in the UK, the British Broadcasting Company (now known as the British Broadcasting Corporation) was formed 90 years ago.  It prides itself on being independent of government control.

Some may find this assertion whimsical bearing in mind that its chair and governing body (the BBC Trust) are appointed by a UK Government Minister, who also agrees its budget.  ‘Independence’ in this case may conform to the classic British definition of the term in that an entity is deemed to be independent of state control if its leadership alternates between supporters of the two main parties.

This arrangement may be excusable – though scarcely free of state control – when the state itself remains intact.  However it is poorly structured to cope otherwise. 

The BBC Trust member for Scotland is appointed, just like all the others.  Is it his job to represent the Scottish people or the people who appointed him?  Does this arrangement best suit a pre-Referendum Scotland?

The Constitutional Commission met several times with the BBC, including its Trust member for Scotland, to address this point.  The BBC’s corporate reaction was that they have not and will not consider any changes until ‘the politicians tell us otherwise’.  When asked if this is the most effective process, they replied; ‘we do not do any scenario planning in this regard, and will treat any suggestion that we are doing any such planning as actionable’.

There are other broadcasters in Scotland of course.  But the arrangements put in place by the state give the BBC unique status and influence, thereby determining how other broadcasters react.

As Scotland engages in a process of constitutional change, we need to consider whether the BBC is still fit for purpose.

Does the BBC Trust model still work?  Should BBC Trust members be elected, or at least subject to cross-party approval?  Who should decide on questions of ‘balance’ in pre-referendum coverage?  How might the governance of non-partisan, public-interest broadcasting be structured in a future independent Scottish state?

With public trust in the BBC at an all-time low, the Constitutional Commission’s public meeting at the Scots Parliament on December 11th could hardly be better timed.

The meeting with a panel of distinguished commentators will examine the current and future role of broadcasting in Scotland, including the place of the BBC and other media outlets, and will address the prospects for fundamental reform.

The meeting will have the ‘Question Time’ format that worked well in our successful public meeting in June.  The December 11th panel includes respected journalist Iain MacWhirter, Historian Professor Tom Devine, former SNP advisor Ewan Crawford, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine and blogger Kate Higgins.

Those wishing to register their interest can do so at this link – http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/3724092862.

John Drummond is Chair and co-founder of the Constitutional Commission