Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Border Television Limited (PDB 5)


  Border Television has steadily increased its coverage of Scottish matters since the late 1980's and has markedly increased coverage since Devolution. This has been achieved, in the main, through the provision of a split news service across Southern Scotland. Border's regional programmes are amongst the most watched local programmes in the UK.

Neil Robinson

Director of Programmes

23 November 2001


  Border Television is unique within terrestrial television in the U.K. It is the only television station that covers a region that crosses a national boundary and it is a region that embraces three separate and distinct cultures—English, Scottish and Manx. Within the region there are further sub groups that are markedly different from their near neighbours. For example, the West Cumbrian outlook, shaped by its history of heavy industry, is different from that of North Cumbria, parts of which have some of the lowest unemployment levels in the UK, those in rural Galloway have different viewpoints from those in the Scottish Borders textile towns and the rivalry between those Border communities, as demonstrated on the rugby pitch, is legendary. Yet, there is more that binds those in the Border Television region than separates them. We hold a non-metropolitan view of the world and the concerns of city life and the solutions to inner city problems do not always apply here.

  The whole region is linked to the fortunes of the rural economy and inward investment decisions into any part of the region, either in Scotland or England, have to take into account a workforce spread across a sparse area over which there are poor transport links. The people here are united by a history which for centuries saw them fiercely contest the Borderlands through alliances that ignored nationhood and political boundaries. This, along with a conservative tradition shaped by remoteness and life within small communities, has given a strong sense of identity to those in the Border Television region who recognise that although at times they desire to be seen apart from their near neighbours they acknowledge they share a way of life that is different from that in much of the rest of the British Isles.

Broadcasting Prior To Devolution:

  In the 1980's advances in engineering made it possible to modify the Selkirk transmitter to allow it to carry a sub-opt news service. Border Television was not obliged through a condition of the Licence to take advantage of this modification and to provide a sub opt news service for those people who received ITV through the Selkirk transmitter. However, the Board of Directors of the company decided that the news sub-opt ought to be provided as a service to viewers. In 1989, Border began transmitting the service, (which was known as the Selkirk News Opt-Out) for several minutes each night during the Lookaround news magazine programme. Some news items from the Selkirk area were still seen by all of the viewers in the region because they were deemed to be of interest to all Border viewers but some very local news stories were seen only by those in the area served by the opt-out.

  The Selkirk sub-opt served a population of little more than 100,000, making it the smallest dedicated news service on mainstream television in the U.K. Under the new Licence granted to the company, coming into force, in 1991 Border was required to provide the Selkirk sub opt news service.

Broadcasting Post Devolution

  In the late 1990's further engineering modifications took place and Channel 24 on the Caldbeck transmitter in Cumbria was made available to Border. This gave the opportunity to split the signal further and to provide a separate sub regional news service across most of Southern Scotland (except for small patches where the split signal can not be received). Border was not obliged to extend the Selkirk news opt out across Southern Scotland, however, the Board, once again, decided that it would be advantageous to viewers to do so. The decision to extend the news split to take in Dumfries and Galloway as well as the Borders was taken in recognition of the increased interest and awareness of Scottish affairs as a result of Devolution and in order to give adequate time on air to cover news and issues arising out of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish news "split" was launched on Border Television in April 1999 and has remained in place since then.

  Through this service, viewers in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders receive a dedicated local news at lunchtime and for a part of the Lookaround news magazine programme. In addition, Border has established an office in Edinburgh (within the Lawnmarket complex) with an edit and camera facility, and the company has recruited technical and journalistic staff to provide coverage of the affairs of the Scottish Parliament.

  Coverage of Scottish Affairs at Westminster has not diminished in the sense that when newsworthy items arise from Westminster they are covered in the same way that they were prior to Devolution. Arrangements for coverage of Scottish affairs at Westminster remain unchanged.

  Under the terms of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, Section 78, the requirement to provide the Scottish split news service became a Licence obligation when Border Television PLC was taken over by Capital Radio PLC (to be acquired in 2001 by the Granada Media Group under a "put and call" agreement).

  In addition to news, Border is able, on occasions, to transmit separate sports coverage to English and Scottish viewers within the region. This has been achieved, notably when Champions League matches are played. This split was first used in August 1999 when Chelsea v Skonto Riga was shown to viewers in the English part of the Border Television region while Rangers v. Parma was seen by viewers in the Scottish part of the region. This facility has been adopted on a number of occasions when scheduling arrangements and sporting fixtures allow.

  The provision of the split service has amounted to a continuing significant investment by Border. On 21 November 2001 digital satellite viewers in the Border Television region started to receive the Border ITV service. Border's split service being extended to digital satellite with Scottish Border viewers receiving the station's Scottish service while the south of the Border receives the English signal.

Programme Output and Content

  Border Television represents something of a success story in terms of regional television in the U.K. Border Television viewers have a tremendous appetite for local programmes. The news magazine programme "Lookaround" has been the most watched programme of its kind in Britain, either BBC or ITV, for several years. On a number of occasions in 2001 Lookaround was watched by more than 60 per cent of the television audience. This is a remarkably high figure; the BBC locally on those occasions was watched by fewer than 30 per cent of the audience. The Independent Television Commission in its Annual Performance Review statements in recent years has pointed to the fair geographical spread of news coverage across the Border Television region. This and the fact that the region is not dominated by a large metropolitan centre but instead comprises small communities means that output is more relevant to viewers. Border's success has depended upon its deep roots in the region it serves (it is considered THE local station) and through understanding the region and its viewers.

  Many of Border's feature programmes are tremendously popular in all parts of the region regardless of whether the subject matter is predominantly English or Scots or Manx. Popular factual programmes, docu-soaps, single programmes and series have all performed well in recent years, occasionally being viewed by more than 50 per cent of the audience (again a remarkable achievement and rarely matched for local television on BBC or ITV).

  Border's programme policy regarding Current Affairs has been to report on, to analyse and to reflect significant issues in the region. On occasion Current Affairs programmes have dealt with specific issues, for instance in 1999 Border screened a series that examined the crisis in the Border's Textile Industry. Other current affairs programmes and series have dealt with region wide issues and most Border current affairs programmes examine issues from a Border region standpoint—on how people living on either side of the National border are affected. Border is the only broadcaster that does this, the only broadcaster that examines issues from a Border region perspective. Border, as the late Lord Whitelaw once said, is the "cohesive force that binds the region together".

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