Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
120. Alongside the question of the panel itself,
is there any way yourselves or the BBC can identify a greater
interest in current affairs and news programmes post devolution?
Are any figures available at all on that? Are there any figures
to indicate a greater interest?
(Mr Ross) Yes. It depends on the programme. For example
on the day that Henry McLeish resigned, to use that as an example,
we brought forward the late Thursday night edition of Crossfire
to seven thirty in the evening and even up against EastEnders
on a Thursday night, that got a very, very big audience. Another
example was on the day that Cardinal Winning died. We transmitted
a special programme which we made during the course of that day
and transmitted it at six o'clock that night. That got an audience
in excess of half a million viewers which surprised us. The answer
to your question really comes back to the issues and if certain
things are happening which viewers are interested in, then they
will watch the programmes. One of the biggest disappointments
for us recently for example was that we made two special one-hour
documentaries, one which we transmitted on the first anniversary
of Donald Dewar's death which was an objective assessment of his
career and that, to us, got a disappointing audience. We promoted
that and trailed it very hard on Scottish and Grampian. We also
made a similar programme when Alex Salmond retired as leader of
the SNP to mark his ten years. Some of you may be smiling because
you probably think that would not get a big audience, but we promoted
that fairly heavily and we got disappointing figures. Both of
these programmes were serious investments on our part and were
both very well made documentaries. You can take a horse to water.
121. You say it is related more to the issue
itself and the audience response to that rather than an overall
figure which shows an increased audience for news and current
(Mr Emslie) When I said we employed companies like
System 3, within their brief what they will do is interview in
home 1,000 in the Scottish region and 1,000 in the Grampian region
so that it is statistically and geographically representative
and monitor what they think of our output. It will not surprise
you to know that it comes back saying they want more High Roads,
they want more local programming in certain aspects, certain regions
of the country will want more Gaelic or less Gaelic depending
on where they are and they get annoyed about us moving Coronation
Street. It is difficult to give you a direct answer in terms of
what the viewers think when we put on programmes and there is
a response and we get comments back either through a website or
a viewers' inquiry desk and we are out in the regions with between
us some 100 journalists on a day-to-day basis which gives us quite
a lot of feedback.
(Mr Thomson) One of the direct spin-offs from the
news and current affairs programmes is that both Scottish and
Grampian now do North Tonight specials and Scotland Today specials
which directly attack the issues which are on the table. Certainly
we know from the figures which have been coming out of those two
programmesand they are peak slotsthat there is an
appetite for those local issues raised to that level.
122. I must say I get quite annoyed as well
when you move Coronation Street.
(Mr Emslie) It is only moved on a Wednesday night
to accommodate live football.
123. That is what annoys me.
(Mr Emslie) I have to say that it is the biggest source
of comments from our viewers to our viewers' inquiry desk.
124. I am sure it is. BBC told us last week
that after ten or ten thirty in the evening figures plummet anyway.
Programmes like Platform and Crossfire are on very
late in the evening. What kind of viewing figures would you get
for these programmes?
(Mr Ross) It depends on the issues. The average figure
tends to be around 100,000 viewers watching a programme like Platform
or Crossfire. There could be certain weeks, dependent on
the issue, where that figure could go up almost to 140,000. One
of the things we are looking to do as part of our ongoing discussions
with ITV and the ITC about the place of original programming in
the future is to bring programmes like Platform, Crossfire,
slightly earlier in the schedule. Hopefully if we can move them
to a better time like 10.30 then that would help increase our
viewing figures for these programmes.
125. You have all stated that you have increased
your companies' staff in Edinburgh as a result of devolution.
I think that is true of all the media in Scotland. Is there any
sense that the working arrangements of the Scottish Parliament
and the number of journalists located there, which I understand
can be up to 70 at any one time, have created an overlarge media
microscope which in the pursuit of a story might tend to magnify
devolved issues at the expense of the broader picture?
(Mr Emslie) You raise a very valid issue. Scotland
now has some 19 newspapers circulating. We have all the indigenous
Scottish newspapers and all the Scottish editions of the English
newspapers and they all have correspondents in the Parliament.
The radio companies cover it. In terms of SMG all of us share
facilities at the Scottish Parliament with ITN and in terms of
the Parliament itself, the people we have put in there are representative.
However, you raise a point which is probably more directed at
the newspapers and at times a bit of a frenzy develops in terms
of public issues.
126. May I take that point about newspapers
a bit further? Your own company represents a growing trend of
multimedia companies with interests in the press, radio, TV, cinema,
etcetera and that is also becoming a feature of multi-nationalism
with things like Murdoch and AOL. Do you think that this growing
trend of multimedia, which includes the press, which is not regulated
in the same way as broadcast news and radio, is having an effect
on the political balance and control of stories and the fact that
you have journalists feeding off other journalists? We have an
increasing tendency in broadcasting to have journalists interviewing
other journalists; we see this as a regular feature. It is the
same people interviewing their pals. Do you not see an implicit
danger of conflicts emerging?
(Mr Emslie) If all we had was journalists interviewing
journalists, then I would agree, but I do not think that is what
we have. In terms of our organisation, we absolutely believe in
editorial independence and the editor of The Herald has the control
over what is contained within his newspaper, as does the Evening
Times, as does the Sunday Herald. Derrick and his Head of News
and Sandy and his Head of News have editorial control over our
output. We are not taking all our editorial staff together and
considering what to report today because we are all outwith our
own news organisations, our own journalists, our own reporters
covering what we think our viewers should watch and be informed
about and The Herald journalists are doing exactly the same. As
a cross-media group there is no danger of us coming together to
interfere with editorial independence. Yes, political commentators
are now seen very regularly, whether it be News Night or ITN or
whatever, commenting on the affairs. In television we have an
obligation to be impartial. We have to balance the agenda, so
if all we did was interview journalists, that would not be seen
as being impartial. We have to interview right the way across
the political spectrum.
127. Obviously SMG is a Scottish based company
and I fully appreciate the comments you have made about your own
editorial standards. Given the fact of growing multi-nationalism
and the fact of these very huge corporate companies such as AOL
or Rupert Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's company was alleged at one
stage to have told its staff not to talk adversely about China
because they were trying to get contracts in Asia. Obviously that
is a large example, but if there were a takeover of SMG at some
stage down the line, which is not something which could be predictable
in the current global climate, do you not think there is an increasing
trend where there are fewer and fewer people owning the press
and media altogether and that the difficulty of trying to enforce
editorial control will become all that much more difficult?
(Mr Emslie) The issue is different for broadcasting.
Newspapers, as you rightly point out, do not face the same constraints
on their editorial policy. They are free to run with an agenda,
run with a policy and that has always been the case and I suspect
that will not change. Within the broadcasting part of the Communications
Bill, we are very keen to make sure that our regional licences
are protected and I am sure that written into the Bill will be
this aspect of impartiality and that we have to be fair to everybody.
That will continue and it will continue on radio and on television.
128. So regulation is the key.
(Mr Emslie) I think regulation will protect you. To
be fair, certainly in our experience, there have been very few
occasions when our own self-governing on our impartiality and
our ability to cover the agenda have ever been questioned.
129. The OFCOM second reading went through the
other week. How do you think the new OFCOM regulator will affect
(Mr Emslie) We welcome the inclusion of a regulator
who covers the converging aspects of the media and we think it
is a step forward in terms of one regulator being able to take
in the ITC, Broadcasting Standards Council, the Radio Authority,
the Radio Communications Agency and we welcome that. Our position
is that there should continue to be, certainly in the Scottish
context, officers and personnel within OFCOM so that we have access
to OFCOM through regional offices and up onto the main boards
and committees. Our principal concern with OFCOM is that it does
not include the BBC in all its remit. BBC is regulated within
tiers one and two in OFCOM but not within tier three which is
effectively the backstop powers which will remain with the Secretary
of State. In our submission to the Communication White Paper,
what we have said is that in order to regulate the whole communications
industry, you should include the BBC within the regulation of
OFCOM in order to regulate the whole market. BBC represents half
the radio market and an increasing percentage of the television
market with its launch of several digital channels. We think that
should be within OFCOM.
130. You will be very surprised to learn the
BBC did not agree with you.
(Mr Emslie) I am sure they did not.
131. While I was sympathetic to what you are
saying, I was also very sympathetic to the BBC. If we want to
bring the BBC under the OFCOM umbrella, should we introduce the
same guidelines from government to the BBC that we do to yourselves?
(Mr Emslie) Effectively that is being discussed at
the moment. We would say that within the terms of our licence
we are actually currently more heavily regulated than the BBC.
The BBC have a charter and a broad remit in terms of the range
and diversity whereas ITV are mandated specifically in programme
genres to deliver minimum levels of programming by genre both
at a network level and at a regional level and the ITC have the
power to step in and impose licence sanctions if we do not live
up to these remits. That current situation does not exist within
the BBC. We would certainly welcome a move to more self-regulation
which is where the BBC currently is, where the governors oversee
the BBC's output and their promises. We are moving slightly towards
that at the moment within the ITC where instead of having nine
different genres of programming they have now gone down to news,
current affairs and other. We have some flexibility within the
total level but we are moving forward to making statements of
range and diversity which would not specifically tie us in to
specific quotas. We would be making public promises about what
we hope and our ambitions for the service within this statement
of range and diversity. If we do not live up to that and live
up to the remit then OFCOM could stand in and impose sanctions.
We are moving towards levels of regulation similar to those currently
enjoyed by the BBC. The one difference is that OFCOM will not
have the backstop powers over the BBC.
132. Would you then make the kind of programmes
the BBC make at the moment which you do not make?
(Mr Emslie) It depends whether you are talking about
ITV or us as a regional broadcaster. We and BBC Scotland actually
make quite similar programmes for the vast majority of our regional
output. It is news, sport, current affairs and religion. We will
continue to make that. ITV is slightly different from the BBC
in its network programmes in that it is a commercial broadcaster.
It has to produce a mass audience and it has to be popular. Typical
ITV programmes like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Coronation
Street, Trevor McDonald's Tonight programme, in-depth
one-hour documentaries will all still be there. What ITV might
not do is programmes like the Blue Planet or Walking
With Dinosaurs which the BBC is very well equipped to produce
and that is exactly the type of programme they should be making.
133. You may be aware that the BBC are considering
sponsoring street parties across England and Wales not in celebration
of the Golden Jubilee but in celebration of the fact that last
year they overtook commercial television in their viewing figures.
Those street parties will stop at the border, because of course
they have not done that in Scotland. There have been some reports
in the paper about there being some concern within the BBC about
that. To what extent do you think that commercial television's
relative success in that in Scotland comes about as a consequence
of its news and current affairs programming?
(Mr Emslie) That is a difficult question. If you look
at our regional output, the vast majority of the audiences we
deliver to regional programmes comes from news and current affairs.
We have half-hour news at six o'clock and it represents the biggest
part of our output. In terms of audience size, there is no doubt
that the peak time programmes deliver vastly bigger audiences
across the network than regional news programmes. The Scottish
audience traditionally likes entertainment programmes, they love
quiz programmes, they love talent shows, they like to see people
getting up and singing and competing and therefore the traditional
ITV schedule, which on a Saturday night might be Blind Date
or Stars In Their Eyes or Pop Idol, the soap operas,
all do significantly better as you move north through the country
than they do down in the south-east. It is a combination of the
strength of the traditional ITV popular entertainment schedule
and the fact that we are very local and regional broadcasters
which sustains our position in the market. We do not want to lose
that. What Neil said about us being regarded as the local station
is very important to us. That is why we have been able to beat
the BBC in Scotland by two clear percentage points in terms of
our audience share. It is why Neil's Look Around programme, which
to be fair is probably the highest rating programme on the ITV
network in regional news, gets somewhere between a 50 and 60 per
cent share of the audience where the average might be closer across
the UK to 25 per cent. It is that unique combination of populism,
entertainment and local and regional programming which will help
us protect our audience.
134. Do you believe that your organisations
are doing enough to cater for the needs of ethnic minority communities
in terms of jobs and programmes?
(Mr Emslie) The very brief answer to that is that
we are not doing enough and it is a concern to me. We are doing
a lot to improve relationships with the groups in Scotland. We
have had a problem because of our financial position in terms
of our advertising income and we have had a freeze on recruitment
for the last six to eight months, but when we are able, we go
out of our way to try to make sure we are recruiting. The answer
is that at the moment people from the ethnic communities do not
see us as an employer and we have to change that. We have to encourage
them to come into the media industry.
Chairman: May I thank you very much for your
co-operation this morning and for your very full and frank answers?
May I assure you that this will be very helpful to us when we
come to making our report? Thank you very much. Order, order.