Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. So you have a regular dialogue.
  (Mr Walker) Yes.

  141. Has there been any research on the audience response to post devolution news and current affairs broadcasting? What general level of interest in current affairs broadcasting in Scotland is now discernible? Have you noticed any difference since devolution?
  (Mr Goode) We have a piece of research from Scottish Radio Listener which is something we pay about £140,000, £150,000 on a 15-month basis to put into the market. It is an in-depth piece of research. For example the sample size is over 3,500. It is made up of over 600 people interviewed for 45 minutes in each of our major markets: 600 people in Aberdeen, 600 people in Tayside and so on. From that we glean exactly what it is that they want and how they are responding to us. Incidentally the Scottish Radio Listener won an award last year, the communications category at the 2001 British Market Research awards and went on to win the Grand Prix award. That shows the weight of research. Part of it is a new related analysis. That shows how importantly we take that particular issue. Going through it, the most encouraging thing from our point of view is the question about where they listen to the news and the answer comes back that they hear most of the day's news on radio and there are charts which indicate that. The concern of our listeners and indeed the people within the areas we interview which comes out very strongly is that it is important to listen to a station which broadcasts from that area. How important is it for radio stations to have political news? That is a specific question we ask. Of our listeners 13 per cent say it is very important, 33 per cent say that it is fairly important, 30 per cent say it is not very important and 22 per cent say it is not important at all. If I may, the two most heavily demanded categories are news and travel updates where 85 per cent of our people think it is very important and also sports news and comment, particularly in Glasgow. We use this for input into our programmes; it is very important. It is also very important for a radio station to have community involvement and 78 per cent of our listeners think it is very important to have community involvement. I hope that gives you a snapshot of how seriously we take the news and current affairs function across the individual stations. That is a synopsis across the whole of Scotland but the figures are available on an individual station basis and we then get variants across that. Would you like me to distribute the figures now?

  Chairman: That would be very helpful.

Mr Duncan

  142. You mentioned you are broadcasting all across Scotland which is a very important phrase to include and that you do broadcast in some very specific localities, in my case south-west Scotland. I am interested particularly in how you integrate the news offer between Westminster and Holyrood and local news. I think it is done quite effectively but I am aware that the BBC perhaps in Radio Scotland has perhaps been dragged into a kind of central belt agenda. I wonder whether it is a deliberate policy in your regional stations to offer a local news alternative.
  (Mr Goode) As I said earlier, it is very much our policy to allow each individual managing director and station to determine what it believes is the most important element of news or current affairs in the area. There is no diktat from the centre. The only time we offer something centrally to our individual radio stations is when something is pulled together of some weight which maybe South-West Sound, for example, could not afford to put together. Just before the last General Election Radio Clyde produced Election Bites which were three 30-minute programmes. That would have gone across all stations. I hope it was not central belt biased. All the stations took it because it was relevant and South-West Sound, for example, would not have been able to afford to create something like this. Beyond that it is down to the managing director of South-West Sound as to what priority she gives to various elements of news.

  143. Some of the managing directors may be putting different emphasis on Holyrood as against local news. Some of them may emphasise Westminster to a greater degree. It is genuine local editorial control.
  (Mr Goode) The research you have now gives a steer to the managing directors. It is slightly misleading in that you will see great chunks across Scotland but that detailed in-depth research and focus groups are done in each individual station area and that will give a steer to the managing director as to what their particular audiences are expecting to hear on those radio stations. To be clear, that to some degree depends on the competition as well which exists in the areas. In the central belt there are other commercial radio stations and therefore the editorial staff will take a view as to what other commercial stations might carry and what we would wish to carry, whereas in Aberdeen there is no other commercial radio station and the competition is directly with the BBC and that may influence the managing director's decision as well.

Mr Sarwar

  144. Other media organisations have raised the point that they find it difficult to access Ministers in Parliament and MPs and they find accessibility to Scottish Members of Parliament and Ministers easy. Do you have the same problem of accessibility to Ministers and Members of Parliament in Westminster?
  (Mr Walker) On a daily basis we probably do. I would not use the word problem because there is always a phonecall to ask if they can make themselves available somewhere and generally people are very good at doing that because it is in their own interest to do so. Because it is a much smaller operation and it is based 40 miles down the road, it is probably true to say that it is easier to get responses from MSPs than it is from MPs. It would be silly to assume that was not the case.

  145. You mentioned that you did your bit to encourage the young voters but not very successfully and it is a matter of concern to everybody that the turnout is very low in European elections and Westminster elections and there are going to be elections for the Scottish Parliament next year and local government. What plans do you have to encourage? Have you given up or are you still planning to have some form of strategy in place where you can encourage the voters to come out and vote?
  (Mr Goode) It is a difficult question. It is clearly not our overt responsibility.

  146. Leave it to the politicians.
  (Mr Goode) To some degree. However, I did say that CRCA, our trade body, did take a view, which we all supported, that we should get behind this very important part of the democratic process. It is a decision and a discussion which we will have internally as we get closer to the elections. I hope that I have indicated that it is something which is on fertile ground because we have done it before.
  (Mr Walker) As part of Election Bites we dedicated a whole section in one of the programmes to listening to young potential voters, first time voters and asked them whether they were going to vote. There was a very mixed response.

Mr Weir

  147. You talked about the FM and AM stations. We are not on AM at Radio Tay but I do notice that there seems to be more news and current affairs on the AM service than the FM service. I also get the impression that FM has a lot more listeners, particularly younger listeners. Is there any research on that? Is there a difference in how you deal with these things on AM as opposed to FM?
  (Mr Goode) As far as our AM audiences are concerned, the programming tends to be aimed at the slightly older people.

  148. People like me.
  (Mr Goode) I listen to Clyde 2. If I may be broad, 35 plus. The FM licences tend to be targeted at the 30-35's. Logically therefore, the younger end is much more interested in a faster moving presentation. If you listen to a breakfast show on Tay FM for example, it is fast moving, there is music, travel snips, advertisements, what is on and it is all done in a very fast format. You will have news on the hour which is probably two or three minutes in length, whereas on AM, because of the older nature it is a slightly softer format in music, it tends to be oldies, some chart music where applicable. The news therefore can probably be five minutes long, the stories can be weighted to an older audience. Russell was talking about flexibility earlier and we shall use that flexibility. I have to say that as far as our AM audience is concerned—and I apologise for batting on at this but it is very important as far as Scottish Radio Holdings is concerned and the way it runs its stations—across the UK as a whole AM has been recognised as a flagging part of radio broadcasting and the audiences as measured by RAJAR have been disappointing and shrinking. Because we allow each of our managing directors to run the stations as they think fit and we judge them on their audience delivery, our AM services are very strong. Indeed, to quote a figure I had to take round the City recently, if you take Tay AM's audience share and compare that with the FM audience shares of all stations across the UK, Tay AM would be the seventh most successful station in the UK. Our AM audience and therefore our delivery of the older people is very important to us.

  149. Do you have any thought of experimenting with political programmes aimed at younger listeners through your FM service? I appreciate there are difference in how people listen to FM and AM but formats can also be changed.
  (Mr Goode) Yes, we are. It is a constant discussion internally. I have to say nothing has come of it yet. We look across at other radio stations in other countries and we have looked specifically at a station we now have an interest in in the Republic of Ireland. They have some very interesting political programmes. It is a mixture of political lampooning and That Was The Week That Was, Not The Nine O'clock News sort of thing. Nevertheless it makes news interesting and maybe accessible to a younger audience. That is a debate we are having to see whether or not we can do that and whether it would fit in with the sort of programming our listeners expect. It goes without saying that as a commercial organisation we have to be very careful that we do nothing to dilute the size of audience we currently enjoy.

Mr Joyce

  150. You used a phrase earlier which made my hackles stand up a bit: it was easier to do something. My local radio station is Central FM, which I think produces very good music and I guess it is structured in the same way as your companies and I do interviews all the time. They just ring me up in my office and I do a piece down the phone and it cannot really get much easier. I cannot imagine it is much easier to interview MSPs than MPs. You may wish to comment on that. My second point is that I am looking at the web in this research. It stresses having a finger on the pulse of the media. That is the strongest dimension. Then it says, "I listen to the radio merely to keep up with what is going on in my area" and you only get 44 per cent of people saying they agree a lot or they agree slightly, which is less than those who think it is important to stress political news.
  (Mr Goode) Are you looking at AM or FM? May I explain? There are two webs, charts. One is AM broadcasting and one is FM.

  151. There is the same pattern for both.
  (Mr Goode) Similar.

  152. I only say that to point out that there are inconsistencies depending on how you ask the question. The comment I would make is that when I do interviews with Central FM—and I am sure my colleagues are the same—the issues would not necessarily be seen by local people as being political. They have a politician comment but it would very much be regarded as news in the broadest sense. It may be a factory closure or something like that. I guess it is very difficult when people get asked that question on political news as against generic news to separate the two.
  (Mr Goode) One could go further. One of the things we find because of our sports output in Glasgow or indeed Aberdeen is that coin throwing incidents suddenly become more than just sport, they become part of the news. Where do they go? Sport or news? Clearly there is a large grey area.

Mr Lazarowicz

  153. We shall be seeing the establishment of OFCOM in the near future. How do you think this will affect news and current affairs radio broadcasting. We heard earlier on about how it will affect TV but how will it affect you?
  (Mr Goode) We are still waiting to see precisely how radio fits into the OFCOM structure. Until one clearly understands that, it is a little difficult to answer. The other thing is that it will be interesting to see how it affects the BBC. I heard my colleagues from the television industry saying that they the BBC have over 50 per cent of the radio industry across the UK. They clearly do not have to operate on the same sort of level playing field that we do. Our licences are granted by the Radio Authority currently and we have to stick very closely to them. The BBC has the ability to change its programming as it wishes. An example of that would be the way that BBC Radio 2 about a couple of years ago fundamentally changed the type of output that it was producing. We would not be allowed to do anything like that. There is the ability for the BBC vigorously to cross-promote its radio stations on its television services. We cannot possibly do that either unless we are prepared to spend quite large sums of money on our colleagues' television stations. It will be interesting to see the developments of OFCOM, what areas it does impact on the BBC. Clearly we should like to see the BBC further involved in OFCOM, much more tightly involved in OFCOM than is currently being proposed.

  154. Do you think that you adequately provide programming for the ethnic minority communities in Scotland and any special interests which they might have?
  (Mr Goode) Probably the answer has to be no, because we do not produce any ethnic minority programme. We broadcast to our total constituency, whether in Glasgow or Inverness or South-West Sound. The answer to your question would be no, we do not address the ethnic minority directly or as a single block and therefore I suppose we would possibly not provide the sort of coverage you are asking.
  (Mr Walker) On a news agenda issue, one of the biggest stories which has been running in Glasgow and west central Scotland recently has been the issue of asylum seekers, which is something we have tackled fairly extensively. There has been a lot of representation of ethnic minorities through news on that particular issue.

Mr Robertson

  155. Going back to OFCOM, the BBC are not really mentioned in OFCOM, but there seems to be a concerted attack from commercial TV and radio to try to get them involved in it. What I should like to ask is whether, if you get the BBC in there, you are going then to take on a similar role to that the BBC has at present in dealing with the programmes you would not normally want to put out on a commercial radio station?
  (Mr Goode) We are mandated by our licence applications to provide what we have already said we are going to provide. It would be difficult for us to change the output of our stations fundamentally. The other thing we have to understand is that whilst Scottish Radio Holdings is a corporation, a company quoted on the stock market, it is nevertheless made up of these small individual radio stations and it would be very difficult for stations like Radio Borders or Moray Firth or South-West Sound to get involved in the sort of programming you are suggesting. The answer would be no, we could not do that.

  156. Is it fair then that while wanting the BBC to become part of the OFCOM umbrella and trying to force them down that road, the commercial companies are not willing to go down the same road as the BBC? Would that not again be tying the BBC's hands behind their backs?
  (Mr Goode) If I might go back to that example of BBC Radio 2, what happens is that because there is no rigid guideline on the BBC as to what they can or cannot do, they tend to drift, as measured by RAJAR, into the heavily demanded popular area of programming and there is nothing to stop them doing that. That is the ground which commercial radio is very successfully covering and we believe that the BBC should not be allowed to move into what is already a very well served portion of the broadcasting agenda. If they are broadcasting on BBC Radio 2 or BBC Radio 4 they should be, in the same way that we are, forced to stay along the same sort of output that they are currently producing. That way you get a wide coverage of the spectrum to listeners.

Mr Carmichael

  157. What do you anticipate will be the impact on news and current affairs broadcasting in particular in Scotland of the advent of the digital age?
  (Mr Goode) We in Scotland are the fortunate owners currently of four digital radio multiplexes. We have won the licence for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Ayrshire, Dundee and Perth and we have applied for Inverness. Clearly all of our services are being simulcast across our digital output. As hopefully the digital radio audience lifts, and again we have an industry group which is designed to push forward digital radio listening and we are on that and it is in our interests to see that grow, all of our news output will remain flat. In other words, as analogue news goes down, so it will increase on the digital output. The other services which are provided on the multiplexes are people who have applied to the multiplex owner. By and large they will be services which are supplied from elsewhere, in other words they will be entertainment or they will be a specific genre of music. Russell mentioned ours, which is 3C, Cool Contemporary Country, which is Shania Twain and the Corrs rather than Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. That is just to give you a flavour. Our 3C programme is something we have created to go on other multiplexes across the UK. We do not anticipate that we will be putting a lot of local news into 3C as it appears in the north-east of England and the north-west of England and so on. I would think that the amount of news would probably not increase, certainly not dramatically, with the advent of the multiplexes in Scotland.

  158. It is going to be OK for the big boys like yourselves. I have had concerns expressed to me by the local independent radio station in my constituency, Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company, that the digital block in broadcasting and radio is going to squeeze out small very local stations like theirs. Do you see any way that you could mitigate that or fill the gap?
  (Mr Goode) No. Unfortunately, as I understand it, there is no multiplex which covers the Shetland Islands and therefore to some degree they may be protected from the advent of digital radio.

  159. Protected by disadvantage. We are used to that.
  (Mr Goode) Yes. Certainly as far as our policy is concerned, and it is a matter of record, we do put out to tender to a lot of small local broadcasters. Certainly we go to all of the broadcasters within the areas in which we have won the multiplexes to see whether they want to take part on that multiplex. In many cases the answer is yes, but in some cases the answer, for various reasons, is no. That may be a decision they wish to review in due course and if the band width is available it is something we can review. We certainly do not legislate against the smaller stations or service providers and indeed in some of our areas we do talk to and have talked to people like hospital broadcasters and so on to try to see whether we can create band widths on our multiplexes for broadcasting opportunities as small as that.

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