Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE)

  Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the consultation process in regard to the draft Communications Bill. HIE firmly believes that the recent (and on-going changes) in broadcasting are revolutionary and that policy frameworks have to evolve to respond to these changes.

  The present broadcasting environment is increasingly consumer-led against a backdrop of highly competitive international marketplace. In this type of environment it is essential that legislative frameworks are put in place that secure a plurality of voice and a diversity of services across broadcast media. This is particularly true in the case of minority language broadcasting. HIE therefore welcomes the two paragraphs on Gaelic broadcasting outlined at 8.6.2 of the draft Bill.

  We welcome the fact that the Government "are committed to ensuring that public service broadcasting continues to meet the needs of differing communities and cultural interests" and that Gaelic broadcasting has an important part to play in this. As such we look forward to the proposed announcement in regard to the overall strategic direction for a modernised Gaelic broadcasting service.

  It is also to be welcomed that the draft Bill acknowledges the general concern that current arrangements for Gaelic broadcasting are not as effective as they could be in delivering a service that meets the legitimate expectations of Gaelic speakers ( HIE agrees with this, believing that current provision is fragmented and marginalised and, within current constraints, is incapable of expansion to a level acceptable to the population. This is particularly the case as the Gaelic-speaking population (including learners) is scattered throughout Scotland (and indeed elsewhere in the UK) and is interested in accessing a diverse range of Gaelic broadcast material. We believe that Gaelic broadcasting as presently configured and delivered is anomalous and that normalisation within the statutory framework of UK broadcasting is a desirable strategic goal.

  Although we reserve judgement until the announcement on strategic direction and until we see the provisions to be included in the final Bill, HIE broadly welcomes the outline proposals at to reform the current framework. Particularly welcome is the proposed strengthening of the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee, in particular the provision of powers to develop programming strategy in collaboration with broadcasters. In addition to this HIE would strongly urge that commissioning powers be placed with the Committee. We consider this to be essential if strategic programming is to be developed to help language retention/development and to build audiences out with the "mainstream" mass audience normally catered for through traditional broadcasting channels.

  1.  While HIE strongly supports the creation of a dedicated Gaelic television channel we recognise that the Bill will lead to an improved Gaelic broadcasting service. It is our view, however, that the Bill should contain an enabling provision so that such a channel might be established in future. This would be consistent with the principles of social justice, would make a major contribution to the future well-being of the Gaelic language and its associated culture and that it would unlock a significant pool of new creative talent.

  In addition to the strategic level normalisation that the proposals would bring, they also carry the potential to create significant employment opportunities, both in the Hebrides and in other parts of Scotland. A HIE-commissioned study (Economic Impacts of Enhanced Funding for Gaelic Broadcasting) suggests that annual expenditure of £44 million, as recommended by the Gaelic Broadcasting Task Force, would result in a total employment impact of 802 FTE in Scotland. Of these, 292 FTE would be anticipated within the Western Isles. The research indicated that the potential jobs created within the Western Isles would be direct, well paid-media jobs, with the capacity to attract high calibre graduates. This level of employment opportunity would have a significant, positive, long-term effect on the economy and the cultural and social life of the area. In contrast current arrangements act to create a brain drain, taking creative people out of the Highlands and Islands to Glasgow in particular.

  2.  It will be of the utmost importance that the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee remains firmly located in the Gaelic-speaking heartland of the Western Isles. We believe that it will be of vital strategic and symbolic importance that these powers are located within the Gaelic community.

  3.  Any emergent authority should be able to display a high level of independence and autonomy to ensure appropriate safeguards for Gaelic language development. Such autonomy would also encourage economic development in the Highlands and Islands, particularly in fragile, core Gaelic-speaking areas as the Western Isles and Skye and Lochalsh.

June 2002

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