Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
100. In your earlier answer you were talking
about the cost of setting up an independent ITN contract. But
there again I think there was the suggestion that you could slot
bits in from the existing ITV. So if you deemed it was commercially
useful to do so, there is a possibility it could be done. I am
not asking you to say it will be done.
(Mr Emslie) Anything is possible. In a news programme
anything is possible. There are resources out there to buy. I
am not saying it is not possible, that is not what I meant. The
access we get from ITN will be all the stock footage they acquire
on behalf of ITV which we can then use. The vast majority of it
will not be relevant to us. They are sending pool crews here to
interview UK Ministers and we then have to send a separate crew
to interview different people to have a Scottish perspective on
it. The cost of it in terms of starting from scratch would be
101. That takes us back to the earlier question
about how much editorial influence you have and how ITV covers
stories at a national level. One of the things the BBC told us
that they tried to do when covering a national story was to try
to get perspectives from different areas of the UK. Does ITN make
any effort to do that for an individual ITV company?
(Mr Emslie) No. That is not within the terms of the
tender of the contract. The contract for ITN is to supply a half-hour
lunchtime news to the UK and a 23-minute evening programme for
ten o'clock and various bulletins. The ITN contract is to supply
UK and international news.
102. Is that the standard contract throughout
the ITV network?
(Mr Emslie) Yes, it is.
103. Is there an option for the Scottish companies
to have an amendment in any way to that contract?
(Mr Emslie) No. It is underneath the Act that the
nominated news supplier must provide a simultaneous transmission
of UK and international news at six o'clock so that the content
is standard throughout. Whether you watch ITN in London or whether
you watch it up in Scotland the content will be exactly the same.
That is the way the contract has been set up and that is the intention
of the obligations underneath our news output.
104. Are you telling us that if there were to
be any change it would have to be done by primary legislation?
(Mr Emslie) Yes, as it stands at the moment.
105. We were talking about Scottish Six
there but one of the interesting perspectives on the Scottish
Six is that we have a regional television company which actually
gives regional coverage which crosses the border. It would be
quite interesting to hear how you perceive the change in devolution
to be affecting your output which is perceived to be regional
but also crosses the border.
(Mr Robinson) Border Television is tremendously popular
and editionalising our news output has allowed us to stay at the
forefront with ratings. Last year across 2001 there were times
when our news programme was watched by more than 60 per cent of
the audience. That is 60 per cent of the audience in Scotland
as well as the English part of our region. Our competitors, principally
the BBC, were far behind. Within the Border region BBC TV would
have reached perhaps late 20 per cent of the audience. Border
Television works because it is very local. One of the things we
have noticed across the years is that we are very close to our
audience and our viewers in many ways cherish what we do. To give
you an example, sometimes we are seen as the local station and
the BBC is seen as something alien to our viewers. For instance,
the BBC are fine broadcasters and do many good things with their
Children in Need appeal but there are times when activities are
taking place locally and we will be called by viewers who will
ask us whether we can cover their event. We tell them that it
is a BBC initiative. They say, "Yes, but you're the local
TV station". That is an example and illustration of how close
we are to our viewers and how important we think we are to them
and to their lives.
106. There is no adverse reaction to a viewer
in Workington seeing an interview with a Member of the Scottish
Parliament and similarly no adverse reaction to a viewer in Stranraer
seeing an interview with David Maclean on an English transport
issue. They are still perceived as one local news team.
(Mr Robinson) Some people are critical of what we
do; a small number. The number of complaints we officially have
to report to ITC is very small, handfuls really. On the particular
issue of balance between England and Scotland there are some,
but we never get very many complaints. Yes, many of our viewers
can feel empathy across the border because it is a rural region
and the closure of a village school in Cumbria is something which
viewers in southern Scotland can see and can understand the pressures
that will have upon the community. Yes, our viewers do watch news
stories from either side.
107. I had a specific question about output.
I think it was Donald who said in his introductory remarks that
you had staffed up to cope with devolution. There is no doubt
that devolution has been the biggest single event in terms of
news in the Scottish perspective over the last few years. You
mentioned the number of hours you are broadcasting news and current
affairs and you gave figures for your respective companies. Has
there been increased output from this increased body of journalists
and programming capacity?
(Mr Emslie) Underneath our obligations in terms of
the licence we applied for, and we are awarded licences by the
ITC, Scottish have to make 16½ hours a week, which is just
under 900 and Grampian have to make just over 7½ hours a
week, which is 400 and Border 300 hours. The quantum of our hours
will not change because that is what we have to make. Recently,
in the move towards more self-regulation within broadcasters,
we have agreed how these hours are split out in that we are now
mandated to have a minimum number of hours for news and current
affairs. The two Scottish licences, Scottish and Grampian, have
an undertaking for Gaelic and then the rest is quantified as other.
We have some scope, if we want to do more sport or more religion
or more education or more drama, to do that. News and current
affairs are fixed as a minimum. There has been no overall lift
in terms of the hours we have done. One of the reasons certainly
for the Scottish licence to increase its establishment was that
we had to move through to make sure we were covering Edinburgh
with the Scottish Parliament being there and we made a conscious
decision to increase our news and political team in Edinburgh
in order to be able to resource that properly.
108. Given that the quantum is fixed and also
the fact that you are commercial businessesyou were talking
about renegotiating contracts for the futureis there a
pressure to increase that number because there is a perception
that increased news and current affairs broadcasting would provide
your companies with extra revenue? Or is there a downward pressure
in that new and current affairs broadcasting is perhaps less profitable
for you to do than more populist television?
(Mr Emslie) There are two answers to that. It is not
always possible to have commercial advertising within our news
and current affairs output because there are restrictions in terms
of what we can do. What the news and current affairs output does
is give us a point of difference. Neil has very eloquently explained
that the ability of Border to achieve a 60 per cent share of the
audience is because it provides something that nobody else in
that regions is providing and that is localness. To a lesser extent
Scottish and Grampian are the same. Our submissions to the Communications
White Paper and the discussion and consultation process has been
that regional news and current affairs are of paramount interest
to our viewers and that ITV is the only real broadcaster in the
United Kingdom which will replicate news and current affairs across
15 different regions of the United Kingdom. That is a very special
offering that we make to viewers. That will not diminish and if,
in the new settlement going forward, ITV in total are making fewer
regional programmes, the percentage of news and current affairs
at least will stay the same if not slightly rise because that
was a very special offering to the viewers that they really cannot
get anywhere else. BBC Scotland covers the whole of Scotland and
we all appreciate the job they do and it is very important to
have a well-resourced and challenging BBC in our marketplaces.
The combined resources of Scottish, Grampian and Border in their
respective regions are much greater than that which the BBC puts
into Scotland and the same is true for Tyne-Tees and Yorkshire
and indeed Anglia and Meridian.
109. Is there more pressure within Scottish
companies to increase news and current affairs' proportion in
the future because of devolution than there perhaps is from the
undevolved regions of the UK?
(Mr Emslie) It is not just because of devolution.
As Scottish broadcasters we realised that we have perhaps got
different standards and obligations to meet because we are a separate
country. Therefore education and academia and sport and professions
and religion are all different from some of our colleagues in
the ITV region. There is more pressure, I suspect, from within
the Scottish companies to protect and enhance the regional service
as we go forward into a different world where there are 300 channels
and everyone is on digital communication. We believe that our
offering is very special and is actually our USP. It is the point
of difference we have from all other broadcasters.
110. We have spoken about Scottish staffing
up to meet the advent of devolution. What happened at Grampian?
Can you tell me particularly whether there has been a shift upwards
or downwards in terms of output and resources produced in Aberdeen
and Inverness since devolution?
(Mr Thomson) There has been no change in Inverness.
The number of hours at Grampian stays exactly the same. Along
with Scottish we have jointly resourced the Scottish Parliament.
Where Grampian have added to that is that we have also taken on
a new programme called the Week in Politics which last year accounted
for some 18 hours of the 30 hours of current affairs that we do.
To put that in perspective, the total number of hours that Grampian
does is 400 hours; out of that 237 currently cover news and current
affairs. We have jointly staffed up to cope with the advent of
the Parliament. May I pick up what Neil said about Border's perspective?
Grampian has a very special place in the hearts and minds of the
viewers of north Scotland; very much so because of the geographic
area we cover. It is huge. There are 1.3 million people, we have
two different languages and at least nine different dialects involved
in all that and I have to say we are the one broadcaster who reaches
the parts others do not quite make it to. That is reflected in
the figures: 34 per cent average share over last year, which for
our region is a phenomenal share of the viewership.
(Mr Emslie) Derrick does himself a disservice here
actually. Perhaps the question is not so much about devolution
but since the merger between Scottish and Grampian. Grampian's
original licence hours were seven hours 29 minutes a week. That
was what they actually applied for in their original application
for the licence back in 1990. At the time of the merger, Grampian
were making seven hours 40 minutes a week and underneath the Broadcasting
Act, as the company who were effectively acquiring Grampian Television,
Scottish had to agree to commit to their last year of output,
which was seven hours 40 minutes a week. We have more than achieved
that every year since 1997. In addition, because of what we wanted
to do in terms of re-allocating resources, both Scottish and Grampian
needed to put significant investment into their digital technology
in order to be able to transmit on the digital multiplex. To be
able to do that within our own resources, we sought permission
from the ITC to resource a central transmission area in Glasgow
which handles the transmission for both Scottish and Grampian.
That necessitated some job reductions in the Grampian region.
What we were able to say in return was that Scottish would transfer
some of the production of Scottish regional programming up to
the Aberdeen studio in order to make sure that production jobs
were protected. We have done that and in some years Grampian has
made up to 100 hours of Scottish Television's programme, which
previously Scottish had made. I must be clear here: it is not
Grampian's programmes they are making it is Scottish Television's
original licence programmes that are made in the Grampian studios
by Grampian technicians and Grampian staff.
111. So we still have the same level of staff
in Aberdeen that we had.
(Mr Emslie) Yes.
112. Because you will recall that was a concern
a couple of years ago.
(Mr Emslie) Yes.
113. Your own memorandum states that devolution
has transferred to Edinburgh the political issues of concern to
viewers causing improvements in scrutiny, accountability and access
to Ministers, thereby leading to significant changes in programme
content. Can you tell us first of all what these significant changes
in programme content amount to? Secondly, where do you or your
audience research results place matters such as taxation, employment,
social security, energy, defence and foreign affairsand
you will see there is a common theme to these subjectsin
terms of political issues of most concern to viewers?
(Mr Emslie) As we say in our submission, generally
there are more political stories in our news programmes now than
before. While the Scotland Today, North Tonight,
Border's Look Around programme, Crossfire, Platform,
are still there, within our news agenda more political stories
are covered than perhaps before devolution. We have also added
a programme called Seven Days which goes out on a Sunday,
which has been added to our current affairs output. There has
been some editorial shift but the quantum has not changed.
(Mr Robinson) There has certainly been an increased
awareness of political issues. There is certainly more legislation
which needs to be reported. That is finding its way into our news
programmes as far as the affairs in the Scottish Parliament are
concerned. Most news stories emanating from there appear in the
split edition of Border. I do not know what the situation is at
(Mr Thomson) At Grampian the other programme we have
added into the mix is a programme called Grampian Midweek which
runs in the peak seven thirty slot every Tuesday night. It champions
the people's causes and a lot of issues, most of which have been
devolved. Where appropriate it will pick up on UK stories and
follow them through too.
114. And the point about audience research?
(Mr Emslie) We do not specifically research our audience
to ask them specific questions about devolved and reserved matters.
The research we do will be more about programme concepts, programme
ideas, whether they like the programme or not and indeed the majority
of our research is into identifying the size and profile and structure
of our audience. We do not specifically research these programmes.
In terms of coverage of the reserved powers, on certain occasions
we will carry special programming to cover the issues that are
affecting the reserved matters. For example, during budget day
we will have special programmes. During the Afghanistan crisis
we sent crews out there, we had stories coming from there and
we covered that quite extensively.
115. When you say that it is the issues of most
concern, it is what you or your editors perceive as being the
issues of most concern. There is no objective support or contradiction
(Mr Ross) What you have to appreciate is that what
we do is monitor our output against the output of all other news
organisations and all other newspapers. What we want to ensure
is that we are not missing anything, that the agenda which we
have at six o'clock and the importance we place on stories tend
to mirror what the main stories of the day are. From that point
of view we do monitor what we do on a daily basis and make sure
that we have not missed anything of importance, whether that be
in Europe, Westminster, or elsewhere.
116. Whether it is your journalists or somebody
else's journalists, it is all journalists who are setting the
agenda. Fair comment?
(Mr Ross) Come and look at our logs from our viewers
which we are more than happy to share with you. They make very
interesting reading. Our viewers tend to be more upset about the
fact that High Road does not appear at seven o'clock on
a Sunday night because there is a live phone-in for Pop Idols
than they tend to be about many of these issues.
117. Probably most politicians would agree that
delivery issues come to the fore in most people's minds in an
immediate everyday sense and they tend to be issues which are
devolved. Do you think you get the right balance when you interview
people about delivery issues, education, health and so forth between
the MSPs and in most case the people who actually do the delivering
which is local authorities and councillors?
(Mr Ross) The answer to that, to be bluntly honest
with you, is no at the moment. That is an issue which we are very
aware of. We set objectives for journalists each year and we are
just in the process of completing that at the moment for the year
2002. In the case of a specific journalist in our Glasgow newsroom
and a specific journalist in our Edinburgh newsroom, one of the
objectives they have been set is to make themselves much more
aware of what is happening at a local authority level because
we have been very conscious in the last year that we perhaps have
not paid the attention to local authorities that we should. I
hope that is something where there will be a change in the next
year in the way we look at that.
118. On the issue of how you judge the audience's
concerns, let me say from the start that I fully accept that comments
about High Road are more likely to feature than comments about
some of the current affairs programmes. I recall that last week
the BBC told us that one of the major factors which they use to
judge whether or not they are meeting viewers concerns on news
and current affairs was audience figures. If you are also using
audience figures as a primary test of viewers concerns, then you
are really just comparing with another channel which is also using
the same basic approach to find out what viewers' concerns are.
This raises the issue of how far viewers' real concerns are really
reflected in the product range of television in Scotland. Do you
not think there is a case to try to have some kind of independent
way of assessing viewers concerns rather than simply relying upon
comparative audience figures?
(Mr Emslie) We do not just rely on audience figures.
119. But you rely primarily on audience figures?
(Mr Emslie) Over the last few years we have employed
companies like System 3 and Market Research Scotland to get more
qualitative data rather than the quantitative data. The quantitative
data we get arrives on our desk every morning at eleven o'clock
which will tell us the number of people who watched our programmes
last night compared to watching Channel 4 or all the satellite
channels. We get updates on a weekly basis. We have analysis and
tracking research which is delivered on a monthly basis. We have
more quantitative data in terms of being able to analyse the quantum
and the profile of the audience, as much as we require on that.
(Mr Robinson) In a less formal way journalists do
not live in isolation. We are very much part of our communities
and our children go to the schools, we shop in the supermarkets
when we buy our bread, we travel on trains, we drive on the roads.
We meet as many people as you do, so we are aware of concerns
which are brought to us directly from the people we know.
(Mr Ross) The ITC, the body which regulates us, has
a viewers and listeners panel and as broadcasters, Border, Scottish
and Grampian, we meet quarterly with the ITC. One of the items
on the agenda always at that quarterly meeting is feedback from
the ITC's local viewers and listeners panel. One of the things
they do is to ask viewers in the Borders region or the Grampian
region or the Scottish region to watch specific programmes, including
our politics programmes and our news programmes and to feed back
information to us on what they think about these programmes. We
get that information back from the ITC, we take it very seriously
and we act on it. The ITC is very jealous of that panel and keeps
us very far away from it. We have no direct communication with
that panel, so it is quite an independent minded panel in terms
of the information it feeds back to us.