Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002
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
(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.
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
(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.
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.
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 concernedand 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 stationsacross 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.
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
(Mr Goode) Are you looking at AM or FM? May I explain?
There are two webs, charts. One is AM broadcasting and one is
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
FMand I am sure my colleagues are the samethe 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.
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
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.
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.
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
159. Protected by disadvantage. We are used
(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.