Broadcasting, in this paper, refers to television and radio services including the public service broadcasters (STV/ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and the BBC), which remain popular and valued by audiences in Scotland.
Broadcasting has the power to showcase Scottish life and culture to audiences in Scotland, as well as internationally. The public service broadcasters are also a key source of trusted news for people at home and abroad. However, under the devolution settlement, key decisions and the policy direction of the broadcasting sector remains reserved to the UK Government.
With independence, the Scottish Government could build on the strengths of the current broadcasting model and use new powers to develop a broadcasting strategy that better reflects and prioritises the specific needs and interests of Scottish audiences and our creative economy.
This government would also, as a priority, begin work to establish a new Scottish public service broadcaster, with services on TV, radio and online to reflect the broad interests and outlook of the people of Scotland. This could ensure access to the programming that matters to Scottish audiences, such as wider availability of key Scottish sporting events, and would be regulated by a new, Scotland-based regulator with the interests of Scottish audiences and industry at its heart.
Independence would also provide the means to adapt regulatory and governance structures so that broadcasters remain independent and are accountable to the Scottish public through the Scottish Parliament. This would ensure that broadcasters are working to meet the requirements of audiences in Scotland, and improving authentic representation of people in Scotland, while retaining editorial and creative independence from government.
This government recognises that the broadcasting landscape, and the way in which services are consumed, continues to change. That is why ongoing engagement and consultation with the sector and the public would be key to ensuring that an independent Scotland can build on the successes of the current public service broadcasting system.
Setting up a new public service broadcaster for Scotland would be undertaken in consultation with the Scottish public and with industry, and in line with learning from international best-practice models, including the current public service broadcasting ecosystem. Subject to that consultation, the expected remit of a new Scottish public service broadcaster would be impartial news and distinctive programming, delivered across radio and television as well as online, and reflective of diverse Scottish audiences. A strong governance and regulatory structure, independent from government but accountable to the Scottish people through parliament, as well as a funding structure that ensures a new Scottish public service broadcaster is not reliant on advertising or subscription for funding, would be expected to be key to proposals. This government would expect that a licence fee funding model would likely remain the best option for the broadcaster, subject to consultation with industry and audiences and reflecting the broadcasting landscape at the time.
Box 2, below, sets out the benefits of independence for Scottish broadcasting.
Box 2: Why is independence better for broadcasting in Scotland?
Independence means that broadcasting decisions that impact Scottish audiences and our creative industries would be determined by the Scottish public through the Scottish Parliament. For example, decisions about what large-scale sporting events should be made available to broadcast free-to-air.
A new public service broadcaster would prioritise content and services that are more representative of audiences in Scotland. This would improve the lower perceptions that audiences in Scotland currently have of public service broadcasters reflecting their local area and specific interests.
This new service could expand the current offer available on television, radio, and online, with tailored programming that is reflective of Scotland's diverse audiences, and which enhances local voices and coverage of issues in our communities. This could support a broader range of high-quality content produced by Scottish-based media, including in Gaelic and Scots.
Independence would provide the power to build relationships with other broadcasters across Europe and further afield, and enhance Scotland's voice on the world stage through global forums like Eurovision.
Broadcasting would be regulated by a Scottish regulator, with a targeted framework which reflects the priorities and values of the nation and delivers real and long-term benefits to audiences and the creative industries.
With independence, more decision-making on programming and budgets would sit with creative professionals who live and work in Scotland, and who have Scottish audience's interests at the heart of their decision-making. This could form the basis of a larger, and more authentic, creative output in Scotland. This would work with, and build upon, our successful screen industries and ensure that Scotland continues to attract productions and companies that make a real and lasting contribution, including through the development of Scottish talent and skills.
The importance of broadcasting
Television has far-reaching and significant cultural influence. The public service broadcasters, and the programmes they make, enjoy great appeal not just at home, but also on the world stage. Television is a platform to tell diverse stories, share our culture, demonstrate our talent, foster collaboration with international partners, and build on our reputation for creative excellence. People in Scotland watch the most broadcast TV of all the UK nations, and nearly nine in ten of us listen to the radio weekly, for an average of almost 19 hours, yet broadcasting remains reserved and decision-making on key issues sits with the UK Government.
Following independence, this government could build on the successes of the current television broadcasting model and the purposes and objectives of our public service broadcasters, which remain important to audiences. This model includes the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 services as well as commercial and community radio. New powers could be used to develop a broadcasting strategy that better reflects and prioritises the specific needs and interests of Scottish audiences and our creative economy.
It is vital that audiences in Scotland can access accurate, reliable news and diverse entertainment, and public service broadcasting has a central role in delivering this. Independence would give Scotland the powers to ensure that public service broadcasting meets Scotland's distinct requirements and continues to reach the widest possible audience, including those with limited access to online media.
Building on what we have now
While the services we access on our radios and televisions are changing – mainly because of the amount of content that is being delivered and accessed through the internet – listeners and viewers value the choice of content available to them. That is why this government would take steps to ensure that this continues, while enabling an expanded offer to reflect the broad interests and outlook of the people of Scotland through the creation of a new public service broadcaster.
By working closely with the public service broadcasters and other relevant bodies, including through transition negotiations with the UK Government, the Scottish Government is committed to honouring existing TV and radio broadcasting licences to their expiry. Doing so would ensure that audiences continue to have access to the wide range of programming currently enjoyed across the UK's public service broadcasting services. An independent Scotland would also continue to offer a market for commercial radio stations, which account for a large proportion of Scottish radio listening and contribute to our vibrant broadcasting ecosystem.
In an independent Scotland, this government would commit to respecting the existing BBC Charter with no change to the existing licence fee payable in Scotland at the point of independence. This would mean that at the point of independence audiences would continue to have access to the BBC without any additional cost. Existing licence fee payment exemptions and concessions would also be maintained. In future, the funding of a new Scottish public service broadcaster will be determined by the parliament and government of an independent Scotland, in negotiation with the broadcaster and in consultation with the Scottish people.
Independence would give Scotland the power to set its own future priorities for funding of, and access to, broadcast services. This would include the ability to engage with partners around the UK and beyond to explore continued access to the programming and services that matter to Scottish audiences. This may mean, for example, a formal bilateral agreement covering a range of programming on an ongoing basis or buying and selling programming on a case-by-case basis. Following independence, the Scottish Government would also have the ability to enable one all-Scotland channel 3 licence, which would provide an equitable service across the whole of Scotland, which is not currently the case, with some people in the south of Scotland currently served by an ITV Border service, which covers the border region in both England and Scotland and has its headquarters in Carlisle.
This Scottish Government has been clear that Channel 4 should remain as a public asset and, through dialogue with the broadcaster and other relevant bodies, we would expect this to continue. In an independent Scotland, this government would be able to explore – in conversation with all relevant parties – the most equitable and appropriate model for Channel 4 in Scotland to ensure that its valuable content continues to be enjoyed by audiences here. For example, Channel 4 could operate as a cross-border service that is part-owned by Channel 4 Scotland with a matching fair share of original production, in terms of both value and hours. This could ensure that audiences across Scotland and the UK continue to enjoy access to the high-quality, diverse creative content currently accessible on Channel 4.
A Scottish public service broadcaster
Following independence, the Scottish Government would seek to establish a new Scottish public service broadcaster providing TV, radio and online services to reflect the broad interests and outlook of the people of Scotland. The scope, remit, governance, and funding model for a new broadcaster would be explored in conversation with Scottish audiences and the broadcasting sector. This would help ensure that the right priorities are being met and that the public is served by an independent, accountable, sustainable broadcaster that best reflects, and sits at the heart of, Scottish life.
Ongoing engagement and consultation with the sector and the public would ensure that a new service can build on the successes of current public service broadcasting even as audiences are changing the way they consume news and entertainment. Independence would give the Scottish Government control over how public service broadcasting is funded, including the ability to vary the licence fee, or explore alternative models of funding. This would help ensure a sustainable future for public service broadcasters, while delivering for audiences on a fair and affordable basis.
Scottish audiences value the current range of services provided by public service broadcasters and the Scottish Government would expect a consultation with the Scottish public to reflect the successes of the current ecosystem, with impartial news and distinctive programming, reflective of Scottish audiences, at the heart of the remit. A strong governance and regulatory structure, independent from government but accountable to the Scottish people through parliament, as well as a funding structure that ensures a new Scottish public service broadcaster is not reliant on advertising or subscription for funding, would be expected to be key proposals. This government would expect that a licence fee funding model would likely remain the best option for the broadcaster, subject to consultation with industry and audiences and reflecting the broadcasting landscape at the time.
This would strengthen public service broadcasting in an independent Scotland, offering a service that delivers valuable cultural outcomes and benefits our economy and democracy.
This service could build on the successes of the current public service broadcasting ecosystem, learn from current governance and regulatory structures, and have its independence from government safeguarded by the development of a broadcasting strategy and appropriate frameworks such as a Charter and public missions.
With independence, Scotland would have a greater opportunity to shape the future of public service broadcasting, using the skills, expertise and talent in Scotland to deliver high-quality services, which recognise the distinct requirements of our audiences and the creative industries. This could form the basis of a larger creative output in Scotland, with more decision-making on programming and budgets sitting with those creative professionals who live and work in Scotland and who have Scottish audiences' interests at the centre of their decision-making.
Across radio, which remains popular in Scotland, an independent Scotland would explore greater coverage and diversity of radio services in consultation with audiences and industry to enable outputs to better reflect the interests and wishes of audiences in Scotland, including enhancing local voices and coverage of local issues in our communities. Proposals could include one or more dedicated Scottish public service broadcasting radio service that would help protect and enhance radio's valued role as a platform for creativity, as well as a vehicle for news and entertainment.
With independence, the Scottish Government would have the power to determine the list of events that should be available to broadcast free-to-air to reflect the interests of Scottish audiences. Of course, the inclusion of any event in the list does not mean it has to be shown on television, because sports rights holders are not obliged to offer events and broadcasters are not obliged to bid for them. However, the Scottish Government's position is that national sporting events, such as Scotland's men's and women's football qualifiers for the World Cup and European Championships, should be included in the list to expand the opportunity for audiences to enjoy these games.
The government of an independent Scotland would also have the power to build relationships with other broadcasters across Europe, as well as the European Broadcasting Union, and further afield, and enhance Scotland's voice on the world stage through global forums like Eurovision.
Following its establishment, the new public service broadcaster for Scotland would be in a position to pursue a collaborative approach with the UK's public service broadcasters, exploring the best approach to maintain and strengthen Scotland's current strong creative relationships with them. Possible models include a formal relationship with UK broadcasters to allow ongoing bilateral access to a wide range of programming, or case-by-case decision-making on what best serves Scottish audiences. On an ongoing basis, any model would be expected to be appropriately accountable to the Scottish people, through regulatory frameworks and oversight by the Scottish Parliament.
The public service broadcasting system in an independent Scotland would be supported to prioritise and encourage accurate, impartial, and trustworthy news provision and recognise the distinct requirements in Scotland when it comes to reporting about local, national and world news. TV remains the most popular platform for adults in Scotland to access news and 90% say they are interested in news about Scotland. A new Scottish public service broadcaster would have the ability to meet this need, with a key focus on local and national Scottish news, as well as providing a Scottish perspective on current and global affairs.
This government attaches particular importance to support for the Gaelic language and recognises that media and broadcasting make a significant contribution to the health and welfare of our minority languages. Already, there is support for a thriving Gaelic broadcasting industry with funding for MG Alba. The Scottish Government is committed to the continuation and enhancement of services, such as the BBC Alba channel and BBC Radio nan Gáidheal. Promotion of Gaelic broadcasting would be a key role of a new public service broadcaster for Scotland.
In an independent Scotland, the Scottish Government would have the powers to ensure the continuation of Gaelic broadcasting services available at the point of independence. With independence, this Government would also have the regulatory power to support a broader range of high-quality content produced by Scottish-based media, including in Gaelic and Scots, to meet the needs and interests of Scottish audiences.
Regulation of broadcasting
Under the current devolution settlement, overall regulation of broadcasting is reserved and is carried out by Ofcom, a UK-wide composite regulator which has a remit covering a wide range of communications matters, from media content to telecommunications and postal services. Following independence, this Scottish Government would engage with industry and audiences, and explore international best practice, to establish how best to take forward the regulation of broadcasting so that, like the current Ofcom model, it is independent of government.
Independence would provide the means to adjust the regulatory framework to improve representation of people and place in Scotland and improve the lower perceptions audiences have in Scotland of public service broadcasters reflecting their local area. It could also ensure that local voices and coverage of local issues, whether through news coverage, or programming about and told by the people in Scotland's diverse communities, are protected and enhanced.
Regulation could address issues of representation by creating a more targeted regulatory framework, which ensures that quotas on production from Scotland bring real and long-term benefits to audiences and the creative industries. A Scottish regulator would also take on the remit to ensure that news is presented with due accuracy and impartiality.
Independence would provide the levers to strengthen and improve Scotland's broadcasting infrastructure to benefit audiences and the creative industries, including the companies in Scotland that produce content for television, and ensure the full value of public spending benefits audiences and the creative economy in Scotland. An independent Scotland would gain control over decisions on funding public service broadcasting, including how this is invested in services that meet Scotland's distinct requirements.
Protecting public service broadcasting
An independent Scotland would have the power to better protect public service broadcasting from external challenges faced by the sector. At present, broadcasting is one of the few parts of the culture sector where decisions remain reserved and decision-making sits with the UK Government. This has come to the fore in recent years as broadcasters face increasing uncertainties as a result of UK Government proposals, including its recent pursuit of privatisation of Channel 4.
While privatisation plans were formally abandoned by the UK in early 2023, the vulnerability of public service broadcasting to changing UK Government policy remains. This Scottish Government wants to protect our public service broadcasters and the valuable work they do to inform audiences and support Scotland's creative industries and independence would give this Government the power to ensure that those aims can continue to be achieved.
Under the devolution settlement, decisions on the leadership of public service broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4, and of the regulator Ofcom, sit with the UK Government, through their public appointments to the boards of these bodies, including the important positions of Chair. Given the impact such decision-making has on our broadcasting services, it is essential that Scotland has the levers to strengthen and improve our broadcasting infrastructure to ensure it fully benefits audiences and the creative economy in Scotland.
A Scotland-specific transparent, accountable and independent process for these vital public appointments could offer broadcasters and audiences in Scotland confidence that appointees have their best interests at heart. This would make a significant contribution to the sustainability of trusted and valued public service broadcasting in Scotland and protect the essential news and entertainment services they provide.
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