- 25 Aug 2017
Edinburgh is a great place to be all year round, obviously, but a great place to be particularly at this time of year.
It always seems fitting that in August – when Edinburgh and Scotland are the cultural capitals of the world – we also, albeit quite fleetingly, become the media centre for the whole of the UK as well.
And it's particularly appropriate this year. As you probably already know, we're celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festivals, and both the BBC and STV have expanded their coverage of those festivals this year. And I think both the standard of the various festivals and the quality of the coverage this year has been really outstanding.
As well as celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festivals, but particularly relevant to this gathering today, we're also making an important anniversary in Scottish broadcasting. This year – in fact next week – marks 60 years since Scottish Television, as it was then known, was first broadcast in Scotland.
That marked the very first time that there had ever been competition in Scottish broadcasting. Before the channel launched, Roy Thompson, the then chair of Scottish Television, promised viewers 'an infinite variety of programmes'.
I think it's quite interesting to reflect 60 years on that quote. Because viewers in Scotland and around the world do now have access to what seems to be an infinite variety, or at the very least an infinite number, of programmes to watch. But whether diversity has been achieved across all of that programming, certainly, I think, is a much more open question.
And that is the theme which links the two things that I have been asked to talk about this morning. Firstly, women in broadcasting, and secondly, to talk about how we develop production in Scotland.
And diversity links both of those issues. For all the variety of programmes we can and do get, television in my view still doesn't fully reflect the diversity of audiences that broadcasters serve either within Scotland or within these islands across the UK.
Obviously since I first agreed to speak at this event on these particular themes, the publication of the BBC's pay figures has dramatised the issue of the gender pay gap to a greater extent than we might have anticipated.
I think it is quite important to be clear about what gave rise to that publication and to stress the fact that the UK Government, I don't think, was pushing the BBC for greater transparency out of great desire to expose a gender pay gap. It was – perhaps a bit more cynically than that – they were expecting to flush out the very high salaries paid to presenters – some presenters obviously – by the BBC. I think the motivation on the part of the government was clearly to wind up licence fee payers about the high salaries paid to some presenters and to encourage licence fee payers to question what was being done with public money by a public institution.
Certainly it succeeded in winding up licence fee payers – in particular female licence fee payers – in exposing what looked like and is the gross disparity in salaries between men and women in screen positions at the BBC.
Perhaps the most obvious and unacceptable element of the pay gap that was exposed was to see male and female presenters of the same programme – whether it was BBC Breakfast or the Today Programme – doing apparently the same job, for grossly different salaries.
When I was here two years ago I spoke about how the viewing public was increasingly challenging the lack of women in major onscreen roles. Given that women make up 52% of the population, it seemed odd that men occupied twice as many presenting roles.
I think it is fair to say that, in the two years since then, progress on that front has been made. We saw the announcement this week that Sarah Smith would be taking over from Andrew Neil on Sunday Politics, representing another step in that direction. So progress is being made on that front – but it seems that, in considering equal representation on some programmes, the BBC perhaps forgot that there should be equal pay for equal work.
Kirsty [Wark] was one of more than 40 leading female presenters who wrote an open letter to Tony Hall after these figures were made known, making quite clear how unacceptable that was and challenging the BBC to accelerate progress and resolving it. Importantly, I think, in that letter, it pointed out that it is not just an issue for those that you would describe as 'at the top', in the high-profile, high-visibility roles at the BBC, but this is an issue that goes right through the organisation.
As you would expect, I wholeheartedly agree with the contents of that letter and hope the BBC do take action to quickly resolve what is an unacceptable situation. But it is also important to reflect it is not just the BBC – the BBC will not be the only media organisation that has a gender pay gap. The BBC experience exemplifies the case for much greater transparency in the reporting of companies' pay policies – not just in the media, but more generally. I am not arguing for the revelation of every single contract, but we must have the information that tells us where gender pay gaps exist, and how big they are. Because we can only call out unacceptable practices when we know they exist.
I think the BBC experience has much wider lessons not just here but for our society as a whole. And of course it would be difficult for me to talk about the issue of women in the media without just briefly reflecting on how women are portrayed by the media – that is something I'm fairly well qualified to talk about, although I cannot promise to be remotely objective about it. But in my day-to-day experience, and I'm not alone here, would suggest that women's portrayal – perhaps more by the print media, to be fair, than by broadcast media – we still have got a long, long way to go.
Almost every week I read something about myself, commenting on what I wear or how I look. During the general election, in the Daily Mail there was a double-page spread telling how I had worn the same suit five times over a two-year period. What really annoyed me about that piece was the fact it was not the same suit. One was pink, the other red. The pictures made it look as if it were the same suit, they did not even get that right.
But more seriously than that – and you will remember, and again it was the Daily Mail – was when the Prime Minister and I met in Edinburgh just a matter of months ago to talk about Brexit, an important issue facing the country. The front page of the Daily Mail the next day had reduced us both to pairs of legs and talked about who won the battle of the legs. Now you can laugh at that and you have got to laugh at that, but there is a serious issue there in terms of how women are portrayed in the media and how that feeds through into women's sense of themselves and women's willingness to come forward into high-profile or senior roles. So these are really serious issues. Yes we have made progress, but there is still a long way to go.
Coming back to the issue of people in the media – and I've talked about gender so far as, equally, it is an issue quite close to my heart – these issues are not confined to gender. The BBC's pay data revealed that just one of its 25 best-paid stars was from a black or minority ethnic background. That was George Alagiah.
Last month Lenny Henry highlighted research from the Directors Association showing that no talk shows, period dramas, game shows, sketch shows, celebrity TV shows or children's entertainment shows had producers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. He pointed out that although Ofcom does now plan to ask the BBC to monitor its onscreen racial diversity, the plans for monitoring don't apply to roles behind the camera.
So these are things that in my view are not acceptable any more. The media also faces real issues in relation to socio-economic diversity. Alan Milburn's social mobility commission last year criticised the 'increasing reliance on unpaid work as a point of entry to the profession'. That's not surprising – the National Council for the Training of Journalists found that three quarters of new entrants to journalism had done an unpaid internship. If that is the entry into journalism it does not take us long to work out that young people whose parents can't support them in that way find that access to journalism is much more difficult.
And this week's provisional report from the Diamond project demonstrates that disabled people and people over the age of 50 are also significantly underrepresented in broadcasting. Although to be fair, the Diamond project was, very commendably, set up by major broadcasters in order to monitor diversity. It's an initiative which gives some hope that change might be possible.
And change, in this respect – and this is a point that should not be lost – is in the interests of the media, as well as being in the interests of the viewing public. As Jon Snow commented, on Wednesday night when he spoke here, he pointed to the serious problem for all of us in the fact that 'the echelons from whom our media are drawn do not, for the most part, fully reflect the population among whom we live and to whom we seek to transmit information and ideas'.
Doing more to protect and promote genuine diversity – this is not just true of the media, it is true generally. It is not just a good thing to do, it is good for business if you can represent demographics of your viewers and benefit from a much broader range of experiences, ideas and stories. So these are, I think, fundamental issues, and touch on basic principles. Television needs to do more to represent diversity of modern life.
So that is also relative to the second issue I want to talk about today, which is how the television production sector in Scotland, and how the media in general, reflects the nations and regions of the UK.
Now again I think it is important to be fair and recognise that things are much better now than they have been in the past. It's now just over a decade since my predecessor, Alex Salmond, established the Scottish Broadcasting Commission to address concerns – from the public and across all political parties – about the state of Scottish broadcasting.
It's fair to say that, in the decade since then, there has been significant progress. In 2008 BBC Alba was launched – it's been a huge success in terms of its viewing figures and the impact on Scotland's production sector.
And UK network expenditure has increased as well. In 2006 Scotland's share of UK network commissions had sunk as low as 2.5%. Last year, it was 6%.
And it seems almost certain to grow further – the BBC has promised to invest an additional £20 million more in network content from Scotland.
The last year has also seen two other very positive developments. STV has joined together its local television stations to create a second channel – STV2 – which includes an integrated news bulletin at 7pm, proving it is possible to have an integrated bulletin in Scotland. Coincidentally, I happened to be in the studio on the night that programme first aired, and was impressed by what they were able to achieve without the resources of other major broadcasters.
And even more importantly, the BBC has announced plans for a new Scottish channel which will launch next year. When I was here two years ago I called for that to happen so clearly I warmly welcome it. But I think there is still more to be done.
There are still legitimate concerns about how some network spending is classified – whether some productions which are labelled as 'Scottish' really contribute anything to our production sector and our wider creative economy. So I welcome the fact that Ofcom is reviewing that. It's not an abstract issue – under current definitions, Scotland's production sector loses business as each year passes.
In addition, the new proposed BBC channel is set to have a budget of £30 million. There are already legitimate questions about whether that will be sufficient. If you think back to the Broadcasting Commission a decade ago, at that time it proposed an annual budget of £75 million for a new network in Scotland. And the fact that the new channel will only be broadcast in standard definition could limit its appeal. For drama, in particular, viewers increasingly expect high definition to be available. At the very least, that issue must be kept under review.
And at present, approximately 72% of the licence fee raised in Scotland will be spent in Scotland. In Wales and Northern Ireland, it is 98%. Even with the BBC's new commitment, we won't have parity with those countries.
The BBC has come a long way in improving choice for viewers in Scotland, and boosting our production sector. I welcome that. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that Scottish broadcasting – for all the undoubted progress – is still being shortchanged. And these are issues that still require to be addressed on an ongoing basis
One other issue I know has been discussed a lot over the last few days is the possibility of Channel 4's relocating. Now I know Channel 4 has reservations about that, and I understand some of them, but I think that idea has some merit. The Scottish Government has made it clear that if Channel 4 does move out of London, Glasgow would be an obvious base. Channel 4 already has offices in Glasgow. And Glasgow is, after all, a major creative industries hub which is already home to two other national broadcasters.
But there is a broader point here about what relocation is intended to achieve. Now clearly I'd be all in favour of Channel 4 moving to Glasgow – apart from anything else it would be moving into my constituency if it went to Pacific Quay – but the point is that basing Channel 4 in Glasgow brings no more benefit to independent producers in Wales or Birmingham, than basing it in Birmingham would bring to Scotland.
So relocation will not be an answer on its own, whatever final decisions are taken there. The key issue is surely to ensure that commissioning power is decentralised through the United Kingdom. That's what the Scottish Government has proposed.
As part of that process, we've suggested the establishment of a centre of excellence for factual programming in Glasgow. And we have also proposed that Channel 4's quota for Scottish programming should increase so that it is closer to our share of the population. We want to see all public service broadcasters do more to commission programmes from the UK's nations and regions.
That's linked to a broader issue. Wales has benefited hugely in recent years from Doctor Who and other drama commissions. And as a result, people sometimes unfavourably compare the drama base in Wales to the industry here in Scotland. I can understand why. But of course, the television production industry in Wales has benefited for more than 30 years from high levels of public funding for [Welsh channel] S4C. There has been nothing comparable to that in Scotland.
That matters. We're now in a golden age of television content production, and especially television drama production. It's impossible to know whether this trend will continue, or level off, or whether we are currently at a peak. But what does seem certain is that the opportunities for attracting investment in drama, in particular, in the next ten years, will be even greater than we could have predicted ten years ago.
We have already benefited from that – perhaps most prominently through Outlander. In fact since 2012, the value of film and television production in Scotland has almost doubled. But there are opportunities to do far more.
And so one reason we have consistently asked for public service broadcasters to commission more in Scotland is because that investment can sustain and develop the skills base and infrastructure that we need to take advantage of those opportunities.
But I am also well aware that the Scottish Government cannot simply ask more of broadcasters, or indeed the UK Government, without looking to ourselves – without considering the public sector's role. So that's what we are doing.
We have already increased support for the sector – for example through the production growth fund. The first £1.75 million we invested from the fund secured £17.5 million worth of productions. So we will continue to increase the support we are giving. We know that there is a major opportunity here for Scotland – we are determined to seize it.
As part of that, we're addressing concerns that different agencies have overlapping remits. So we are setting up a screen unit based in Creative Scotland to support the economic and the cultural development of the sector.
We are also making progress in film studio facilities – something which has been a running issue for decades.
We are now seeing promising developments. We have said that we are minded to grant planning permission for a development, including a purpose-built studio at Straiton, just outside this city. The makers of Outlander film at Wardpark, and films such as Marvel's Avengers and T2: Trainspotting have used facilities at Pelamis in Leith and Pyramids in Bathgate.
So in terms of investment and infrastructure, we are making progress. That's important in ensuring that we retain programmes and films for significant periods of time, rather than being a base for location shoots.
And we are also working to ensure that people are able to gain and update the skills they need to work in the television and film sector.
That's why I am delighted to announce today that the National Film and Television School will set up a new base in Scotland. The BBC is giving significant support to the venture – the school will be based at Pacific Quay, and will be able to use the BBC's studio facilities.
As many of you will know, the National Film and Television School is the most renowned school of its type in Europe. Its Glasgow base will be its first anywhere outside of London. So today's news isn't just good news for the Film and Television School, and for hundreds of people who want to make a career in screen – it is also a major vote of confidence in Scotland's film and television sector.
We expect approximately 400 people a year to use the school – including more than 100 full-time students. The Scottish Government is providing start-up funding for the project, and a significant proportion of that will be used for bursaries. We intend to ensure that the new centre encourages true diversity, and gives young people from all backgrounds a chance to develop a career in broadcasting.
So that takes me back to where I started. Nobody in Edinburgh in August can doubt the diversity and vitality of Scotland's creative talent. But, 60 years on from the advent of multi-channel broadcasting in this country, we are still waiting to see that diversity and vitality fully reflected both on and behind our screens.
My strong belief is that there is a genuine chance to change that. With greater commitments from our public service broadcasters, and strong support from the public sector, we can see significant continued growth in Scotland's television production sector. And the infinite variety of programming available to us will start to better reflect the infinite diversity of these islands.
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