The First Minister of Scotland has called for new Scottish radio and television channels on the BBC.
Nicola Sturgeon was speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Channel, where she outlined the SNP’s position going into the BBC’s charter renewal discussions.
Pointing to the success of BBC Alba – the Gaelic speaking channel – Sturgeon called for the creation of “a distinct BBC Scotland TV channel.” She believes this would “empower BBC Scotland as never before,” and would result in a greater share of the licence fee being spent in Scotland.
The First Minister also wants a second Scottish radio station, saying that “Radio Scotland currently has an almost impossible job – it’s one station trying to reflect the life of an entire nation.”
The ideas for new Scottish BBC channels, as well as the ‘more federal structure’ Sturgeon proposed in the speech, are reminiscent of plans the SNP made for the creation of a Scottish Broadcasting Service in the event of Independence.
Scotland ultimately voted no, but the First Minister believes there is still a desire for “content commissioned here, content that reflects their life, that reflects world affairs fro a particular Scottish perspective. A variety and a choice.”
“I get annoyed sometimes when people interpret that as Scotland wanting to look inwards and be parochialist. Nothing of the sort. Scotland is an outward looking nation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to see ourselves reflected better than we are.”
Asked how the BBC would pay for an expanded Scottish service while dealing with contracting budgets – that, among other cost-saving measures, are likely to result in BBC3 moving entirely online next year – Sturgeon was sympathetic but undeterred.
“There are choices to be made everywhere just now. What I’m saying is we should not allow that to eclipse the ambition that we already have.” She admitted “there is less money to go round,” but believes the share invested in Scotland should be adjusted “appropriately.”
But what about attracting viewers to the BBC’s existing channels? Like, say, former First Minister Alex Salmond, who has reportedly sworn off the Corporation’s output entirely?
“There’s an easy way to fix that,” she replied. “you just have to put horse racing on the BBC.”
The BBC responded to Sturgeon’s comments in a statement, saying “Audiences across Scotland get great value from the licence fee, and are some of the highest users of BBC services. The licence fee funds much loved services across the UK – like BBC1 and Radio 2 – but also specific services, like Radio Scotland and BBC Alba.
“Services for smaller audiences clearly cost more to provide, and that is why we spend more in the Nations per head than the rest of the UK – that’s the right thing to do. We recognise that there is audience demand for greater representation and portrayal of Scottish audiences on all BBC services and we want this to be part of our response in Charter Review.
“The BBC’s funding has now been set for the next five years and this will mean cuts across the BBC – we will have to balance our investment on pan-UK services with dedicated services in the Nations. We will aim to protect spending in the Nations so that content investment is cut less than in other parts of the BBC. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government on these issues, and to consulting with licence fee payers in Scotland about how they would like to see their licence fee spent.”