Scottish Government backs publicly funded Scottish Digital Network

Proposals for an independent, publicly funded local television network in Scotland have won the backing of the Scottish Government.

A formal expression of interest to establish a Scottish Digital Network has been submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in response to its Local Media Action Plan consultation.

In January, the Scottish Digital Network Panel published a report into how a network, including a TV channel for public service broadcasting, could be established and then funded.

The panel’s report followed a call from the Scottish Broadcasting Commission in 2008 for such a network to be established at a cost £75 million a year it reasoned could come from the licence fee.

The Scottish Government Minister responsible, in response to the panel report, agreed the best possible source of funding for a digital network is the television licence fee.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop told the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee the bid presses the case for the network in Scotland to be publicly funded.

Hyslop said: “We firmly believe that a publicly-funded Scottish Digital Network is the best way to sustain and support local television services in Scotland.

‘It would bring benefits to viewers in all parts of Scotland – not just the largest centres of population which are commercially viable – as well as meeting the need for choice in public service broadcasting in Scotland.

“I believe that the case for a digital network is sufficiently strong, and has such support across the political spectrum in Scotland, that the establishment of a network will happen. The main uncertainty, to my mind, relates to when a network will be established, rather than if it will be established.

“The report’s recommendations in relation to funding a digital network can only be implemented with the co-operation and agreement of the UK Government.

‘My key priority, therefore, since receiving the Panel’s report, has been to make the case for funding a Scottish Digital Network to the UK Government, in order to try to secure prompt agreement from UK Ministers about possible funding for a network

“We recognise that the UK Government’s view is that the core network for local television services should largely be commercially funded.

‘However we do not think that such a solution is likely to offer significant public service benefits for viewers in Scotland.

‘It is now for the UK Government to work with us to establish a digital network for Scotland, funded from the licence fee as S4C will be from 2013-14, or from the sale of spectrum once digital television switchover has been completed, which will then accommodate more localised broadcasting.”

Investment banker Nicholas Shott led a steering group which recommended to the Westminster Government last year the creation of a new system of ten to 12 local TV stations linked by a national channel broadcast on digital terrestrial television (DTT).

Funding for such a venture, Shott suggested, would come from £25m start-up costs provided by the BBC, plus £5m a year there after for content, with the Government underwriting a contract with an existing national broadcaster to sell £15m a year of national advertising in to the service.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in January that licences for local television services will be handed out before the end of 2012.

The BBC agreed to cover start-up costs of up to £25 million in 2013/14 for local TV, for up to 20 services, as part of last year’s licence fee settlement.

It will also offer funding up to £5 million a year for three years from 2014/15 as part of the deal.

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