We need greater diversity both on and behind our TV screens

By , 25/08/17

Below is a speech given today by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Check against delivery.

 

It always seems fitting that in August – when Edinburgh and Scotland are the cultural capitals of the world –  we also, very fleetingly, become the media centre for the UK.

 

And it’s maybe particularly appropriate this year. As you probably already know, we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festivals. Both the BBC and STV have expanded their coverage of those festivals this year.

 

And we’re also marking an anniversary in Scottish broadcasting. It’s 60 years next week that Scottish Television – as it was then known – first broadcast in Scotland.

 

It marked the first time that there had ever been competition in Scottish broadcasting. Just before the Channel launched, Roy Thompson, the then chair of Scottish Television, promised viewers “an infinite variety of programmes.”

 

And it’s odd when you reflect on that quote. Viewers in Scotland and around the world do now have access to an infinite variety, or at least an infinite number, of programmes. But diversity hasn’t been achieved.

 

And that’s the theme which links the two things that I have been asked to talk about this morning.  I’ve been asked to talk about women in broadcasting, and also to talk about how to develop production in Scotland. And diversity links both of those ideas. For all the variety of programmes we can get, television still doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of audiences that broadcasters serve within Scotland and within these islands.

 

Women in broadcasting

 

Since I agreed to speak at this event, the publication of the BBC’s pay figures has dramatised the issue of the gender pay gap to a greater extent than I ever imagined possible.

 

Firstly let’s be clear, the push for transparency by the Tories was not an attempt to expose a gender pay gap. It was – perhaps cynically – expected to flush out the high salaries paid to some presenters by the BBC and to wind up licence fee payers to question what was being done with their money by a public institution.

 

Instead, while it did wind up licence fee payers – in particularly female ones – it exposed the gross disparity in salaries between men and women in on screen positions at the BBC.

 

Perhaps the most obscene 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 the same work, for grossly different salaries.

 

When I was here two years ago I spoke about how the viewing public were increasingly challenging the lack of women in major on-screen roles.  Given that women make up 52 per cent of the population, it seemed odd that men occupied twice as many presenting roles.

 

Progress has been made – but it seems that in ensuring equal representation on some programmes, the BBC forgot that there should be equal pay for equal work.

 

Kirsty was one of more than 40 leading female presenters who wrote an open letter to Tony Hall after the pay figures were made known. The letter said:

 

“You have said that you will ‘sort’ the gender pay gap by 2020, but the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now.

 

“Beyond the list, there are so many other areas including production, engineering and support services and global, regional and local media where a pay gap has languished for too long.”

 

As you would expect, I agree wholeheartedly with that letter. But I don’t believe for one moment that the BBC is the only media organisation with a gender pay gap. It exemplifies the case for greater transparency in the reporting of companies’ pay policies – not perhaps by revealing every single contract, but by showing where gender pay gaps exist, and how big they are.  After all, we can only call out unacceptable practices when we know they exist.  

 

And of course these issues aren’t confined to gender. The BBC’s pay data revealed that only one of its 25 best paid stars was from a black or minority ethnic background. That presenter, George Alagiah, was 25th.

 

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 now plans to ask the BBC to monitor its onscreen racial diversity, its plans don’t apply behind the camera.

 

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 ¾ of new entrants to journalism had done an unpaid internship. In those circumstances, it’s incredibly hard for people whose parents can’t support them to get a foot in the door.

 

And this week’s provisional report from the Diamond project demonstrated that disabled people and people over the age of 50 are significantly under-represented in broadcasting. Although it is also worth adding that 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 may come.

 

That would certainly be in the interests of the media, as well as the viewing public. As Jon Snow commented on Wednesday night, there is a 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 promote genuine diversity is a matter of basic fairness –it is first and foremost a moral imperative. But it should also be a matter of basic self-interest. It will be good for your businesses, as well as for society, if you can represent the demographics of your viewers, and benefit from a broader range of experiences, ideas and stories.

 

Television production in Scotland

 

Now of course that basic principle – that television needs to do more to reflect the diversity of modern life – is also relevant to the second issue I want to talk about today. That’s how the television production sector in Scotland, and how the media reflects the different nations and regions of the UK.

 

It’s worth being clear that things are much better now than they have been. It’s now just over a decade since my predecessor, Alex Salmond, established the Scottish Broadcasting Commission as a direct result of 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 has been a success in terms of its viewing figures and its impact on Scotland’s production sector.

 

And UK network expenditure has increased. In 2006 Scotland’s share of UK network commissions had sunk as low as 2.6 per cent. Last year, it was 6 per cent.

 

And it seems almost certain to grow further – the BBC has promised to invest £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.  I happened to be in the studio on the night of its first broadcast. I was impressed by what they were able to achieve without the resources of other channels.

 

And even more importantly, the BBC has announced plans for a new Scottish channel which will launch in 2018. I called for that new BBC channel when I last spoke at this festival. So as you would expect, I warmly welcome the BBC’s moves. But as you might also expect, I believe there is still more to be done.

 

First, 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 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, BBC’s proposed channel is set to have a budget of £30 million. There are already legitimate questions about whether that will be sufficient. After all, the Broadcasting Commission in 2008 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 close and constant review.

 

And at present, approximately 72 per cent of the licence fee raised in Scotland will be spent in Scotland. However in Wales and Northern Ireland, it is 98 per cent. 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 Scotland’s production sector. I welcome that. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Scottish broadcasting – for all the undoubted progress of recent years – is still being short-changed.

 

One other issue which I know will have been discussed a lot over the last few days is Channel 4’s proposed relocation. The Scottish Government sees some merit in moving Channel 4’s headquarters - broadcasting in the UK is far too centralised. And we’ve made it clear that if Channel 4 does move out of London, Glasgow would be an obvious base. Channel 4 already has offices here. 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. I’m all in favour of Channel 4 moving to Glasgow – I am after all the constituency MSP for the part of the Clyde which already hosts two national broadcasters – but I’m also aware 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.

 

And so, relocation will not be an answer on its own, whatever final decisions are taken on headquarters. 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 UK population. We want to see all public service broadcasters do more to commission programmes from the UK’s nations and regions.

 

Boosting the television production sector

 

That’s linked to a broader issue. I mentioned earlier that Russell T Davies is speaking in the Pentland suite at present. 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 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.

 

Scotland has 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 and 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 our support. 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.

 

And progress is being made 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 Edinburgh. 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 significant 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.

 

In total, 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.

 

And 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 hope and 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 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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