30 January 2013

S4M-05112 Television (South of Scotland)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05112, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on television in the south of Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the decision of Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, not to block the renewal of Channel 3 television licences in 2014; understands and welcomes that this means that STV will continue to hold the licences for central Scotland and Grampian; expresses concern that ITV, which holds the Channel 3 licence for the former Border Television area, has limited public service content obligations; understands that local news in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway comes mainly from Gateshead; notes that recent Ofcom research reports dissatisfaction in the area with the ITV local coverage; welcomes Ms Miller’s acknowledgement of the deficiencies in ITV’s local and Scottish news coverage in the Border Television region in her letter to Ofcom of 16 November 2012; further welcomes Ms Miller’s request that Ofcom work with ITV plc. to find a solution, and would welcome real choice for viewers across the south of Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Members may wonder why someone from the north-east of Scotland is participating in the debate. I noted that the motion refers to

“real choice for viewers across the south of Scotland”,

and thought that it might be useful to talk about what happens elsewhere in Scotland and how that might be relevant to the debate, and to talk more generally about the value of television’s being a part of communities engaging with themselves and talking to one another.

In the north-east of Scotland, we talk about “Having a news,” which involves calling on a neighbour, having a discussion and talking about things in general. Good local media support and sustain that.

Good communication and information flow also support economic and political success. Two thousand years ago, it took the Greeks 30 days to send a message to one of their outposts, and it took another 30 days to get a message back—an incredibly long time. A person would have forgotten what the question was by the time they got the answer.

The Romans improved things dramatically; they could send a message from Londinium to Roma and get a reply back on the same day by a system of hilltop signalling. It did not work at night or if there was fog, but it was a huge improvement.

To move forward rapidly, it was a huge step forward when Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone in 1876. By 1881—only five years later—Edinburgh had 300 telephone subscribers. People want good-quality communications that are relevant to them.

I have done family-tree research for many years, and have a letter to my great-great-grandfather that is dated 1870. It was written over a period of a month and told him that one of his sons who lived in Scotland had died; my great-great-grandfather was in Canada. That was such a precious communication that the writer waited until the outcome of the illness before sending it. It shows that familial conversation, as well as community conversation, is important. I remember that my father’s first telephone call to the United States in 1958 had to be booked a day in advance and that it cost half the average working man’s weekly wage.

We now have a television pattern that was established when ITV started in around 1955. It will change, and it is changing. We have already seen that with STV. It is not a monolithic news service—there are four separate bulletins across Scotland. More fundamentally, as a commercial imperative STV is now reaching down into communities, with local reporters, local websites and local TV inserts, which are often picked up and used. In my constituency alone there are two STV websites—in Buckie and Peterhead. Such action will be a key part of sustaining companies that were born in the mid-1950s into the next 30 or 40 years. The future will not be like the past.

On journalists from television companies, Colin Wight at BBC Aberdeen goes out with a camera on his own. He writes for the web, he does for radio and he does for TV. That will be the pattern—people getting to the root of what is going on. A letter that I got from my relatives in Canada took 360 milliseconds to arrive—not the 360 minutes it took the Romans to talk to London. In the future, it will be so instantaneous it will not be true. We have to find ways of delivering for the Borders. Perhaps they can show the rest of us how to do it, because their need is greatest.


Stewart Stevenson
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