Panel calls for Scottish digital channel to be funded from licence fee

An independent panel of media experts has called for the funding of a proposed digital TV channel dedicated to Scottish content to come out of the television licence fee.

The Scottish Digital Network Panel opined that a new public service broadcaster for Scotland would boost creative industries and have major cultural and social benefits, as well as help in driving the uptake of high-speed broadband services.

Scottish culture minister Fiona Hyslop tasked a panel, which included Scottish Broadcasting Commission (SBC) chair Blair Jenkins (pictured) and former editor of The Herald newspaper Charles McGhee, to make recommendations on how the Scottish Digital Network (SDN) could be established and funded.

The SDN was the main recommendation of a SBC three years ago and would consist of a dedicated television channel on Freeview, satellite and cable broadcasting an expected four hours of originated Scottish content per day, supported by a wide range of digital content on broadband, and would cost an estimated £75million per year – about 2% of the current licence fee income.

The Panel report says: "An allocation from the television licence fee remains the most appropriate source for funding the Scottish Digital Network and that is the recommendation the Panel is making. We feel it would be wrong to make significant claims on other forms of general public funding at a time when all services are suffering reductions for the foreseeable future."

The panel points out that the television licence fee is now regarded across the political spectrum as the best source of funding for public service broadcasting in general and not just the BBC. The Welsh-language broadcaster S4C will receive £76 million annually from the licence fee from 2013-14, and there is also to be a substantial contribution to the costs of new local television services around the UK.

The report criticises the outcome of the recent licence fee settlement between the UK Government and the BBC as being 'determined in haste in private meetings', without the opportunity for public consultation and for consideration of the debate and the demand in Scotland.

The panel rules out advertising as a possible source of funding for the SDN, saying: "Any advertising revenue attracted by the new service if commercially funded would most likely be at the expense of other Scottish media rather than representing additional revenues in the market."

The report notes what it calls the 'financial precariousness' of much of traditional commercial media in Scotland, adding that 'we are convinced public funding through a fairer redistribution of the television licence fee income is the best way to deliver the Scottish Digital Network'.

Jenkins said: "Our aim was to build on the very widespread public and political support for the SDN by setting out a clear description of how it can be established and funded. We hope that both the momentum and the consensus can be maintained for this transformation of Scottish broadcasting."

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