MSPs question Ofcom over programmes categorised as Scottish productions

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MSPs have questioned senior figures at the UK’s broadcasting regulator after programmes such as an England v Serbia football match were categorised as Scottish productions.

Joan McAlpine, convener of Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe & External Affairs Committee, said independent producers in Scotland have raised concerns about how programmes qualify as Scottish productions.

She said: “It’s still hard to see how for example… the Women’s FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea or the England v Serbia Euro 2017 qualifier qualifies as a Scottish production that meets both of the public purpose criteria.”

She said drama programmes forming part of the Scottish allocation include Rillington Place, based on the John Christie murders in Notting Hill, London, adding: “Again that’s a Scottish drama but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Scotland and the casting wouldn’t have been Scottish and the production would not have taken place here so clearly there’s a question mark over that, isn’t there?”

Ms McAlpine added: “It’s not just the BBC. I noticed in the Ofcom list of Scottish productions, it includes a Channel 4 production of Alan Titchmarsh following the footsteps of AA Milne around Harrod’s toy department in Surrey, and that’s a Scottish programme apparently as well.”

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director of Content and Media Policy, who was giving evidence to the committee, said Ofcom had investigated the programmes independent producers were unhappy about and found they met guidelines.

But he added they did not deliver what the guidelines were designed for in ensuring development of the creative industries in Scotland and other nations and regions of the UK.

He said there would be a call for evidence and public consultation in 2018 regarding a review of out-of-London spending and guidelines, part of which is examining the three criteria governing which programmes are categorised as Scottish productions.

The criteria, two out of three of which require to be met, focus spending and employment in Scotland and whether or not the programme executives are based in Scotland.

Mr Bakhurst said some broadcasters and producers felt there is no need for substantial change to the guidelines while others have called for more transparency and he believed the outcome of the review would be “greater transparency” regarding the register and more “rigour” from Ofcom concerning the information provided.

He stressed the “range of measures and range of types of productions is really important” and said Ofcom is striving to ensure the creative economy in Scotland has the right mix of skills, investment and range of programmes.

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