Scotland’s Gaelic TV channel BBC Alba, attracts many more Scottish viewers than there are Gaelic speakers and the potential for growth is well recognized in the trade. Independent programme makers in Scotland produce quality television for the station but in insufficient quantity to fully support the channel. The channel broadcasts for around 7 hours daily and comprises a 70/30 split in favour of BBC content.
The BBC has a commitment to provide quality programmes and does this by raiding the extensive BBC archives searching for content from yesteryear which it broadcasts with increasing frequency. The tactic allows the BBC to claim it is supporting the channel at great cost since it applies the current charge out rate for the old repeats.
Lack of finance has always been a major factor preventing expansion, a historical consequence of the Westminster government’s resistance to the creation of the channel despite being a signatory to the (1998) European Declaration on Minority Languages which committed the Westminster government to supporting Gaelic, Doric and Scotch through funding and support of a broadcasting service.
At that time the Westminster government accepted a commitment to have a new channel, (fully funded by a Westminster government direct grant mirroring the Welsh SC4 model) up and running by 2003.
Alba first broadcast in 2008, soon after the minority SNP took up government at Holyrood. The years long delay was attributed to resistance from the UK Treasury which refused to provide a £100m plus budget similar to that already in place in support of the Welsh language channel.
A breakthrough of sorts was achieved by the SNP government who applied pressure forcing the Westminster government to increase the block grant by £10m. The BBC committed to supporting the new channel and formed a joint venture partnership with the Gaelic Broadcasting Agency. It also promised up to £4m of programming content.
Broadcasting on a shoestring the new channel proved to be a bit “hairy” in the first months, as it became evident it was hopelessly underfunded (SC4 the Welsh language channel had a Westminster financed operational budget of £110m).
The under-funding was partly corrected by the SNP government, which provided £10m, new money (without an increase in the block grant) and the BBC, responding to pressure from the SNP government increased its programming support to £8m. Again charging current charge out rates for old progammes. Real value probably nearer £2m.
Financing of the £110m SC4 Welsh channel was then transferred to the BBC by the Westminster government regularizing broadcasting finance. Nice one £110m to Wales and £4m to Scotland. Hardly fair to Scotland
Many more Scots non-Gaelic speakers than the targeted audience view the channel regularly, which is attributed to the creative programming of the Gaelic Broadcasting Agency and the broadcasting of “live” rugby, soccer and other niche sports.
Scottish Government’s policy is:
“To encourage inward investment in film and television production in Scotland, and use our new overseas network to promote Scotland as a location for film and television production.
We plan to continue the existing fiscal incentives for such production, and, within the first term of an independent Scottish parliament, we propose to look at ways to encourage further development in the sector, through incentives, infrastructural investment and support for development, skills and training.”
The Westminster government can no longer claim to be supporting “Alba” and the BBC commitment to Scotland is pathetic in comparison with the £110m finance it provides to the SC4 channel.
The use of optional sub-titles is not yet a common feature, but increasing use of “streaming” programming coupled with additional funding, through the Scottish government should address the issue.
Programme content needs to be expanded and improved upon and can be achieved by the SNP government increasing financial support expanding the remit of the Gaelic Broadcasting Agency to include Scotch and Doric programming in compliance with the commitment to protect Scotland’s heritage from the dominance and current prevalence of the “Queens English” presentation of “live” news and current affairs programmes.
Phantom Power Films are one example. They produce excellent television standard films and these and others deserve to be viewed by a wider Scots audience.
The changes need to be put in place now to ensure Scots can be provided with information about their country free of the bias of the “Unionist” State media that has done so much harm to Scotland.