By Bob Duncan
The First Minister has told an audience of television producers and executives that Scottish viewers and producers are being failed by out-dated Westminster attitudes.
Alex Salmond told the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival that broadcasting policy – which is currently reserved to Westminster – is decades out of date.
Speaking at the festival for the first time, Mr Salmond said that broadcasting frameworks imposed by successive UK governments had failed to adapt to the digital revolution, and to devolution.
The First Minister said: "Scotland’s contribution to broadcasting is unparalleled. Television was invented by John Logie Baird and the very concept of public service broadcasting was shaped by Lord Reith. But Scottish viewers and TV production talent are today being short-changed.
"Since 2007 investment in training and network commissioning are up and BBC Alba – our national Gaelic language station – is a huge success, with an audience size last month nine times the number of people who speak Gaelic.
"So viewers are clearly voting with their remote controls for more Scottish content. Yet we do not have an English-language public service broadcasting channel of our own.
"The legislative framework that controls broadcasting in Scotland is based in Westminster and was put in place more than 50 years ago. Two years from the most important decision in Scotland for 300 years, it remains substantially unaltered.
"In an age of digital revolution, broadcasting policy has not even adapted to devolution."
The First Minister said a Scottish Digital Network was endorsed unanimously by Holyrood in 2008, but had since been completely ignored by the UK Government.
"The status quo is failing Scottish TV viewers and producers. Control of broadcasting policy must lie with Edinburgh rather than Westminster," he said.
The proposed new English language digital channel would form a "Scottish Network" with supporting online services and is predicted to be a £75 million per annum operation.
Mr Salmond continued: "In Scotland we have protected free education and the NHS, and we are enacting world-leading climate change legislation. We can also take responsibility for protecting and enhancing the values of public service broadcasting."
If Scotland votes to become independent, said the SNP leader, the plan will be to create a Scottish national broadcaster, "based on the existing staff an assets of BBC Scotland".
"Further details on how that broadcaster would operate and its continuing relationship with the BBC will be published next year," the First Minister added.
However Unionist politicians reacted angrily to suggestions that broadcasting in Scotland was in need of overhaul. Margaret Curran MP, Labour's Shadow Scottish Secretary, claimed the SNP's plan for an independent broadcaster with a focus on more Scottish content would "destabilise" the creative industries in Scotland.
She said: "Despite the weight of evidence that we're better working together with the BBC, Alex Salmond still wants to break up the BBC. It's about time that he concentrated on strengthening our creative industries rather than seeking to destabilise them."
Deputy Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw joined the Labour MP in attacking the idea, and added: "This is another nonsensical outburst about how everything will be better in a 'separate' Scotland - the only things missing, as usual, are the evidence and the detail. It will take more than a handful of historic references to convince the people of Scotland of yet another spurious claim."
However, referring to what he saw as the benefits of a Scottish broadcaster, the First Minister said: "Television forms part of our wider vision for an independent Scotland to be a fairer and more prosperous nation. A stronger broadcasting sector provides major economic benefits – in 2009, Ireland was home to more than double the value of independent TV production than Scotland.
"Only then will broadcasting truly be Scotland’s window on the world – bringing us the best of international content and allowing us to show the world what Scotland can create."
A short excerpt from the First Minister's speech
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