11 May 2000

The Independent Television Commission has described as "unacceptable" the operation of the Grampian Television licence, now owned by Scotland's largest media company Scottish Media Group. Grampian, based in Aberdeen, was taken-over three years ago by SMG, headquartered in Glasgow.

Following complaints from viewers, members of the Scottish Parliament, English MPs and two trade unions, the ITC's ruling demands more local interest content for viewers in Grampian's north of Scotland franchise area. SMG managing director, Donald Emslie, said he was pleased that neither the quantity or quality of Grampian programming was under question.

According to the ITC, Grampian's regional output over the past two years has shown "a substantial reduction" of prime time programmes of special interest to local viewers. Some programmes had been moved to less accessible time slots while others had been replaced by co-productions. The latter “may attract additional resources, but at the expense of lessening their specific regional appeal … [SMG] cannot therefore substitute for the licence requirement that Grampian must itself produce, and commission from north of Scotland independents, a range of programmes of special appeal to Grampian viewers."

The ITCC demands:

 A further regional half-hour slot of Gaelic programmes on Sunday evenings

 The 22.30 slot used for local programmes will consist mainly of co-productions but will also include some Grampian only material

 Grampian ... will maintain a staffing structure covering all the necessary grades and skills needed to produce its own programmes without importing staff

 Captions at the end of programmes will clearly reflect the origin of the production

 The ITC will commission independent research in the Grampian transmission area using a sample of 1,000 viewers to ascertain viewer response to Grampian output.

The regulator added: “The ITC will monitor the full range of Grampian's output, rather than a selective portion for at least the next six months." According to Aberdeen Central MP, Frank Doran, the ITC has imposed "very serious conditions on Grampian Television, perhaps unprecedented in the UK".

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)