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Here's a TV novelty: programmes made in Scotland for most Scots

IN CASE YOU haven't noticed, £l6m of public funding has just been ponied up to establish a new Gaelic TV channel. I make that £232 for every one of the 69,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland. 

 

I know that we are supposed to be supportive of endangered languages, but I do wonder - what about the other 98.6 per cent of us Scots, don't we also deserve better TV? 

 

Most of us remember a time when Scotland was reflected back to itself via popular soaps such as Take the High Road, light entertainment such as the Song for Scotland competition and indigenous dramas such as The Steamie. Each of these programmes was produced by STV primarily for its Scottish audience, an activity that the broadcaster has pretty much abandoned. 

 

SMG, parent company of STV, has been having a pretty torrid time of it over the last few years. During the 1990s, in an ambitious attempt to become a diversified media conglomerate, it wildly overspent in buying Virgin Radio, the Herald newspapers and the Pearl and Dean cinema advertising business, saddling the company with massive debt. 

 

When the advertising market slowed down in 2001, it found it could not generate the profits to service these borrowings. 

 

Since then it has been chasing its tail – selling off the Herald papers and trying to sell the cinema advertising and billboard poster business to try to get its debt under control. But it still has over £l90m of borrowing that is crippling the business. 

 

Earlier this year, chairman Chris Masters and his board were shown the door by key investors and replaced by Richard Findlay as chairman and Rob Woodward as chief executive. 

 

And it looks like the new management might now be getting things more focused. Woodward has recruited Anmar Kawash, a talented manager who formerly worked with him at C4, and, in a dramatic move, Alan Clements as head of production. 

 

As the founder of Wark Clements (with his broadcaster wife Kirsty Wark), his independent Scottish production company has produced a wide range of documentaries, popular features, dramas and comedies just the kind of stuff that STV really needs right now. 

 

Now SMG has announced that it will float the Virgin Radio arm. Although SMG originally paid £225m for this business, it is unlikely to get much more than £l00m for it now; but between that and selling the cinema advertising business, it should be able to get its debt down to a reasonable level. 

 

Woodward wants to get the company's focus back on TV production and broadcasting and says that the previous management's new media strategy "doesn't chime with me". 

This should be music to the ears of the long-suffering Scottish viewing public who have had various motoring and property programmes inflicted on them as a thinly disguised cover to promote a variety of dodgy SMG-owned commercial websites. 

 

Maybe Woodward should copy his previous employer, C4, which claims it will soon need some form of public funding to sustain its public service broadcasting at a reasonable level. 

 

So why shouldn't the Executive provide some financial support towards TV productions, made in Scotland for millions of Scots? If it's good enough for 69,000 Gaelic speakers, it's good enough for the rest of us. 

 

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