Last month MSPs debated Ms McAlpine’s motion welcoming the establishment of new services for Scotland but expressing concern that they will be disadvantaged by their positioning on the EPG.
During the debate, Ms McAlpine urged Digital UK – the organisation which decides what positioning channels are allocated on the Freeview EPG – to consider a range of options to give greater prominence to local services.
Ms McAlpine said:
“According to the Communications Act 2003, the regulator Ofcom should oblige providers of electronic programme guides to give a degree of prominence to public service channels. There are lots of shopping, movie and entertainment channels that could be moved to accommodate local TV but that has not happened in Scotland. For example, no one could argue that ITV 2 provides a public service, but it is on page 1 of the guide. We have to ask why.”
However Alex Pumfrey of Digital UK contacted Ms McAlpine following the debate to confirm that – despite the legislation – Digital UK will not require any channels to vacate a slot to accommodate the new local services.
Ms McAlpine has now written to Mr Pumfrey asking him to justify why Digital UK believes that channels which provide no public service deserve slots further up the EPG than the new local services.
The SNP MSP said:
“I have asked Mr Pumfrey to explain how Digital UK can justify having non-public service channels such as ITV2 higher on the EPG than local TV – which promises to provide an important public service – not least in the south of Scotland region I represent which is poorly served by television at the moment.
“This seems to fly in the face of the principle contained in the Communications Act which requires that public service channels are given prominence and I have asked him to point to the specific legislation that prevents commercial channels from being moved.
“If the communications legislation cannot enforce prominence for public service channels in Scotland, there is a danger that public service channels could also lose prominence elsewhere in the UK. The UK Government appears to recognise that and it has announced that it will seek to introduce new legislation to rectify the situation.
“However, there is no timeline for that legislation and even if it is introduced, it will come too late to benefit the services that are being launched this year in Scotland. It is therefore vital that Digital UK and Ofcom take steps to ensure these new channels are given slots as high up the EPG as possible.”
· Whereas in England, new local channels will be provided on channel 8 – in Scotland (and Wales) the services will be on channel 23 of the EPG. This means that Scotland’s new local services will be lower down the EPG listings than shopping, music and movie channels.
· STV – which holds the licenses for local services in Glasgow and Edinburgh – has expressed concern that the lack of prominence for local channels will lead to customer confusion and mean that funds which could be spent producing high quality programmes, will instead have to be used to advertise the existence of the services.
· The official report of Ms McAlpine’s debate can be found here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9212&i=83089&c=1668358&s=fairness%20in%20local%20television