believe in the power of the media. It shapes our thinking, whether we like it or not.
Even if you don’t read newspapers, the stands they sit on act as billboards. Even if you don’t watch television, you’re aware of its zeigeist, its agendas through the chatter of friends, colleagues. If you don’t use social media, contact with any of the aforementioned forms means you’re acutely aware of what’s being said and discussed.
We’d love to think of the news media as a representation of the body politic or the populist thought of the day; a temperature taking of the population made through choosing what to report, how to report it and how much airtime or column inches it deserves. But that very process is open to agenda; why was or why wasn’t something reported? Why was the story told in certain ways?
Same goes for entertainment media. Why do certain narratives and ideas persist? Why do styles and methods of creating entertainment become endemic?
I’m not going to pontificate and ruminate over the purpose of media, but it’s an interesting starting point. And one that Karyn Dougan and I started to consider more seriously in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum.
There is obvious anger at the media in Scotland. There is clear distrust. I’d even go as far to say that in many places, there’s a wholesale rejection of the mainstream, established media in the country.
This was going on well before the campaigns started on a constitutional issue; the rise of a multitude of websites, blogs, podcasts and internet TV programmes far pre-date the referendum ever being raised. Why?
Well, I’d suggest we ask several questions. In Scotland, how many media outlets are actually owned in Scotland? The answer – almost none. And with the greatest respect to those that are, the scant few I miss in a sweeping generalisation, they are small and local. Is that a healthy thing? I can’t think of another European country where financial and creative decisions about established media players are not made in the country within which they reside. It seems peculiar.
Which brings me to the second question – is that a healthy thing? If you believe, like me, that good journalism involves the ability to dissent, the ability to question and hold powers greater than yourself to account, to represent a variety of opinion, then the answer would be no. Newspapers, television outlets, all media forms have the right to hold an opinion – in the run up to indyref, only one newspaper backed independence. Those that claimed to remain neutral, seemed to overwhelmingly run anti-independence stories, some that stretched plausibility, some that were distortions of what was said and some that, quite frankly, were manipulations of the facts.
Alternative viewpoints matter, even if you, the journalist, proprietor or reader, don’t agree with them. There is a fundamental lack of balance across the media in Scotland; I don’t lay that at the door of individual journalists, most of whom were well meaning and decent in their reporting, but in the fact that many institutions looked out for their own well-being rather than delivering their customers a balanced representation of the facts.
Another difficulty is the lack of opportunity for new blood in the media. I have been extremely privileged in my life to have had the opportunity to set up and then grow an independent publishing company in Scotland. I have since moved into television, but in both industries I’m acutely aware how hard it is to even get a start if you’re fresh from university or if you’ve retrained from another industry. Many of our best people, young and older, have to leave Scotland to get work. That needs to change if we are to improve the quality of our broadcasting.
I set all this out, in my long, rambling style, to suggest that all of this does not have to be this way.
Which brings us to Freedom TV. First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who have donated. Karyn and I have been absolutely overwhelmed at how deep you all dug to support this idea. There are actually no words. To see an idea we created take form with such enthusiasm, passion and generosity made me realise that we are not alone in this desire to see a better media in this country. I will never be able to thank you enough for that.
That generosity also brings with it a contract. The pact between all of us that we deliver the absolute best that we can. And we intend to do that.
This first blog is scant on specifics for several reasons; however, we will update this blog as regularly as we can. One reason for lack of details is that many of the people involved do want to remain anonymous for now, due to the nature of their jobs and positions and we respect that. Many of them are risking professional ruin by being involved with something that may be an implied, if not an explicit, criticism of their employers. Another is that the sheer volume of people who have offered their assistance and the staggering amount of money we have raised has given us food for thought – we did not anticipate having such potential and scope for the project and I thank all you who have offered your help and those of you who have given money. Finally, one of the major reasons for the lack of specifics now is that we want to canvas opinion among as many people as we can. One of the most aggravating issues for me with several media outlets is that the public’s thoughts and wants are actually never considered. At worst, they’re blatantly ignored. I would very much like it if you could post a comment here, telling us what you would like to see and what kind of programmes you want. Your ideas will be taken on board, debated, tested and we’ll be setting up a more formal way for doing that once we get up and running.
Two questions that people have asked have jumped out at me during crowd funding – 1) Is £6,000 (the amount we sought on Indiegogo) enough to create a new broadcaster and 2) How are you going to create hundreds of hours of programming with a tiny budget? The answers are 1) It’s not and 2) We don’t intend to.
My answers to those questions might seem flippant, so here is a more serious explanation. Our goal is quality, pure and simple. Personally, I would rather see less programmes, but the ones I did see had love and care put into them. BBC Scotland has an annual budget of just over £200m for TV and radio and even then, many of their hours are covered by centralised broadcasting, like the expensive Saturday night shows or blue chip documentaries. £7k is a hell of a lot of money; in TV terms, it doesn’t buy even part of a studio kit.
That is not to show contempt for the huge amount you have raised. But working in the media for most of my adult life has taught me this – walk before marathons. Producing vast amounts of content requires time, expertise, equipment, editorial control – and all of that costs large amounts of money.
Thus, we plan to start small. We are looking initially to produce three shows, two of which will run weekly and one of which will run either fortnightly or monthly. We will listen to feedback on these shows, we will test their viability, their quality to make them the best we can. Most importantly, starting with a small amount of shows allows us to build a ‘rhythm’ – that is, creating a schedule that allows our production team to find a groove that works around their regular jobs while ensuring quality, building a pool of people who can create as part of a team and to give time to acquire high profile interviewees and develop working relationships with regular contributors.
After a few months, we will look to add shows where we can; I won’t commit to a specific number added each month or anything like that, because knowing how TV production goes, best laid plans often go out the window. What we will do then is set up an open pilot scheme – we will look for people to put forward ideas for shows, we will take forward a few that we believe can work creatively and feasibility, and shoot pilots of them. Those that are voted to be good will become part of our regular output. Public participation determined, not by voting off celebrities who can’t dance or having a few of your tweets read on air, but by actually having a say in what gets made.
In terms of production, the crew I mention are prestigious, but it is has been a challenge at the current time to bring everyone together under one roof, due to people going on foreign shoots or simply being so involved in their day jobs at present. Thankfully, the time is coming when scheduling can begin in earnest and we will update this page with blow-by-blow of where we’re at with practicalities.
Who is this all for? That’s a big question and I’ll try answer it. It’s not for us, by that I mean Karyn and I. We are not interested in making money for ourselves from this, and anyway, another thing I’ve learned from working in the media is that there are far easier ways to make money. This is much bigger, much more important than what the two of us want. We’re just part of the spark; we want as many people involved as we can and we see our role as organising and trying to create a model where viewers and production makers have freedom without it becoming a stairheid rammy. Ultimately, we just want to build a channel that Scotland deserves; that will involve having to take tough decisions that often people will not agree with. We will always strive to take decisions based on fairness, what is best for the channel and what creates a workable system for all those involved.
To that end, we recognise there are already many groups in Scotland making terrific strides in providing good quality analysis and entertainment. On this point, we are extremely grateful to particular individuals like Mike Small at Bella Caledonia and Jack, James and Carolyn at Broadcast News For Scotland for highlighting our goals and being so supportive. We are not looking to upstage or tread on these people’s toes. We are looking to support them, to give talented people a platform. We are reaching out to them now and have been for the last few months to try and make this inclusive.
Again, who is this all for? One thing this channel will not be is a nationalist or a pro-Yes drum. For the record, both Karyn and I voted Yes. I am a civic nationalist and have been since I was very, very young. I have been a member of the SNP; I am not now. But we will not be ardently supporting the Yes cause. We will not run news items that fail to ask hard questions of all sides to the debate; we will not be shying away from taking all those involved in Scottish public life to task. Why, you might ask. Because we’ve learned from pro-union media supporters that there is absolutely no worth in having a stance that refuses dissent; viewers simply turn off in their droves. More to the point, if hard questions are asked, the best rise to the top. If you want to use Freedom TV to convince undecided or unionist supporters of the case for independence, we are best served by creating an unbiased, honest and fair channel that lays out all sides of any political debate, be that about independence or other issues.
Finally, I’ve noted the issue with the centralisation of the media in the UK. Originally, we conceived of creating all our shows in a studio space in Glasgow, but then so many offers of assistance came in from around Scotland. Most of these people are experienced, talented journalists who have offered their talents to this channel. And why not de-centralise broadcasting? Why not allow for real reporting on the ground by people who actually know the areas and issues? Our hope is to arm these people with filming kits, that allows them to shoot professionally, creating news and entertainment that matters.
This is a very long post, so I thank you if you’ve made it this far. I’ll summarise if you want to skim read here:
We are focussed on quality and are therefore working to a handful of shows initially, with a view to growing sustainably and sensibly over time.
We are open to feedback, thoughts, suggestions and direct offers of support.
We are aiming to be neutral politically and to present a professional product.
We need your help.
On that final point, I feel rude for asking once again, but you can help us right now to achieve these goals in several ways. Firstly, I have to ask for your patience – as I’ve said, this is logistically an enormous task to organise crews, contributors and staff; with the generosity of donations, not a task we take lightly. We will be using this blog to promote openness and to update you on what’s actually going on. Two, I have to ask for your talent – the aforementioned talk of the difficulty in getting started in the media is one we take seriously. Not just grads, people from all backgrounds who believe they can help – we need your help and we hope we can help you too. If you’re a graphics person, a camera operator, a journalist, a copy editor, a blogger, a presenter – whoever you are, you have a role to play, so please contact us. Finally, I’d ask if you can continue to share the crowd funding page far and wide – a bigger budget really does translate onto the screen.
Our intentions are noble, our vision is ambitious. But we are realistic of the hard work ahead and I hope it’s a road you’ll join us on.
Once again, a huge thanks from the both of us to all of you. Let’s work toward a broadcaster Scotland deserves.
Mark – November 2014