Save BBC Introducing in Scotland campaign: where we’re at (part 3)

It’s been a couple of months since the last update on this site about the Save BBC Introducing in Scotland campaign and some of the most important developments have happened in that period, so here’s a wee round-up of what’s been going down and where things stand with regards to the future of the show.

December 14, 2011: Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop invites the campaign team to meet her at Holyrood. We bring along a fairly sizeable delegation (see photo above) made up of folk working in the music industry who can give first-hand accounts about the importance of the show, such as Carly Connor, who is signed to Atlantic Records, hip hop artist Profisee and Brendan Moon, who manages Paolo Nutini and The View.

The discussion is held in Alex Salmond’s office (smaller than you might think) and Ms Hyslop explains what help she can offer in practical terms, i.e. publicly support our efforts and organise a full debate on the issue in Parliament (see January 19).

December 19, 2011: Paul Downie and I get the train down to London, where we meet up with Northern Irish campaigner Gerry Norman, who plays in an excellent Belfast band called A Plastic Rose. Unfortunately, nobody from the Welsh campaign is able to join us due to a strike by musicians over PRS payments for Welsh-language artists.

Our first stop is Westminster where our host is Pete Wishart MP, the man who brought up the Introducing campaign in a House of Commons debate about the BBC cuts on December 1. At 2pm, he takes us to a meeting with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey which goes so well that Mr Vaizey and his aides end up highlighting specific parts of the BBC Charter they feel we can argue have been breached. Mr Vaizey also promises to voice our concerns directly to Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper…

…which, conveniently enough, is who our 4pm meeting is with. This turns out to be a feisty affair given that we’re finally in a room with the guy who made the very decision that has provoked such an outcry from music fans and artists in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Mr Cooper has two main arguments:
1. Merging the three ‘Nations’ shows into a UK-wide one will help him make budgets cuts enforced upon Radio 1 by the BBC’s pledge to save 20% as a result of the licence fee freeze.
2. This change is actually a good thing for unsigned acts from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales because it means getting played on the new show will result in them being heard by a much larger audience.

Now, the first argument is admissible since Mr Cooper has to find savings from somewhere and given that he’s only been in the job since October 2011, it’s no great surprise he has elected to make them as far away from his London office as possible.

As for the second argument, I haven’t come across a single unsigned musician who is rubbing their hands at the thought of trying to squeeze onto a playlist of 6 Scottish songs in a UK-wide show compared to 24 in Ally McCrae’s current show. I’ve also yet to find anyone who agrees that it’s more important for an unsigned non-English band’s songs to be heard by Radio 1 listeners in Tunbridge Wells or Leamington Spa than to those in the country they actually do most, if not all, their gigging.

The last meeting of our London trip is at 5.15pm with Stephen Callow, senior adviser of the BBC Trust, who ultimately have the power to reverse the decision if they feel it’s not in the public interest. He listened to our misgivings, asked pertinent questions, scribbled down some notes and took the Scottish/Northern Irish/Welsh petitions with 14,000 signatures off our hands.

January 19, 2012: Save Introducing in Scotland members’ debate in Scottish Parliament. Led by Joan McAlpine, a member of the Education and Culture Committee who has supported the campaign since it began, the 35-minute video footage might just restore your faith in politics as MSPs from all parties put aside the usual petty squabbling to rally behind the cause and indulge in some reminiscing about their youth. Even the token Tory MP, Annabel Goldie, ends up conceding, “There’s no major disagreement in the motion”.

January 25, 2012: The BBC Trust publishes its interim findings on the Delivering Quality First proposals. This provides neither good nor bad news. The Trust identifies the proposed changes to the Introducing show as an area that merits further investigation but doesn’t go so far as to demand that the decision be reversed, not yet anyway. Here’s their statement:

“The next steps include further analysis of the consultation and testing of some specific proposals – and this includes those affecting Radio 1 and 1 Xtra (as referenced on page 14 of the document). We hope to be able to publish final conclusions in the spring. The regulatory testing refers to a specific process we are undertaking where an Executive proposal, if approved, would involve a change to a service licence (the document that we use to govern the BBC’s services). In your area of interest, the change would be to the wording of the Radio 1 service licence which states that “There should be a weekly opt-out programme for each nation to develop local talent and help expose it to a wider audience”. The test we are applying will look at the likely impact on audiences and users and the impact on others including the market. We will then weigh up the various considerations arising from this analysis, alongside other factors such as financial implications, before taking a decision on whether to approve the change or not.”

A final decision is expected to be made by the BBC Trust by March. Fingers crossed the one they make doesn’t alienate Radio 1 listeners, fans and artists who care about new music in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

I’ll leave you with some statements of support we’ve received during the campaign…

Biffy Clyro: “We fully support the campaign and are very much against the axing of the show. Introducing in Scotland is an incredible resource for Scottish bands, artists and the music-loving public and its scrapping would be a huge loss for us all. We look forward to listening to the show for many years to come.”

Two Door Cinema Club’s Kevin Baird: “As much as the internet can connect people from across the world, being from somewhere geographically cut off from the rest of the UK can be quite tough for a band. The music industry cocoons itself in London and as much as they may try or claim, have no real grasp of the local scene in Northern Ireland. BBC Introducing in Northern Ireland discovered us before anyone else. They gave us our first national radio play. BBC Introducing is one of the last remaining radio shows that isn’t governed by personal connections and market research. We shouldn’t value music based on the pennies and cronies pulling the strings behind the scenes. The majority of Britain’s most successful artists weren’t engineered by an executive behind a desk. Without BBC Introducing I can’t see how the little guys, writing next year’s hits in their garage, will get the support and motivation from a ground roots level they need to spur them on to success.”

Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison: “It would be a travesty if the show was cut from the BBC radio schedule in Scotland. For over 10 years, it has been an invaluable and irreplaceable platform for new and established Scottish bands. The show serves to breed an essential community within Scottish music and scrapping it would reinforce the popular fallacy that the industry does not exist outside London.”

Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite: “This is a great show and it would be a real tragedy if it was stopped from being broadcast. The show has been really supportive of the Scottish music scene as a whole and has backed us and our bands on Rock Action, which has meant a lot to us.”

Musicians’ Union general secretary John Smith: “We are concerned at the plans to cut the Radio 1 BBC Introducing shows in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and instead have a UK-wide Introducing show. This will inevitably result in fewer hours being dedicated to artists from these regions as the air time will have to be divided between Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. We therefore urge the trustees to reconsider and ensure that Radio 1 continues this crucial ‘nations’ format in order to give new and emerging talent the best possible chance of exposure.”

Scottish Music Industry Association: “The show has been consistently championed over the years by Scottish artists and its value to the music industry, particularly Scottish labels and promoters, has been extraordinary. The proposals are to the detriment of UK music and therefore are at odds with the BBC’s first priority of Public Purpose: “Represent the different nations, regions and communities to the rest of the UK.” At a time when the challenges faced by the music industry are legion, the importance – if not the necessity – of supportive, regionally-focused programming like Introducing cannot be overstated and we vociferously advocate the show’s continuation.”

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