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Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Lecture 2012

The BBC’s role in providing authoritative, independent and impartial journalism will become increasingly more vital in a crowded media marketplace, the Director of BBC Scotland Ken MacQuarrie has said.

Speaking at the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Lecture on the Isle of Skye on Tuesday (11 September), the BBC Scotland director said digital media is becoming ever more complex.

But that very complexity makes it crucial that there remains a public service broadcaster that is a trusted communicator of impartial and independent news, said MacQuarrie.

“It can be as difficult to understand the digital world, to make sense of its bewildering complexity, as it can be to navigate it safely and assuredly. It is a world characterised by constant evolution and change.

“To me, as a broadcaster, that makes it all the more important that such evolution should not come at an unnecessary and unacceptable cost – progress should not mean that we lose sight of the values and the principles that have served us so well for so long,” he told the audience.

But the plethora of information available on the web sometimes includes inaccurate material – Facebook themselves, for example, estimate around 85 million sites could be fake.

“It is for that reason, more than any other, I contend, that the need for sources of information in which we can trust, in particular for authoritative, impartial and independent  journalism in which we can trust, is as paramount today as it has ever been.

“Public service broadcasting has a clear responsibility to give voice to different communities and pluralism should be a consequence of an evolved participation in any democratic society. But only publicly funded broadcasters have the motivation to deliver that vision.

“Why we exist is at the heart of what makes public service broadcasting special. Yes we inform, we educate and we entertain – but our purpose is to bring greater value to the lives of all citizens across our nations. It is our rationale against others who properly, make profit. Our role, our duty, is to sustain, to develop, to deepen relationships with our audiences, relationships that are based on honesty and integrity.

“Most importantly defending our independence and impartiality against any political, commercial, sectoral or pressure group interest is fundamental to the relationship between a public service broadcaster and its audience.

“That is why I believe the Licence Fee is much more than public payment for a service or for content. It is the contract which exists between broadcaster and audience. In exchange for an annual fee – currently £145.50 – yes you’ll get the full range of BBC TV and radio services, online and iPlayer, the SSO, Children in Need and much, much more. But most importantly, what you will get is a broadcaster in whose voice you can trust. What you get is a relationship built on trust. ” he concluded.

Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig commented:

“The BBC has been a key agent in the maintenance and revitalisation of Gaelic language and culture and the Corporation’s radio, television and online services are widely accessed and greatly appreciated across an increasingly international Gaeldom. The BBC is a highly respected and valued broadcaster worldwide and it is vital that its public service role is protected and enhanced in an ever-changing cultural, technological and media environment. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has enjoyed a long and fruitful association with BBC Scotland and continues to provide media training, audience research and programming for BBC Alba and BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, he said”

The inaugural Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Lecture was delivered in 1990 by eminent author and historian, Dr James Hunter and Ken MacQuarrie joins a lengthening line of distinguished contributors to this important lecture series.

The impressive list of eminent previous lecturers, drawn from across a wide and varied spectrum of Scottish and international public life also includes: President Mary Robinson, Irish President; Donald Dewar MSP, First Minister of Scotland at the time; Andrew Dixon, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland; and Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland.

Ken MacQuarrie became Director of BBC Scotland in April 2009. He had been Controller since April 2004 and Head of Programmes since 2000 where he had responsibility for production and commissioning of all BBC output broadcast in Scotland on television, radio and online.

A native of Mull and a Gaelic speaker, Ken is Chair of the Skillset Scottish National Board and Vice-President of the Royal Television Society. He is also a board member of the International Press Institute, a global organisation dedicated to the protection of press freedom.

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