The Herald newspaper has added its voice to a chorus of approval for a planned increase in the provision of local television throughout the UK – outlined by Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary in the UK Government, earlier this week.
In a speech to the Royal Television Society on Tuesday, Hunt paved the way for more regional news broadcasting by promising the removal of cross-media barriers that can prevent companies from offering television programmes alongside newspapers, websites or radio stations.
Said a lengthy leader in The Herald yesterday: “Jeremy Hunt is right to remind us that British democracy is underpinned by ‘an extraordinarily strong and diverse media landscape’.
“He is also correct in observing that our public service broadcasting is far too centralised. Mr Hunt has been working on his ideas since his time in opposition and sees it as an integral part of the Conservatives’ ideas about localisation and the Big Society.
“The last government, too, was concerned about the quality and availability of local television news, which is why the Herald & Times Group and other Scottish newspaper groups [The Scotsman publishers and also the Sunday Post's] landed a publicly-funded broadcast news pilot [a so-called IFNC] to provide regional news for STV.
“The incoming Coalition government pulled the plug on the scheme but the Scottish print media still sees itself as part of the solution to the need for quality televised regional news, provided it can be underpinned by a sustainable economic model. Indeed regional and local newspapers groups need to exploit new platforms, if they are to survive.”
But The Herald said that initial findings from Nicholas Shott, who has been invited by the government to investigate the commercial viability of UK local television, were not encouraging.
It explained: “’Even in the big cities, predominantly advertising-funded TV will be “challenging’, he said. Indeed, despite its large population base, local television in Manchester has struggled both financially and journalistically.
“Much of what is suggested makes good sense. Instead of local channels, a more realistic goal would be local services of as little as one hour a day, slotted into existing commercial channels or accessed via the red button.
“To force their hands, public service broadcasters could be obliged to guarantee local content to retain their coveted prime positions on electronic programme guides. If, as suggested, commercial sponsorship is used to boost viability, it must be strictly regulated to ensure editorial independence.
“The development of internet protocol television (IPTV), with its scope to combine video, text and web links, may offer a more viable platform for local television but there is a dilemma regarding timing.
“At present, Scotland lags behind in the take-up of broadband. If those attempting to launch local services enter the market too soon, they will flop. If they leave it too long, they risk missing the boat.
“This changing landscape is a perilous time for local media but it is vital that we get it right. Democracies shrivel without a thriving quality local media to keep citizens informed and hold decision-makers to account. The medium may change over time but that message remains unchanged.”