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Ofcom announces framework for local TV

Can local tv be sufficiently funded to provide a sustainable and quality alternative service?

10 August 2011

Industry regulator Ofcom yesterday announced 65 locations which it believes have the potential to support local tv stations in line with government plans for a new tv network of 10 or more affiliates from 2015.

It is understood that the 65 locations will be whittled down following consultation and evaluation involving potential local operators. Responses (maximum two pages only!) to this further consultation are requested by 23 September 2011. (Download the Local TV: Pioneer Locations  document).

Earlier this year BECTU responded to the government's Local Media Action Plan underlining the importance of high quality content to the sustainability of any new service. The union has reservations about the availability of sufficient funding for the venture and is concerned with the notion that local tv should be developed to supplant current regional services.

ITV's regional news services are already operating with fewer resources (with the complicity of government and the regulator over the years); BECTU's concern is that ITV's regional network could be destabilised by local TV leaving the BBC as the only substantial provider of regional content.

Last October the BBC accepted a six-year licence fee settlement which includes the diversion of £25m of licence fee income to support the commercial local tv project in addition to eventual full scale funding for World Service and S4C.   

BECTU summarised its concerns as follows:

  • We retain significant doubts about the viability of local television as a meaningful alternative to regional PSB services in terms of coverage, programme content and finances.
  • We continue to advocate alternative funding sources for commercial PSB (public service broadcasting) based on industry levies .... These have been set out in joint report with the NUJ, Mind the Funding Gap....
  • We believe these proposals [Mind the Funding Gap] contribute a viable alternative to underfunded, minimalist local television and could provide a continued basis for strong regional services by commercial PSBs and specifically for ITV regional news services. They could also potentially encompass a significant funding source for meaningful additional local PSB services.

Read BECTU's submission to the Local Media Action Plan in full.

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