Tuesday, 8 June 2010

No News is...

The IFNC pilot proposal is dead. Under plans outlined in the Labour government’s Digital Britain report, they were set to fund 3 pilots (one in Wales) that would replace and run the news on ITV. The winning bidder was Wales Live, a proposal by UTV and North Wales Newspapers.

Jeremy Hunt as Shadow Culture Minister argued all along these proposals were not in the best interest of the industry and promised to scrap them if he got elected. Job done.

Earlier this year, the Welsh Assembly passed a motion by the Welsh Liberal Democrats supporting the pilot in Wales. At the time their spokesperson Eleanor Burnham said: “I believe that this pilot provides Wales with an opportunity to restore momentum to English-language news provision. It is vital for our democracy that the people of Wales receive high quality local news from more than one source.”

The motion was opposed by the Welsh Conservatives.

Today Mr Hunt, now the Secretary of State, said: “I have long believed that the lack of high quality local TV is one of the biggest gaps in British broadcasting. Why? Because, ironically, in an age of globalism people feel the need for stronger not weaker connections to the communities in which they live...

“[The] plans for Independently Funded News Consortia were misguided.

“They had the positive benefit of stimulating new and imaginative thinking amongst local media companies for which I am grateful – and I want to carry on talking to those who submitted bids about your ideas.

“But, fundamentally, they were about subsidising the existing regional news system in a way that would have blocked the emergence of new and vibrant local media models fit for the digital age.”

See a full transcript on the DCMS website.

Plaid Cymru have been the first to respond today. Their MP for Arfon, Hywel Williams, said: “In a country with very few news outlets and many difficult political decisions ahead – the referendum and next year’s Assembly elections to name but two – this is disappointing news for the Welsh public, who will now not be allowed a wider spectrum of news.

“I am extremely disappointed that the ConDem government have not at least allowed these pilot schemes to get underway to see whether or not they do work. It appears that the time and effort put into these developments have been wasted.”

So what does this mean for national news in Wales? There’s a fear in the industry that ITV, having pledged their commitment to local news will seek to further cut budgets with unknown consequences.

Jeremy Hunt will publish further plans for local media in the autumn so I guess we’ll find out then – it’s often been said his favoured option is city-based TV (a licence for such a station in Cardiff was awarded last year but no one has used the spectrum since) but the viability of such proposals was brought into question by the demise of Channel M earlier this year.

So what awaits the Welsh media? We’ll wait (slightly nervously) and see...

DISCLAIMER: The Dewis (Steffan Powell and Glyn Tansley) worked on the IFNC proposal for Tinopolis – a rival of the Wales Live bid

Dewi Tri


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