Pressure mounting for south of Scotland TV news service

PRESSURE is beginning to mount for there to be a south of Scotland TV news service on Channel three, from next year and funded from the public purse.

Today, the Institute of Local Television has submitted a proposal to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, at Westminster, for such a service, to coincide with a DCMS deadline today for bids from news consortia to operate a publicly-funded news pilot on Channel three next year for the whole of Scotland.

While there is no DCMS invitation for a south of Scotland-only news service, yesterday saw an alliance of Trinity Mirror newspaper group (which publishes, among other titles, the Daily Record and the Dumfries and Galloway Standard) and Glasgow-based Macmillan Media (which produces the Scottish news opt-out for morning television show, GMTV) propose exactly that.

The Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway together receive ‘local’ news on Channel three from Tyne Tees, based in the north east of England.

STV, meanwhile, provides for central and the north of Scotland but will be no doubt hoping its bid for the Scotland pilot – announced today, in association with ITN and Bauer Media – will answer any concerns it is unable to provide a news service to the south of Scotland.

The Institute of Local Television is not presenting itself as a news consortium at present, more a ‘candidate’/pressure group called the South of Scotland News Federation.

In a media release announcing its move, it says: “The South of Scotland News Federation is a social enterprise company ensuring that the proposed public funding will be invested in the news services in the area. Comprising partners and contractors from the south of Scotland, the Federation has involved local newspaper groups, public sector and educational bodies as well as community media – online and print – and is in high-level discussion on a memorandum of understanding with BBC Scotland for the provision of additional services including accommodation and training.”

At this stage, the Federation is under no obligation to declare its composition because none of the prospective partners would have a 20 per cent or more share in it.

A ‘Federation spokesperson’ is quoted in the release, saying: “The south of Scotland is a large and diverse region comprising two local authority areas that needs to be addressed as a combined news region and as separate news areas. Within each of the local authority areas there are also several weekly papers serving small but distinctive and independent communities. With regional TV news and local TV opt-outs on television, combined with new online TV news and current affairs sites for both region and area, the South of Scotland News Federation has established links with local newspapers and will help develop their online TV presence.

“Our partners also bring a long established micro-news – online, print and community radio – experience to the South of Scotland News Federation to guarantee an unsurpassed level of news breadth, depth, diversity and – above all – delivery of a public rather than a commercial service so as to encourage public engagement and participation in local news and current affairs by area and by demographics.”

The UK government is hoping to have three news pilots operating, courtesy of public cash and to be bid for by news consortia, by the middle of next year: in Scotland, Wales and the north east of England.

They are being set up in recognition of the fact that existing providers, such as STV in central and north Scotland, are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain their output, but that an alternative source of news is needed to that provided by the BBC. Advertising revenue that a TV station such as STV could once rely upon is now being lured away by an ever-increasing number of rival TV channels.