Scotland pilot news proposal out to consultation

PROSPECTIVE operators of a commercial TV news pilot for Scotland may be a hybrid of various news providers – including newspapers and websites, as well as TV – according to a consultation document issued by the UK government.

It follows details issued yesterday by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the wake of recommendations about Britain’s ‘digital future’ announced three weeks ago by Westminster following a report by Lord Stephen Carter, minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting.

Among those recommendations was that Scotland, Wales and an English region be each funded by the government to host a pilot news service on commercial television in competition to that provided by the BBC.

The pilots would operate from next year for two years and were they to become more permanent, the suggestion – open to consultation – is that they would be funded from the TV licence fee, which, currently, goes exclusively to the BBC but need not.

Whoever wins the right to provide one of these pilots (and anything more permanent thereafter) will have had to compete for it, against other bidders.

Yesterday, the UK government said it envisaged a body other than itself to award and manage the ‘contestable funding’, but didn’t specifically state whether it should be broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, or another agency.

The consultation is specifically requiring answers to the following questions:

* Do you agree that securing plural sources of impartial news for the nations, locally and in the regions should be a key priority?

* Do you agree that sustainable, impartial news in the nations, locally and in the regions is likely to require some top-up public funding?

* Do you agree the Television Licence Fee should be used to support impartial news in the nations, locally and in the regions in addition to BBC services?

* Do you agree that any funding within a ‘contained contestable element’ of the television licence fee not required for impartial news should potentially be available to fund other forms of essential public service content, or should such funding be limited to news?

* Are there alternative funding mechanisms that you believe would deliver the above objectives more effectively?

* Do you agree with the proposal to set a maximum percentage of Television Licence Fee revenue which could be set aside as a contained contestable element?

* Do you agree that amending the BBC Agreement could provide the necessary protection to the BBC’s future funding and independence?

* Do you agree that the use of any contained contestable element within the Television Licence Fee should be restricted to the public purposes set out in the BBC Charter?

Feedback is required by September 22.

When he spoke in Edinburgh two days after the publication of his ‘Digital Britain’ report, Lord Carter said he would be disappointed if there was only one application to run the Scottish pilot.

STV has already intimated its wish to bid for the pilot and, like all applicants, can do so in collaboration with other news organisations, including newspapers.