Scottish Borders included in new news pilot proposal

THE Scottish Borders and south-west Scotland have been identified as part of a third TV news pilot programme – proposed to start next year and funded from the public purse – despite it likely being also included for another pilot, scheduled for Scotland.

Today, the UK government announced the geography served by Tyne Tees TV channel as the third of three news pilots scheduled for next year, to be broadcast on Channel three.

Some while ago, the identity of the other two – Scotland and Wales – were announced, with a start transmission date of the summer and to be run following a bidding process involving ‘news consortia’, which might or might not include the incumbent news provider on Channel three – in most, but not all, of Scotland, STV – and might or might not include other news providers, such as newspapers.

It had been understood that March was the start date for transmission, but following a timetable set out by the government – also today – it is now summer, with the pilot contracts being awarded in May.

Said Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw: “As well as providing a good mix of urban and rural areas, holding a pilot that spans the Tyne Tees and Borders regions will improve the current provision of regional news in the Scottish Borders and English Borders by having a far more localised news service, which the audience wants. The Scottish borders could get a wholly Scottish regional news service and the English borders area could see a more local and regional news service.”

Adds a statement issued by Bradshaw’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport: “Currently, the Tyne Tees and Borders area incorporates two ITV licence regions. They form a cross border region serving part of the north west of England, south and south west Scotland as well as north east England. Running a pilot in this region alongside a pilot in Scotland could allow those in Scotland to receive Scottish news instead of English news. Through the Independently-Funded News Consortia process, the Government expects to create a news service provided by Scotland for Scotland, addressing concerns of many viewers in the region. This would require some technical engineering to existing transmitters to make this happen.”

It later clarifies: “The Government envisages that the IFNC pilot in Scotland could (subject to technical considerations in respect of transmitter patterns) potentially provide the news for the whole of Scotland (currently, Tyne Tees and Borders provides the news for the Scottish borders area) which is something that many citizens, commentators and politicians have called for.”

Expressions of interest for each of the three pilots are required by the 11th of next month. A date of December 30 has been set for bidders to submit a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. A shortlist of eligible bidders will be announced on January 12.

STV has already declared an interest in operating the Scottish pilot, as has a consortium comprising newspaper publishers, DC Thomson, Johnston Press and Newsquest.

STV’s head of News, Gordon Macmillan, welcomed the launch of the tender process: “As the current provider of this service on the Channel three network in Scotland we believe that our excellent track record and ability to innovate in the delivery of news services places us in a strong position. We will participate fully in the process, which will help ensure the continuation of a well-funded, comprehensive and high quality news service on Channel 3, providing plurality and real consumer choice for viewers in Scotland.”

He continued: “STV has been in discussions with various potential partners regarding the future IFNC’s and we remain open to the idea of working in partnership on news in future. At this stage, we are considering all potential opportunities, and remain committed to providing viewers in Scotland with what research has shown is a much valued, comprehensive and wide-reaching multi-platform news service.”