Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, has today reiterated the coalition government’s commitment to rolling out ultra-local TV stations across Scotland and the other UK regions.
In an on-stage interview with writer, broadcaster and media consultant, Steve Hewlett, at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Hunt claimed the UK media is “chronically over-centralised”, with space for Scottish voices warranting an increase.
However, the recently appointed Westminster head ruled out the option of broadcasting powers being devolved to Holyrood.
Said Hunt: “Our media in this country is chronically over-centralised and we don’t have anything like the opportunities for local voices to be heard.
“And that is extremely relevant here in Scotland and actually relevant in all of our great cities.
“It is crazy that a city like Sheffield, for example, does not have its own TV station – it would in most other developed countries.”
As allmediascotland reported in June of this year, plans for a proposed independently-funded news consortia (IFNC) for Scotland were struck down, following the election of a new Conservative government intent on delivering more local television provision.
And Hunt “absolutely” envisages the emergence of 80 local TV stations across the UK, pledging to implement a structure for local news inside the next four years.
“I am trying to find a structure for local news that will mean that we wouldn’t have to have regional news obligations on the next ITV licence post-2014,” said Hunt.
While he conceded 24-hour local news could not be commercially sustained, Hunt suggested affiliate models – in which people are responsible for a couple of hours of programming per day and receive the rest from a national network – held potential.
“This is a government that believes passionately in decentralisation, in putting power into the hands of local communities and local individuals.
“Three out of five PSB programmes are made in London. Our news is horribly centralised and I do believe that we should be giving more space to local policies.”
Nevertheless, Hunt remained resolute when asked if further devolution of broadcasting powers was on the table, commenting: “I don’t want to devolve broadcasting powers – that should remain a Westminster issue.
“The BBC is one of the great unifying forces in our country and I think it brings the whole country together.
“I’m a supporter of the United Kingdom and I think if you asked what are the elements of our cultural fabric that someone in London has with someone in Belfast, with someone in Glasgow – one of the best things is that we all enjoy the BBC. And so, in terms of devolving broadcasting powers, I don’t agree with that.
“But, I do think that within our broadcasting spectrum we should have much more room for local voices and that includes Scottish voices and that includes Scotland-wide voices and Welsh-wide voices as well.
“We have got to get away from this idea that the guys in London know best in terms of what we should see on our screens and tap into local passion, local enthusiasm and local energy.”