In our opinion: STV and the news pilot

IF the meagre coffers of could afford to bet on the outcome of plans to launch a TV news pilot in Scotland, from next year, it would hazard a guess that STV will be part of the mix.

When the great and the good of the Scottish media gathered in Glasgow on Tuesday to hear Stewart Purvis – a partner at broadcasting regulators, Ofcom – speak about the plans, it very quickly emerged that, among various uncertainties, one was to do with what would happen to STV if it wasn’t part of the brave new future.

Of course, one uncertainty is whether the pilot will go ahead, at all. But between now and a yes or no to that question, various media organisations are preparing to bid to run it and secure the public funding that will be going with it.

The pilot is being set up because it is recognised – by the likes of Ofcom – there needs to be an alternative to the local news provided by BBC Scotland and that the changing media landscape – more TV channels, less advertising, etc. – is making it increasingly financially difficult for the current provider of so-called ‘plurality’ – ie STV – to ‘keep the show on the road’.

That public cash isn’t just tossed as a subsidy to STV is because it would breach competition rules; newspapers would be rightly concerned that taxpayers’ money might be used by STV to develop its online provision – not least local news websites – in direct opposition to those being developed by the press (and no doubt key to their financial salvation, given the difficulties newspapers too are experiencing because of the economy).

The prospect of STV not being part of the pilot is difficult to contemplate, and not just because they have decades of experience producing broadcast news. Widespread redundancies would inevitably flow, were it be not part of the pilot, though the assumption would be that staff would mostly find a berth with the new provider, if only because of regulations concerning the ‘transfer of employment undertakings’.

STV’s only public pronouncement on the subject is to propose that, in collaboration with ITN, it would like to run an hour-long news programme, from 6pm, that was not just local, but UK-wide and even international in its remit – ie that ‘old chestnut’, the ‘Scottish Six’.

But a ‘dreamier ticket’, perhaps, lies in what, if any, deals it could strike with a newspaper publisher (or group of publishers) and, ditto, a radio group.

What at least some newspapers could bring ‘to the party’ would be reporters working at a local level. For the newspaper publisher or publishers, an association with STV, would help steer them through the relatively new concept of impartial editorial, which TV broadcasters are required to adhere to, but newspapers not.

For the Scottish viewer, it could be only good news; a consortium of TV, press and radio sounds a richer proposition – as far as content is concerned – than each of the elements going it alone.

The press might wish to go head-to-head with STV to spoil any online ambitions the broadcaster might have. Better, it seems, to get into bed with it.