Ofcom chief proposes cash pot to fund regional TV news

NEWSPAPERS could be soon bidding to provide Scottish news on television’s channel three, as an alternative to BBC Scotland’s provision, according to the head of broadcasting regulators, Ofcom.

In a speech about regional news across the UK, Ed Richards – Ofcom’s chief executive – says “[The country] can no longer afford to put a resolution to regional television news on hold”.

While he welcomes proposed resources collaboration between the BBC and its local channel three news provider, he believes it will not be enough to counter the twin financial pressures on ITV regional news caused by the migration of advertising to the internet and the economic downturn.

Adds Richards: “If we want to retain nations and regions news beyond the BBC we need to act.

“The current system may be particularly hard hit by the recession, but it is also unsustainable even under a benign economic climate. Unless we act soon, a diverse supply of high quality news provision will slip away. It is as simple as that.”

As a possible solution, he proposes regional/national funding be bid for by news consortia, the money to come from cash currently being used to help smooth the UK-wide switching off of the analogue TV signal, for a digital one.

Even after ‘digital switchover’ is complete – in three years’ time – he wants the pot of money to still be available. These consortia could include existing channel three licencees – for instance, STV – and newspaper publishers.

He continues: “To be clear at this stage, I am not necessarily here talking about the one-off pot already allocated to supply set top boxes to older and disabled people, and which looks like being underspent by some margin.

“The government has said that this underspend is likely to be used in large part to support universally available broadband.

“Amen to that. If there is a residual, then all the better. Instead, I am primarily talking about the recurring money that will be surplus to the BBC’s programmes and services budget after switchover if the licence fee is maintained at its present level in real terms.”