Will culture secretary Jeremy Hunt scrap news pilots?

The new LibCon coalition has yet to reveal what it will do with the subsidised regional news consortia plan – but the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as culture, olympics, media and sport secretary yesterday does not bode well for it.

The first three pilot Independently Funded News Consortia were due to get started this month in Wales, Scotland and the England/Scotland Borders region. But the signing of the contracts was delayed by the calling of a general election.

Hunt has been an outspoken critic of the plan, which proposed that up to £130m of BBC licence fee, currently allocated towards subsidising digital TV switch-over, be used to subsidise regional broadcast news to replace ITV.

Speaking generally today about his portfolio, Hunt said there is “an incredible appetite for change” across the country and that he wanted his department to “be at the forefront of making it happen.”

Whatever happens, ITV has indicated that it will largely scrap its regional news network.

Speaking in January Hunt said: ‘Using the licence fee to prop up regional news simply casts a failed regional TV model in aspic. It would actively prevent the emergence of new, local media models, making broadcasters focus their energies on satisfying politicians not reaching viewers.”

He said: “Let me be clear. We do not support these provisions in the Digital Economy Bill. And we do not support the pilot schemes.

“The contracts are not due to be signed until May. Anyone looking to sign one should understand that we’ll do all we can to legally unpick them if David Cameron enters Number 10. And if they haven’t been signed, we won’t be doing so.

“This is because we want to see the emergence of a radically different, improved and forward-looking local media sector. Not just local TV, where we are about the only major developed country not to have proper city-based TV franchises. But profitable, hungry and ambitious local radio, local newspapers and local websites as well.”

Hunt said the Conservative vision for regional news involves “sweeping away the cross-media ownership rules at a local level”.

The consortia selected to run the three broadcast new pilot schems were:

  • Scottish News Consortium – a group consisting of Johnston Press, Herald and Times Group, and D C Thomson along with independent TV production company Tinopolis – as the preferred bidder to run an alterative channel 3 local news pilot in Scotland.
  • Wales Live – a collaboration between UTV, the current Channel 3 licence holder in Northern Ireland and regional publisher NWN Media – was selected for the Welsh pilot.
  • News 3 – a consortium lead by Trinity Mirror with the Press Association and independent TV production company Ten Alps – was named as the partnership to run the remaining pilot in the Tyne Tees/Border region of England.

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