The Belfast Telegraph and Ten Alps, the television production company run by Bob Geldof, are in talks over a joint bid to run an independently funded news consortium pilot project to replace the existing ITV regional news services in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph publishers Independent News and Media and Ten Alps used the RTS Television conference, in Cambridge last week, to unveil their plans and request that a pilot project be established in the province.
Publication of the Digital Britain white paper in June signalled government backing for a series of independent consortia consisting of local media business to provide a public service news-broadcasting alternative to the BBC across the regions of the UK.
Digital Britain signalled that three pilot projects were likely to be launched next year, one each in England, Wales and Scotland with Northern Ireland likely to miss out.
Alex Connock, CEO of Ten Alps, used his address to the RTS last week to appeal for a pilot for the province, saying he believed it could have positive economic, democratic and technological implications for Northern Ireland.
Ofcom originally conceived the consortia idea as a partial replacement for channel three local news services after ITV decided to drop its regional news commitment post 2012.
The broadcast regulator suggested the licence fee paid to the BBC could be top-sliced annually to provide funding for the scheme long term.
Manchester Evening News Media, a division of the Guardian Media Group, has already volunteered to run the English pilot in the North of England.
Broadcaster STV and a partnership of Scottish newspaper groups – including Herald & Times, Johnston Press and DC Thompson – have registered their willingness to run a consortia pilot in Scotland.
Bob Geldof, non-executive director and co-founder of Ten Alps, said: “The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the pilots in the Digital Britain report was rare and frankly odd.
“No interpretation we’ve heard makes sense – from lack of funds for the province, to lack of credible alternative news suppliers.
“So we ask the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to give Belfast a tender process, and allow Northern Ireland to fully engage in a democratic process in the vitally important news sector.
“Fair competition for public funding, and equality for Northern Ireland with England, Scotland and Wales.”