The Government set out set out the legislative framework for regional news consortia to provide local broadcast news outside the BBC today in its Digital Economy Bill.
The bill follows a widespread consultation about the future of broadcast news outside ITV when it abandons much of its public-service broadcasting commitments once digital TV switch-over is completed over the next few years.
According to the Government the bill will: “Support the plurality of regional and local news, giving Ofcom powers to appoint and fund Independently Funded News Consortia and future proof Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees, including adjusting requirements of Channel 3 licence holders to produce or broadcast Gaelic programming.”
According to a Government spokesman, the bill is a priority for the Government and ministers are confident that it will become law before the general election, which must be held by May.
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said: “This Bill is a key part of the Government’s active industrial strategy and will maintain and build on Britain’s leading position. It includes measures to ensure universal broadband, the protection of music, film and other creative content and the future of quality local and regional news. The market will not provide these things, only Government action can.”
The bill provides that Ofcom may: “Appoint a person to provide relevant media content consisting of regional news or local news (or both) for all or part of a designated Channel 3 area, and pay amounts to the appointed person for use in, or in connection with, the provision of such content.”
The bill does not go into details about how the new services will be funded – but the government has already indicated it is keen to allocate up to £100m of licence fee cash to pay for them (the money which is currently allocated to help pay for digital TV switch-over).