Every time Jeremy Hunt talks about local TV my heart sinks a little further and I feel a little gloomier about the prospects for regional broadcast journalism post 2014.
ITV regional news currently employs around 600 editorial staff and is subsidised to the tune of up to £50m a year by ITV. Post 2014, when ITV’s current licence comes up for renewal it will be able to argue that it no more has a duty to fund loss-making regional broadcasting in a digital world than does QVC, Babestation or any of the other Freeview channels.
This is set against the backdrop of a regional newspaper industry which lost around one in five of its estimated 12,000 journalists over the last few years.
Hunt talks a good game when it comes to the importance of supporting local communities – but his answer, when it comes to providing those communities with quality information which holds those in power to account – is a reckless throw of the free market dice.
In his speech to the Oxford Media Convention today, he seemed to be saying: let’s remove all the regulation, provide a tenth of the subsidy and see what the market comes up with for local TV. I hope it works, but such a Poundshop approach to regional broadcasting will find itself hopelessly out-gunned by the Waitrose-style service offered by the BBC.
I fear that without more state help, public service broadcasting outside the BBC will disappear leaving us with Tesco Britain – where localness and difference has been sacrificed at the altar of the market.