Michael Grade backs independent local news consortia

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade has backed proposals for a new network of independent news consortia to be set up across the UK.

Speaking at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer spring conference this morning, Grade said these groups could fill a gap in local news and be an alternative voice to the BBC.

And he offered to open up parts of ITV1's peak-time schedule to the news consortia to provide local bulletins.

Ofcom has suggested that local newspapers, radio stations and other news providers could come together to provide local TV news.

Grade said today: "The new system should be introduced as simply and quickly as possible, comprehensively across the whole of the UK and not just in one pilot area.

"I believe that it could – and should - be put in place next year."

ITV announced a reorganisation of its regional news programming last year, with 17 regions merged into nine and hundreds of job cuts.

Grade said regional news was "simply too expensive" for ITV - but said national news would remain a "key element" in the ITV schedule.

"It's now fully understood that ITV can no longer guarantee the future of a competitive regional news service, and urgent steps must be taken to ensure the continuation of plurality of provision," he told the conference.

"We are fully supportive of Ofcom's proposal for independently funded news consortia to deliver local and regional news services."

"The new service could build on our existing arrangements, potentially using all the skills and experience of our existing ITV regional news teams," he said.

"Additionally, it could provide an opportunity for new providers, perhaps opening the door for innovative partnerships with other local news providers."

Grade said the idea of providing local TV news might be especially attractive to newspaper groups.

"It opens the possibility of new approaches to developing local and regional news programming, online as well as broadcast, and reinforcing what [Ofcom chief executive] Ed Richards called the 'spine of British journalism'."

Ofcom estimates that the cost of funding the local TV news consortia will be in the region of £40m and £100m a year. Grade supported calls for this money to come from the BBC licence fee.

ITV announced last week that Michael Grade was stepping down from the executive chairman role later this year. A search for a chief executive is underway. Grade plans to remain at the broadcaster as non-executive chairman.

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