Conservatives would let local newspapers own TV stations

The Conservative government would relax media ownership rules to allow local newspaper groups to buy stakes in TV stations in their area, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today.

In a speech on public service broadcasting at London School of Economics today Hunt said that the lack of local TV in Britain is the biggest single failing of the British broadcasting industry, and that the current debate about regional news “misses the point”.

He said: “A Conservative government will encourage the creation of local TV stations by ensuring media ownership rules do not prevent local newspaper groups from investing in local television in their area.”

He said that local TV is not just important for strengthening communities, but also for providing an advertising channel to support the growth of local businesses and an outlet for politicians and civic leaders to “articulate and debate” policies affecting an area.

He said: ‘The popularity of local radio stations and local newspapers – in an era where national newspaper sales are in decline – further underlines this point. Yet what passes for ‘local’ TV in Britain is in practice regional. The Anglia TV region, for example, covers a population of more than four million.

‘Indeed I would argue that the current debate about regional news misses the point. Very few people identify with their region. We know that from the disastrous experiment with regional assemblies. But they do identify with their city, town or county. So whilst regional news stories are often of little interest, local news stories are hugely important.”

A Conservative government, Hunt said, will urge Ofcom to be proactive in ensuring the ‘community benefits of spectrum allocations’do not unwittingly prevent the emergence of a local TV sector, and he said the Conservatives will urge local authorities to consider the benefits of supporting local TV stations, as seen in Kent.

While discussing the BBC’s competitive impact on the broader commercial market, Hunt said that local newspapers should not have to face the additional threat from the corporation’s proposed network of 65 video news websites.

The new local TV plans from the BBC have been condemned by both regional newspapers and commercial radio companies – who fear the BBC will be unfair competition for their own websites.

Hunt said: ‘Local newspapers are a vital part of the fabric of small communities throughout the country, and are currently trying to re-invent their business model having lost much of the revenue that used to come from classified sales.

‘As they move online, why should they have to face the additional threat of subsidised competition from the BBC’s plans for local video on demand? I don’t think they should and I hope the BBC Trust takes a strong stance on this proposal.”

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