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I’d like to ask everyone one question. Does anyone think Jeremy Hunt’s plan to save regional news via deregulation will work?
I’ve yet to hear anyone who does. Which begs the question, has he asked anyone?
Gordon Brown’s Labour Government had proposed using the £130m of BBC licence fee currently allocated to helping pay for Digital TV switch-over to fund new independent broadcast news consortia.
That cash is now, instead, going to be flung towards the billions that will be needed to pipe up superfast broadband across the UK.
Instead, Hunt believes that ‘a modernised, updated regulatory environment could help nurture a new generation of hungry, ambitious and profitable local media companies”.
Journalists should note the use of the word hungry there.
He plans to allow local newspapers to run their own local radio and TV stations and hopes this will fill in the gap left by ITV’s withdrawal from local news broadcasting.
He doesn’t seem to realise that Guardian Media Group has already had a brave attempt at doing this with Channel M and it was complete commercial failure (it closed in March).
No-one I’ve met in the media thinks it will work.
Hunt also suggests ‘reforming cross media ownership rules’will allow newspaper companies to benefit from ‘greater economies of scale”.
But he doesn’t seem to realise that big is not always best when it comes to local newspaper publishing. Johnston Press is the second biggest UK local newspaper publisher, it has 285 titles and about 16 per cent of the market by circulation.
The extent to which cost-cutting has apparently compromised quality on its titles was illustrated by last week’s front-page production howler in Bedford, where dummy front page copy appeared in a newspaper front page.
It is a fact that courts and councils are not being reported in the way they need to be to uphold democratic accountability, research by Press Association bears this out.
It is also a fact that ITV cut 400 out of 1,000 staff in its regional news broadcasting operations last year and plans to dispense with most of the rest soon after digital TV switch-over is completed in 2012.
Does anyone else other than Jeremy Hunt think that deregulation will tackle those two problems?
Perhaps now is not the time for commercial news organisation to hold out the begging bowl.
But total deregulation could make things worse rather than better, allowing the big regional publishers to squeeze out independent publishers who in many places are doing a better job than they are.
Perhaps one other answer is major tax-breaks to encourage investment in independent local media, of the sort that have helped the UK film industry?
One more thing. BBC director general Mark Thompson howled with protest last year when it was first proposed that the £130m of digital switch-over cash be used to foster some sort of opposition to the Beeb’s broadcasting colossus.
Why is he now silent when the money is not going to be spent on journalism, but instead on helping rural web browsers to download porn at lightning speed?