Jeremy Hunt’s ruthless free market idealism will see hundreds of journalists lose their jobs and looks set to remove the only lifeline which had been thrown to the struggling regional media.
Today he stated in unequivocal terms that a Conservative government would scrap the Independently Funded News Consortia which had been set to replace local broadcast news outside the BBC after 2012, when ITV abandons its commitment to public service broadcasting in the regions.
Hunt believes that “sweeping away the cross-media ownership rules at a local level” will be more effective than the £130m of BBC licence fee cash that had been ear-marked to fund the IFNCs.
He says: “This will allow local media operators to follow viewers, as they increasingly switch platform at a moment’s notice, whether from TV to radio to mobile or to online. It will allow a consistent and strong new offering to advertisers: go with us and we will reach consumers in a defined geographical area whichever platform they use.”
Hunt appears convinced that by sweeping away regulations city-based TV and radio franchises of the sort seen in the US will flourish in the UK.
Unfortunately they won’t. MEN Media has a combined TV and print franchise in Manchester which has failed miserably financially, falling into loss in the last six months of the 2008/2009 financial year.
There is already clear evidence that the reduction in journalists nationwide is leading to a crisis in the court and council reporting which underpins our democratic society.
By scrapping the IFNC scheme in favour of a free-market pipe-dream, Hunt is removing the only chance we had of salvaging ITV’s existing network of regional broadcast journalists.
As for the campaign from inside the BBC against “top-slicing” the licence fee to fund IFNCs. Shame on you all from Mark Thompson down.
Under Conservative plans the £130m of licence fee cash currently allocated to pay for digital TV switch-over won’t go back towards funding the next season of Strictly Come Dancing, it will in all likelihood return to the exchequer to be used for some eminently less worthwhile purpose than shoring up the local reporting which underpins all journalism in the UK.