Having scrapped plans for a syndicated Local TV network, last week the UK Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced a list of 65 areas across the UK identified by Ofcom as suitable for local TV services – including Belfast [and Lisburn], Londonderry, and Limavady [including parts of Ballymoney and Coleraine]. The list is expected to be further “narrowed down to about 20 contenders for the first set of licences before the end of the year.” The local stations’ set-up costs will be subsidised from the BBC licence fee.
In The Observer, David Mitchell takes issue with the plan
To politicians, “local” is a powerful buzzword: local people, local services, local post offices, locally sourced produce – these are all phrases with positive connotations. “How can there be anything sinister in having more local things?” we think. The seductive rhetorical appeal of the Big Society is based on this – it disguises dereliction of duty as devolution of power.
The word seems less appetising when applied to politics and the media: local councils, local elections, local newspapers and local radio feel less buzzy. Just because I’m a metropolitan wanker doesn’t mean I’m wrong to associate those phrases, with apologies to the noble exceptions (I seem to remember Three Counties Radio had an entertaining afternoon in about 1989), with incompetence and crap.
That’s the sort of “local” that these TV stations will be. The rules under which they will operate sound awful but, Hunt must have been advised, are the only way they’ll have a chance of solvency: they’ll be allowed to broadcast as much advertising as they like as long as they provide an hour of local news a day. On the one hand, one to 23 is a horrendous programming to advertising ratio. But, on the other, it would be hard enough to produce a decent daily hour of news about Manchester, let alone Kidderminster or Salisbury. I was actually born in Salisbury but there’s no guarantee that something that exciting happens there every day.
Does anyone seriously believe that these stations would produce programmes worth watching or news that isn’t better delivered by the local press or the internet? Won’t they just put the former out of business, be rendered irrelevant by the latter, or both?
Read the whole thing.