80 MPs back local TV channel on Freeview

Wednesday, October 21 2009,

United for Local Television (ULTV) has revealed that 80 MPs have signed up to a Commons motion calling for a new local TV network to be created on Freeview.

Back in June, ULTV asked the government to reserve spectrum from the digital switchover for the establishment of a dedicated local TV channel under the Channel 6 brand.

The renewed campaign was partially in response to the lack of coverage for local TV provision in the Digital Britain report, which left existing local broadcasters in a state of flux.

In its latest Early Day Motion (EDM), ULTV is calling on the government to ensure that "all citizens have access to a dedicated channel on Freeview and cable [Virgin Media], providing local news, local discussion, community programming and local advertising".

Driving forward the motion is Austin Mitchell, who is Labour member for Grimsby and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Media Group.

"In September, Ofcom issued a local media discussion document which said spectrum could be reserved for local TV. We think it is vital that the government and Ofcom now take decisive action to ensure that there is a guaranteed space for the community on our television screens," he said.

"It seems extraordinary to reserve six whole multiplexes for Freeview but not a single channel for local news and community programming. The support for my EDM demonstrates there is a strong feeling in Parliament that both the government and Ofcom need to take a fresh look at the issues and, at the very least, allow a breathing space for some digital trials of local TV in the short-term."

In June, Virgin Media opted to continue carriage of Channel 7, the UK's oldest local TV broadcaster which currently reaches up to 140,000 homes in the North Lincolnshire area.

The cable operator initially contacted Channel 7 to inform it of plans to cut transmission from its head-end in the Grimsby region, which would have signaled an end to the channel. However, negotiations between the two parties meant that Channel 7 could continue broadcasting on cable TV, and Mitchell strongly believes in its value.

"I have witnessed how Channel 7 in my constituency is able to provide a voice for local people and groups. However, it is currently only available on cable. Ofcom's discussion document shows how there could be a potential explosion of services following digital switchover but it will require the government to put a secure framework in place," he said.

"This is a question of enhancing community participation and democratic engagement. I firmly believe that, by placing spectrum in the hands of local communities, we can trust local groups to make local TV work and to develop sustainable business models. It would be unforgivable to squander this opportunity by allowing the spectrum to be monopolised by rent-seeking companies."

Marilyn Hyndman, a director of Belfast community channel NvTv, said that a consultation on local TV, including a full cost-benefit analysis, is "long overdue".

She explained: "We believe that existing services such as NvTv can help Ofcom and government to review the policy options and hope they will engage constructively with us and our colleagues in United for Local Television to seek to route a path forward."

ULTV's Peter Williams added: "Services such as NvTv are a beacon to others in demonstrating how all communities can benefit from the digital dividend, using spectrum to help provide news and information, tackle social exclusion and encourage innovation, creativity and diversity of content.

"It is encouraging to see so many MPs calling on the government to keep its promise to introduce a dedicated licensing regime for local TV. We are ready to work with the government and Ofcom. There just needs to be a will to make it happen."