Tyne Tees to pilot ITV local news scheme

Friday, November 27 2009, 12:24 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

The government has confirmed that the Tyne Tees and Borders region will be among pilot-scheme areas for the new replacement ITV regional news service.

Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw yesterday invited bids from interested parties to become independently funded news consortia (IFNC) in the region, along with other trials to go ahead in Wales and Scotland.

As recently outlined, an independent panel will assess all IFNC proposals before Bradshaw awards the tenders in early 2010. The three pilot schemes are then expected to commence in March next year and run until 2012.

First mooted in the Digital Britain report, IFNCs are being trialled as a replacement for ITV regional news, which the broadcaster is struggling to financially maintain. The government further wants to create a more vibrant and sustainable alternative to the BBC's coverage.

"It is clear that people want high quality local news from more than one source. The huge increase in viewers and readers seeking information about the terrible floods in Cumbria over the last week is a clear demonstration of that," said Bradshaw.

"Its importance to local democracy, coupled with the acute challenge being faced by commercial news companies, means there is a need for government support. These three pilot programmes are a key step to preserving the long-term future of regional news."

The Tyne Tees and Borders region - covering urban areas of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, along with rural Northumberland, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders - has been selected for the English pilot due to its "plurality of local news sources" and the accute challenges that they are facing.

Due to changes in regional news scheduling earlier in the year, broadcasts of local news have been reduced in the region, coupled with a relatively low number of local newspapers. The region's mix of rural and urban neighbourhoods is also expected to give IFNCs a firm test.

"As well as providing a good mix of urban and rural areas, holding a pilot that spans the Tyne Tees and Borders regions will improve the current provision of regional news in the Scottish Borders and English Borders by having a far more localised news service, which the audience wants," Bradshaw added.

"The Scottish borders could get a wholly Scottish regional news service and the English borders area could see a more local and regional news service. In return for public investment, the successful bidders for each of the three pilots must demonstrate innovation and commitment to deliver trustworthy news on a variety of different platforms."

A decision on the long-term funding arrangements for IFNCs has been put back until 2012, but the government currently favours 'top-slicing' the licence fee.