Page last updated at 13:42 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Doubts over regional news plans

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STV is hoping to win the contract to provide regional news

Doubts have been raised over whether a radical overhaul of regional news on STV and ITV1 in the Borders will go ahead if the Tories win the election.

A bidding process is currently under way for a pilot scheme which would see public money used to pay for regional news programmes.

The bidders for the Scottish contract include a group led by STV and a consortium of newspapers.

However, the Conservatives are opposed to the scheme.

They have warned that if they take power following the general election they will look at whether the pilots can be scrapped - regardless of whether the successful bidder has been announced.

ITV and STV have claimed that regional news is becoming uneconomical.

The Labour government at Westminster has said it wants to use public money to pay for regional news programmes on Channel 3.

Pilots are due to start later this year in the STV region as well as the Scottish Borders, Wales and the north east of England.

We don't think public subsidy is the way forward and the proposal for large scale regional news is wrong. Once you've started you don't know if it's the thin edge of the wedge. It recreates the BBC model
Ed Vaizey
Shadow Arts Minister

They would be paid for by money from the part of the licence fee, which was previously earmarked for the cost of digital switchover.

By 2012 the scheme could be extended to the whole of the UK.

One option is to pay for it with TV Licence money but the current government has said it is open to other suggestions.

However, the Conservatives are opposed in principle to using public money to subsidise the regional news on Channel 3.

Presently STV News and other regional news services across the Channel 3 network are paid for by the broadcasters themselves - subsidised by more profitable parts of the schedule.

But STV and ITV have argued that this model is living on borrowed time.

Become unviable

Conservative shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey told the Nations & Regions Media Conference in Salford this week that the Conservatives would seek to establish a network of de-regulated, ultra-local TV stations which would not get any form of public subsidy.

Mr Vaizey said: "We don't think public subsidy is the way forward and the proposal for large scale regional news is wrong. Once you've started you don't know if it's the thin edge of the wedge. It recreates the BBC model."

He added: "We object to the idea of publicly-funded local news as it takes away independence. If contracts are signed we will get advice from officials about how we could get out of them."

ITVplc - which owns the ITV1 stations in England, Wales and the Borders - has indicated that it does not wish to produce regional news programmes itself after 2012.

STV has said that it does not want to stop producing regional news programmes but fears that it will become unviable to do so without help. It hopes to win the contract for the Scottish service.

The successful bidders for the pilot scheme are expected to be announced in the spring.



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