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STV wants 'small public subsidy'

29 October 08 01:15 GMT

Scottish broadcaster STV has said it needs a "small public subsidy" to keep its news and current affairs output running effectively past 2010.

In a speech to MPs, the channel's chief executive, Rob Woodward, said the cash would "bridge the funding gap" after the start of digital switchover.

He urged them to put STV's case to the broadcasting authorities in London.

STV did not specify how much public money it wanted for annual news output, which is believed to cost about £7m.

Details of Mr Woodward's speech, made at Westminster earlier this month, were published on the company's website.

It called on MPs to raise STV's case with the department for culture, media and sport and the communications watchdog, Ofcom.

Recently, both bodies have been discussing whether some of the BBC's licence fee money should be used to pay for public service programmes on commercial channels.

Analysts believe that if STV was granted a subsidy it could take one of two forms.

The UK Government might agree to "top slice" the licence fee to give money to other broadcasters or the Westminster or Scottish governments might give the company taxpayers' money. Some Gaelic programming is paid for through a similar mechanism.

STV provides the ITV service in Central and Northern Scotland but is a separate company from ITV plc which runs the network in England, Wales and the Scottish Borders.

ITV plc expects to be able to make big cuts to its regional news services early next year. The Border region will, in effect, be merged with Tyne Tees in Gateshead and viewers in the Scottish Borders will be shown less dedicated regional news as a result.

'Strong brand'

STV has insisted that it does not want to go down a similar route but believes the current financial arrangements for its regional news programmes will not be sustainable after 2010, when digital switchover occurs.

A spokeswoman for STV said the broadcasters' position had been leaning towards public subsidy for the past six months.

A statement from the channel said: "STV is fully committed to being a public service broadcaster and to delivering our Scottish news service, which is highly valued by viewers.

"STV has the legacy, strong brand and market positioning to be well placed to continue to deliver solid, creative and accessible public service broadcasting in future.

"However, as confirmed by Ofcom, the current model is economically unsustainable for commercial broadcasters and we need to find a way to effectively fund this demand.

"We will continue to engage with Ofcom and we are hopeful and confident that a solution that benefits both broadcasters and viewers alike can be found."

The spokeswoman was unable to say how much money the broadcaster wanted in public subsidy or if jobs and public service commitments would be affected without it.

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