The proposal to take money from the BBC licence fee to partly ITV regional news services was one of the headlines of theUK government’s Digital Britain report.
According to the proposal, a small part of the expected £200m digital switchover surplus would fund three ITV regional news pilots in Scotland, Wales and one English region from now until 2013.
The pilots are a response to ITV’s decision to pull out of regional news which it sees as a financial burden. It is a far cry from when regional news was a money-spinner for ITV, with its early evening bulletins often attracting more more viewers than the BBC’s bulletins.
The idea to take about £130m a year from the licence fee to fund a series of independent consortia of local providers in place of ITV’s current regional news service seems a dated approach to the provision of local news.
At a time when audiences are getting their news by mixing and matching old and new technologies, a focus on TV bulletins is ill-advised.
The Digital Britain proposal is an attempt to prop up a system of local and regional news that suited a 20th century audience.
Instead of throwing money at a handful of expensive TV news pilots, the UK government could instead set up a fund to support hundreds of low-cost, hyperlocal news sites.
Hyperlocal sites would address one of the weaknesses of regional TV news – the fact that often the coverage is not local enough.
These hyperlocal sites could pilot emerging pro-am models of journalism, seeking to involve local communties in covering issues of importance to them.
Using BBC money to kickstart a new wave of hyperlocal news sites would be an innovative and creative response to the challenges facing local news, and be more in keeping with the aim of fostering a truly digital Britain.