Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
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Regional News Pilot for Tyne Tees and Borders

Regional News Pilot for Tyne Tees and Borders

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 26 November 2009

The Tyne Tees and Borders television region has been selected for a pilot scheme to develop new and innovative ways of providing local and regional news, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw announced today.

This pilot region, in addition to one in Scotland and one in Wales, will trial Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNCs) which are being created to support sustainable multi-platform regional news. As well as broadcasting in the regional news slots on channel 3 (ITV and STV), the consortia will be expected to provide increased local news using multi-media technology. IFNCs were a recommendation of the Digital Britain White Paper.

The tender process to run each of the three IFNC pilots was also launched today with an independent panel expected to select the successful consortia in each region by March 2010.

Ben Bradshaw said:

“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. 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.

“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. 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.”

The Digital Britain White Paper set out the Government’s intention to run pilots in Scotland, Wales and one English region. Tyne Tees and Borders has been selected as the English region because plurality of local news sources there raises particularly significant concerns: changes in the regional news scheduling earlier this year have reduced the offer of broadcast local news whilst the distribution of local newspapers is relatively low compared to the rest of England. The broad geographical area will benefit from a more localised news service. The area also provides a good test case for an IFNC covering both urban and rural neighbourhoods.

Currently, the Tyne Tees and Borders area incorporates two ITV licence regions. They form a cross border region serving part of the North West, south and south west Scotland as well as north east England. Running a pilot in this region alongside a pilot in Scotland could allow those in Scotland to receive Scottish news instead of English news. Through the IFNC process, the Government expects to create a news service provided by Scotland for Scotland, addressing concerns of many viewers in the region. This would require some technical engineering to existing transmitters to make this happen.

Interested parties for the IFNC pilots have until 11 December to levy expressions of interest and 30 December to submit the final Pre Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) which will be assessed by published criteria early in the New Year.

All three pilots are expected to be up and running in 2010.

Notes to editors

More information about the tender process and how to apply can be found at the DCMS website at: http://www.dcms.gov.uk/what_we_do/broadcasting/5942.aspxThe evaluation and selection panel will carry out the process of selecting and evaluating the bids. The Chair of the panel will work with the department to identify and select other members based on expertise, skills and knowledge.Ministers have decided that Scotland, Wales and the Tyne Tees and Borders area of England will pilot IFNCs. Scotland and Wales were determined through the Digital Britain process which also said that the Government was minded to pilot an IFNC in one English region. The reasons why the Tyne Tees and Borders has been selected are as follows: The North East (Tyne Tees and Borders) forms an important cross-border region serving part of the North West (Cumbria), south and south west Scotland as well as north east England. The region contains large urban centres and rural areas. There are strong regional identities associated with the region and an IFNC would offer the possibility for a significant improvement in the existing service by offering a greater local focus, in particular, in the Scottish border area and Cumbria.The region has long been considered as one where the delivery of news could be improved significantly to meet audience needs. In comparison to other regions, the North East has a relatively low local newspaper distribution suggesting plurality could be improved in this area. Broadband take up in this area is also very low in comparison to other regions and there is scope through the IFNC to enhance an online news offering and contribute to take-up. For television news, ITV North East (Tyne Tees and Borders) licence areas incorporate two ITV licence regions. There was a considerable reduction in the local news service following ITVs decision to run them as a single region for regional news purposes and move production of the successful Borders regional news programme Lookaround from Carlisle to Gateshead earlier this year. Currently, the localised elements of the service are limited. Most of the output is shared across the whole of Border and Tyne Tees, with separate sequences in the main 6pm programme for Tyne Tees and for Border as a whole (i.e. jointly covering the areas both north and south of the border); and short separate bulletins after News at Ten. More than 13,000 people objected to Ofcom about the change when it was first proposed. Viewers on both sides of the English/Scottish Border were involved in a considerable lobby against the change. The changes as a result of Ofcom’s PSB review also meant that Tyneside and Teesside, which had previously been served by separate news programmes lost those separate services. An IFNC here could offer an opportunity to provide a more localised news service.Ofcom’s PSB review contained research that showed that the proportion of people citing Channel 3 as their main source of regional news in England was highest in the Borders (39% in England and 51% in the Scottish borders) closely followed by Tyne Tees (37%) compared to any other English region. Only the devolved nations were higher.In a scenario of nations-based licences, Ofcom examined how this would be received in Scotland. Responses from Scotland to the Ofcom consultation indicated that a whole-Scottish licence would have popular support. It could be potentially more cost-effective if production facilities were concentrated in a single national hub with news-gathering capability in the individual regions. The Government envisages that the IFNC pilot in Scotland could (subject to technical considerations in respect of transmitter patterns) potentially provide the news for the whole of Scotland (currently, Tyne Tees and Borders provides the news for the Scottish borders area) which is something that many citizens, commentators and politicians have called for. It is estimated that around 250,000 people live in the Scottish part of the Border television region and it has been argued they do not receive adequate news about the devolved Scottish government. Finally, this region provides an opportunity to test how two IFNCs could work together providing a contiguous service.

Rationale and approach

It is important the English IFNC pilot can genuinely trial the IFNC in a way that will test the issues that will inform the planned rollout from 2012/2013. The Government looked at a range of factors, data, public interest and areas to test during the pilot phase.The priority in Digital Britain was to respond to the threat to the plurality of nations, local and regional news especially where it remains fundamental to democratic purposes and informing and educating citizens about their areas and communities. Scotland and Wales were selected as nations with devolved government and where the threat to plurality was most immediate. While Northern Ireland also has devolved government, plurality (of broadcast news sources in particular) is not currently at risk. We have also taken account of what lessons we want to learn as part of the pilot process as well as any commercial impact on the regulated incumbent Channel 3 licence holder and have looked at the demographics of the areas. The regions are those defined by the current Channel 3 regional licence map and constraints of the configuration of existing infrastructure. Finally, the Government has considered whether a pilot area presents specific opportunities to address local and regional news concerns and how easy local market and technology considerations lend themselves to an IFNC pilot.

Contacts:

DCMS Press Enquiries and Out of hours telephone pager
Phone: 020 7211 6263
Mobile: 07699 751153
NDS.DCMS@coi.gsi.gov.uk

Emma Marsh.
Phone: 020 72116271
emma.marsh@culture.gsi.gov.uk

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