Independent News and Media (NI), publishers of the Belfast Telegraph, and factual TV production company Ten Alps PLC have announced they are in discussion about bidding for any local Independently Funded News Consortium (IFNC) pilot contracts tendered for regional ITV news services for Northern Ireland.
In a joint announcement in Belfast and Cambridge this morning, Ten Alps (through its Belfast TV production subsidiary Below the Radar) and INMNI said that meaningful discussions about an IFNC have taken place between both companies.
So far, Northern Ireland is the only one of the UK's nations that has been denied a recommendation for a pilot IFNC in OFCOM's landmark Digital Britain report. At the Royal Television Society’s conference in Cambridge this morning, Ten Alps and the Belfast Telegraph appealed for a pilot for the province, saying both believed a successful pilot IFNC could have positive economic, democratic, technological and cultural implications for Northern Ireland.
And they outlined a vision of a cross-platform rolling news service taking in Channel 3 news bulletins, press, localized websites and online TV coverage.
Bob Geldof, non-executive director and co-founder of Ten Alps, said today in London: “The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the pilots in the Digital Britain report was something rare and frankly odd: perhaps it is just an unfortunate accident which can actually be put right.
“No interpretation we’ve heard actually makes sense – from lack of funds for the province, to lack of credible alternative news suppliers.
“So we ask the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to give Belfast a tender process, and allow Northern Ireland to fully engage in a democratic process in the vitally important news sector. Let all companies with great ideas come forward, and take this chance to explore the best way to cover local news for the coming decades.
“Fair competition for public funding, and equality for Northern Ireland with England, Scotland and Wales: surely no one will disagree with that?”
In Belfast this morning, Michael Brophy, chief executive officer of INMNI, said: "The combined strengths of these two great companies is both clear and effective. The Belfast Telegraph is perhaps Northern Ireland's most respected brand, bringing with it the editorial strength of the largest newspaper news-gathering network in the Province and a long history of fairness, excellence and sound judgement.
"Ten Alps, meanwhile, brings a record of excellence and innovation as one of the UK's leading producers of factual broadcast television, while in Below The Radar we have the perfect partner with local television expertise. Between us, we have the financial strength, expertise and reputation to offer a real alternative in regional television news in Northern Ireland."
Trevor Birney, managing director of Below The Radar, told this morning’s conference that the establishment of a pilot for Northern Ireland was vital for the future of the media industry in Belfast and for the delivery of high-quality news and current affairs in particular.
“We are delighted to have established a relationship with the Belfast Telegraph, which has been home to some of Northern Ireland’s finest journalists. Below The Radar is a company committed to high-quality news and current affairs and we know that the Belfast Telegraph share our passion.”
Belfast Telegraph managing editor Paul Connolly, also present at the Cambridge conference, added: "Since 1870 the Belfast Telegraph has been providing quality news, sport and opinion to the people of Northern Ireland. We have a proven track record of excellence and are respected by both communities in Northern Ireland.
"We believe that a pilot IFNC would begin a process with the innovative poten tial to transform news and current affairs in the Province."
Both companies will now continue to discuss how best to bring forward a bid for a potential IFNC should a regional pilot be established for Northern Ireland.