Belfast Telegraph

Newsflash: TV is about to get a whole lot more local

By Paul Connolly, Readers' Editor

How well does your local newspaper represent your local area? Chances are, pretty well.

Court reports, council proceedings, notes about this village or that suburb. Town hall debates, school sports days, amateur drama and the local youth leagues are likely to be all well-served by print.

But how well covered is your local town or city by television? Chances are, hardly at all.

It’s a rare occasion that TV cameras turn up at such events, even on a city basis, never mind at the village level. The local incumbents, BBC NI and UTV, generally do a decent job covering Northern Ireland as a region — but not at local level.

It’s not their fault; they are regional services, not local.

The truth is, however, the UK lags behind many other countries in local TV.

Think of American TV and your mind may immediately conjure up those odd-sounding channels — WXTM-TV or something like that.

You might remember returning holidaymakers poking fun at these channels’ ‘parochial’ nature, or lack of slickness.

In truth, visitors’ views don’t matter — people will accept a reduction in quality in return for sincere coverage of local affairs.

The smaller the area, the more readily expectations adapt.

No one expects the Ballygoforwards Bugle to be Time magazine; nor WXTM-TV to be CNN.

It is in this context that a key announcement from UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday is important.

Hunt wishes to fill the gap between regional TV and local newspapers, particularly in cities and large towns, with a new national channel with local news and current affairs opt-outs.

The channel doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s been dubbed ‘Local TV’ or ‘Channel 6’.

As TV in general is expensive, lots of research and viability tests will be undertaken before it sees the light of day.

But Mr Hunt wants expressions of interest by March 1.

He is particularly keen to secure the involvement of newspaper groups. (Declaration of interest: the Belfast Telegraph and media company Ten Alps co-operated last year in relation to Labour’s now-defunct regional TV shake-up.)

The key questions are whether there are sufficient local audiences, and sufficient advertising, to support Local TV.

But wouldn’t it be exciting if your local region — say Belfast, or the North West — had a dedicated Local TV station with a public service remit to explore issues of local accountability, transport, planning and more?

Let’s hope, however, that Northern Ireland isn’t excluded from the process, the way Labour did last year.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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