Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Digital exclusion bad news for us

Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Nelson McCausland is to be commended for his tough stance over the snub to Northern Ireland in the Government's plans for a new Digital Britain.

The province has been excluded from news pilot schemes which are being rolled out in Scotland, Wales and a region of England, effectively putting it in the slow lane of the new digital economy. Mr McCausland cancelled a meeting with his counterpart in London saying he would only attend once a firm proposal was put on the table for a pilot scheme.

Regional news and current affairs broadcasts throughout the UK have been identified as a priority within the Government's Digital Britain strategy. Services in some regions are in danger because of falling revenue streams on the ITV network. To address the problem Independently Funded News Consortia would be established. This would allow alternative private interests, not all necessarily existing media organisations, to bid to provide news and current affairs on Channel 3.

At this stage this newspaper will have to declare an interest. Independent News & Media is interested in exploring this new option along with partners including Sir Bob Geldof's Ten Alps digital media group. Setting up a pilot scheme would allow this group to challenge the existing news provider UTV for the right to the business in the future. Instead, Northern Ireland has been consigned to the slow lane of the new digital economy, having to wait until the Government strategy is rolled out in 2013.

Mr McCausland doesn't believe that is good for Northern Ireland and neither do we. This is an opportunity for the province to create new, cutting edge jobs and explore new ways of providing news and current affairs. This is not a criticism of UTV which would be in a strong position to provide the new service, but simply a plea for fair play. We should not be treated as a semi-detached part of the UK.

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