Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled his plan to make local television “a reality”.
The minister announced an Action Plan For Local Media at the Oxford Media Convention and invited firms to register their interest in running a new channel, which will carry local news and content, by March 1. Licences for local television services will be handed out before the end of 2012.
In a speech to the convention, Mr Hunt said: “To make this vision a reality I am today inviting existing and new media providers to come forward with suggestions as to how this network channel – or local TV ‘spine’ – could work.
“What this will mean, for consumers, is a new channel dedicated to the provision of local news and content. One that will sit alongside other public service broadcasters, offering a new voice for local communities, with local perspectives that are directly relevant to them.
“We won’t be prescriptive. We will wait for the necessary technical assessment to be completed and we will listen to the commercially viable proposals that come forward. Our goal is to be able to award the relevant licences by the end of 2012, and for local TV to be up and running soon after.”
Mr Hunt added that “impartiality regulations” would apply to the television services.
A panel set up to examine the idea said local television channels might broadcast in only “10 to 12” areas to begin with.
The review chaired by investment banker Nicholas Shott said it would take “significant effort” to make the plan a success. Its report, published last year, said the channels “may initially be focused in and around 10 to 12 conurbations” and provide “at least two hours of reasonably low-cost but high quality content a day”.
Mr Hunt continued: “It is easy to be patronising about hyper-local services, but take a look at the evidence of what consumers truly value. Eight out of 10 consider local news important, nearly seven out of 10 adults feel localness of stories is more important than them being professionally produced.”
He added: “People in Barnham don’t want to watch what is going on in Southampton. People in Chelmsford aren’t interested in what’s happening in Watford. That is the system we currently have at the moment, so that is what we are trying to rethink.”