Union demands details on plans for local media groups

The NUJ and its sister union BECTU have written to the UK government to demand more details about how proposed pilots of local news consortia will work.

An official report has announced basic information about how the government intends to secure the future of local news on commercial broadcasters.

DCMSThe unions are warning that the detail must be in place to ensure that viewers don’t lose out. The NUJ and sister unions have been pushing the government for answers to its questions but so far responses haven’t been forthcoming.

The idea of setting up independently funded news consortia is to be piloted in Scotland, Wales and one English region. The consortia are set to supply local news across multiple platforms, including the relevant programmes on ITV and STV.

The unions have been pushing the government to act to secure the future of local news on ITV and the other Channel 3 providers. However, they have expressed concern that no real detail has been made available about the plans, making the situation uncertain for many staff.

In a letter to culture secretary Ben Bradshaw the general secretaries of the two unions demand reassurances that the implications of the plans have been properly considered.

NUJ broadcasting organiser Sue Harris said: “We welcome the fact that the government has committed itself to take action to secure the future of quality local news on ITV, STV and beyond. However, we’ve got real concerns that nobody is able to put any details on those plans. What will happen to existing staff in the affected parts of ITV and STV?

“Given that nothing like this has been tried before, the government must be prepared for the possibility of problems, or even failure, in the pilots. If that happens, how can we be sure that viewers of ITV and STV will still be provided with a quality news service?”

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear added: “We’ve been asking government, Ofcom, anyone who’ll listen, to tell us what will happen if these pilots don’t work. They promise to get back to us, but so far we’ve not had a response.

“We welcome action to save local TV news so the question now is how will government ensure these pilots guarantee the quality local programmes that viewers want. Officials hope to award contracts in just a few months time, so surely these issues will have been considered?”

The same government report announced that a decision on how to fund the long-term provision of local news on commercial channels will be left until after the pilots are up and running.

The NUJ, its sister unions and campaign groups have been urging the government to look further into models that wouldn’t top slice the TV licence fee, which currently funds BBC programming.

Questions in the unions’ letter to government include:

  • What will happen to staff on the existing ITV/STV news services and their terms and conditions?
  • How will the tenders be assessed to ensure they will maximise the quality of work produced?
  • Who will be on the panel to assess the bids and how will the government ensure it represents all interests and stakeholders?
  • What are the government’s plans for the possibility of failure of the pilots? What would the impact be on staff and how would it ensure the future provision of news on ITV/STV?
  • Will media ownership rules be sufficient to protect media plurality and avoid the potential for dominance by a single supplier if it is involved in news provision on all local platforms, including Channel 3, local newspapers and radio stations?

Filed Under: National NUJ

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