UK minister ‘not getting picture’ on Borders’ need for local TV

JEREMY Hunt, the UK Culture Secretary, has been accused of “not getting the picture” after the Borders missed out on the chance to host its own local TV service.

A total of 65 locations were named as potential sites for the new channels by media regulator Ofcom last week, but the nearest to the region are Carlisle, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

With only Ayr being considered in the south of Scotland – about 55 miles from the most western point of the Borders – MSP Christine Grahame has promised to write to Mr Hunt to express her displeasure and urge the Scottish Government to support the inclusion of towns such as Galashiels in the consultation.

The Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP said: “People in the Borders want to see TV and in particular TV news that represents them and reflects their community.

“In the Borders, there is no access to national Scottish news on commercial television or to Scottish sports programming and in the recent election, key programmes such as the election debates were relegated to late night slots, disadvantaging the democratic process.

“This would never be accepted elsewhere and it is not acceptable here.

“The UK culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, clearly doesn’t get the picture so neither will people in the Borders.

“I am writing to him to ask if he even looked at the Borders when he dreamt up this proposal and if he has any idea of the situation Borders viewers find themselves in.”

A survey by Ms Grahame in 2008 – a year before ITV Border left its base at Carlisle to move to Gateshead and merge with ITV Tyne Tees – revealed 70 per cent of respondents felt the Borders was not well served by TV broadcasting. She has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament on the issue.

Referring to Mr Hunt’s statement that he wants viewers to watch TV that is “truly relevant to them”, her motion states: “... [The parliament] is astonished that he has failed to consider the Scottish Borders and towns such as Galashiels as a location in spite of the fact that the Scottish Borders is served not by STV but Border TV broadcasting from Gateshead covering also the north of England and the Isle of Man, depriving Borderers of both national and local coverage.”

She has received backing from the Scottish Government’s secretary for culture and external affairs, Fiona Hyslop. She added: “Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders are arguably the parts of Scotland most in need of local television.

“Viewers here currently receive local news on Channel 3 (ITV) which is broadcast from Gateshead. Nothing in these inadequate proposals would deliver benefits for viewers in these areas, which are not even on the list of eligible locations.”

Ms Hyslop repeated the Scottish Government’s stance that a publicly funded digital network for Scotland would “sustain and support” local TV services.

A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said the 65 areas were identified by Ofcom “following a detailed analysis of towns and cities which have good GI spectrum coverage from existing transmitters”.

Towns and cities included in the consultation will now be asked why they should be selected and the list will be narrowed down to about 20 for the first set of licences which will be handed out before the end of the year.