Scotland business

Ofcom sets out Borders TV options

TV aerial
Image caption Concern has been expressed that fewer Scottish programmes are shown in the south of the country

Big changes could be made to the regional ITV service in the south of Scotland, under proposals from the communications regulator Ofcom.

The watchdog is looking at ways of improving the news service in the former Border TV area.

There have been concerns that fewer Scottish programmes are shown there than in the rest of the country.

Since 2009, Border's news bulletins have been presented from Gateshead near Newcastle.

One option would see the return of a dedicated news service for the region along with a weekly current affairs programme.

Another alternative could see the station showing more of STV programmes.

Potential options

The UK government has made it clear that it wants to see the concerns of viewers in the south of Scotland dealt with when the current Channel 3 licences are renewed.

Until 2009, Border TV broadcast a local service for Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

But then ITV merged the service with that of the neighbouring Tyne Tees area.

Some viewers and politicians are unhappy that viewers in the south of Scotland receive less Scottish news than viewers in the rest of the country who receive STV.

STV also shows a range of other Scottish programmes, including current affairs and magazine shows, which are not regularly seen in the former Border region.

In a consultation document Ofcom sets out two potential options:

  • Restoring a dedicated news service for the former Border TV region, similar to the one provided until 2009, along with a weekly current affairs programme dedicated to the area.
  • Restoring the news service and putting in place an obligation to show 90 minutes of other regional programmes every week. These could be bought from STV.

Both options have pros and cons.

For instance, the first option would see an extra programme focussed purely on the Border TV region so would also include stories of interest to viewers in Cumbria. But viewers in the south would still see fewer Scottish programmes than people who live in the STV region.

But the second option could see viewers in Cumbria receive programmes of little interest to them unless technical arrangements were made to make sure the extra Scottish programmes were only seen in the Scottish part of the region.

The document also mentioned the notion of auctioning a new Channel 3 licence covering the whole of Scotland to replace Border and STV's existing licences. However this option is not being pursued.

The consultation document also looks at possible changes to the rest of the Channel 3 network.

No major changes are being proposed for the STV service in central and northern Scotland. But ITV plans to increase the number of distinct regional news programmes shown at 18:00 in return for a cut in the length of the bulletins at lunchtime, 22:30 and at the weekend.

Regional output

ITV's preference is for a 30 minute regional current affairs programme covering Cumbria and the south of Scotland.

It would be shown on a weekday evening at 22:35 but might be repeated on Sundays.

The company also questioned whether most viewers in the Border region would really want to see more of STV's regional output.

An ITV spokesman said: "Our proposals for Border are based first and foremost on the needs of viewers. It is clear from both our and Ofcom's research that viewers in Border want news about their local area rather than news dominated by the urban agendas of either central belt Scotland or the north east of England.

"We are therefore proposing to return to a dedicated Border news service for Cumbria and southern Scotland. We are also planning a new half-hour, weekly current affairs and politics programme for Border that will focus on the stories, issues and concerns of viewers across the whole region. It will have a particular emphasis on matters dealt with by the Scottish Parliament.

"If these proposals are approved by Ofcom we hope to have the new services in place by the autumn of this year, allowing us to fully cover the run up to the referendum on independence for Scotland."

The consultation closes on 2 May. Any changes are likely to come into force by the start of 2015 at the latest.

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