South Scotland

South of Scotland could see STV switch

STV logo
Image caption One option suggested by Ofcom is moving the south of Scotland into an STV area

TV viewers in southern Scotland could be set to start receiving STV instead of the former Border Television, under a plan suggested by Ofcom.

The idea is contained in a document produced for the UK government by the communications watchdog.

It is looking at how to tidy up the way the main commercial channels are regulated when their current licences to broadcast run out in 2014.

One option involves moving the south of Scotland into the STV area.

The UK government is expected to reach a decision on the way forward within the next few months.

Two and a half years ago, Border Television's news coverage was scaled back considerably. Many of the regional news programmes shown in the area are broadcast across an area stretching from North Yorkshire to Selkirk and Stranraer.

Although one company - ITV plc - now owns all the regional stations based in England and Wales, some aspects of the regulatory system date back to the days when each station in the network was a distinct entity.

The current licences were awarded in 1991 while the official boundaries of channel 3 regions date back to the 1960s.

Ofcom is looking at what should happen when the current licences run out in 2014. It wants to find ways of trying to ensure that ITV1 and Channel 5 renew their licences and maintain some public service commitments.

The UK government asked Ofcom to produce a document outlining possible options and their pros and cons.

Some observers have predicted that ITV plc may decide against renewing its public service licences if the company is faced with too many regulations and obligations.

Instead, they say, the company would continue broadcasting its ITV1 service in another slot on the programme guide.

There has been no suggestion of STV doing this.

Other possibilities

One proposal to the UK government to help simplify arrangements, is that there should be just four major channel 3 licensees - one for each nation. If this happened, the south of Scotland would become STV's responsibility while ITV1 would still broadcast in England and Wales if it wanted to.

The subject of whether STV would provide a distinct news service for the south - or simply incorporate the area into existing programmes - is not raised in the document.

Before the C3 licences could be redrawn along national lines, ITV plc would need to give its consent.

Ofcom raises another two possibilities. One is that the current licensing arrangements are simply extended past 2014 but the fear is this would not be sustainable for any length of time.

Another idea is to open up the licences to new bidders - effectively a modern version of an old-fashioned ITV franchise round. But few expect this to happen and observers say the idea is unrealistic and risks hastening the demise of public service broadcasting on the third and fifth channels.

The UK government must reach a decision on what should happen to the channel 3 licences by June 2013 at the latest.

However, it would be for Ofcom - not the government - to decide how many licences there should be and whether one of them should cover the whole of Scotland.

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