The likelihood of proposed independently-funded multiplatform news consortia (IFNCs) coming to fruition may have been dealt a blow by the measure’s removal from legislation last week and by Conservative opposition – but winning bidders are apparently clinging on to hope they can get contracts signed… one day.
“We are in limbo,” UTV television MD Michael Wilson, whose WalesLive bid with NWN Media was named a pilot operator last month, told a Royal Television Society meeting in Cardiff. “It feels like we’ve run a marathon, crossed the finish line first and there’s no medal at the end.”
With Clause 29, which would have let Ofcom appoint a news provider to a Channel 3 franchise and fund it, failing to appear in the Digital Economy Act, there appears no mandate for the regulator bringing about the three winning IFNC consortia’s promised birth. But Labour has retained the ambition in its election manifesto.
“I still have a hope,” Wilson said. “These projects wouldn’t be managed by Ofcom. I genuinely believe, within the DCMS, there is an understanding that plurality of news provision is important, if not imperative. Within the BBC, there is a belief that it is imperative, and within every politician.”
The warm sentiments are all well and good, but Conservative shadow media secretary Jeremy Hunt has assured Wilson the IFNCs will not go live under a Tory government and, with no legislative framework in place, there’s not yet a clear way even a Labour government, in the next parliament, could reboot the IFNC idea in its current form.
But Wilson is keeping WalesLive ready to go – still touring the bid pitch to influencers and suggesting go-ahead could be salvaged under a Lib-Lab coalition; WalesLive is even sponsoring next week’s Celtic Media Festival in Newry and Wilson is speculating about an alternative assault in four years’ time, when ITV’s Channel 3 licenses expire. “There may be opportunity to bid for the ITV (LSE: ITV) Wales license in 2014,” he said. “But there’s a big ‘but’ because we don’t know what the terms will be.”
Ofcom is expected to begin the renewal process in two months’ time, and could come under lobbying to carve out separate Channel 3 licenses for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
One thing’s for sure – Tories’ alternative idea of city-based (rather than nations-and-regions) news providers will be seen as unfeasible by many. “I have to question the Tories’ policy for TV,” Wilson said. “They held up Channel M as the shining success – that closed last week.
“If you have a city station in Aberystwyth or Cardigan, you won’t have the financial clout to deliver coverage from (the Welsh Assembly in) Cardiff Bay.” But, again, Wilson holds a hope that, even if a Conservative government introduces metropolitan TV in England, it could bow to alternative demands in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He’s lobbying Welsh Tories on the idea.
Much of this is wishful thinking, at least until the May 6 election’s outcome is known. Until then, Wilson revealed some more ideas from his winning bid (see earlier commitments)…
— “We plan to offer any Ofcom-licensed radio station a clips service. We’ll upload to a central server any audio clips for use by stations or universities.”
— “We’re going to put two journalists in to the assembly to offer an agency news service to any newspaper that wants it, to cover democracy.”
— “We will tweet from all major news events. During the election, our online service would be up and running tweeting through the night.”