LOCAL people are being urged to make their views known on proposals for changes to ITV’s regional news programming.
Two options have been put forward by ITV and regulator Ofcom which recommend that the 2009 merger of ITV Border and Tyne Tees is effectively reversed.
There has been increasing disquiet about the coverage the Borders has received on the weekday Lookaround programme since the merger, with local news competing with coverage from-across the north-east and north west of England, as well as south-west Scotland.
Following research last year and discussions with ITV ahead of the renewal of broadcast licences, Ofcom has published two options for consultation.
The first option, suggested by ITV themselves, is for a 30-minute weekday broadcast, purely covering the Border region as it used to be.
This would be supplemented by one 30-minute current affairs/political show a week, mainly covering southern Scotland and Scottish political debate.
The second option would also see an ITV Border 30-minute weekday evening broadcast, with an additional 90 minutes of current affairs/political coverage a week, although the latter would not have to be centred on the Border region.
Neither proposal seeks to maintain the short news bulletins during the week or weekend.
The proposals have been welcomed by local politicians, who have urged the public to have their say.
Tory MSP John Lamont said: “Ever since the merger with Tyne Tees, viewers in the Borders have missed out on having a daily local news service that is tailored to their area, and I’m glad that the ITV Border region will now return.
“I am also hugely supportive of the possibility of having a further half-hour current affairs programme focusing on issues and concerns of those in the south of Scotland.
The SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse said: “In terms of local news output the proposals in this consultation seek to increase that, so I am broadly in favour of such changes being made as they are a positive suggestion.
“In the lead-up to the referendum next year, I would expect increasing coverage of issues relating to independence and it would be a travesty if viewers in the Scottish Borders miss out on being able to see that.”
Lib Dem MP Michael Moore added: “From my own knowledge of what people say and the information from previous consultations, it is clear that Border TV is still popular locally.
“However, there is, of course, room for improvement in the service after a number of difficult years of the regional news link with Tyne Tees.”
The Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce has arranged a special conference this summer to discuss various issues surrounding the media and the Scottish Borders.
Convener James Aitken told TheSouthern that he was concerned that an option to create an all-Scotland licence had been dismissed by Ofcom.
“There is a lot happening now constitutionally, and I don’t see why the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway are any different from the rest of Scotland.
“There is a real need for us to be part of the debate in Scotland, and my worry is that the news is just not covering that. How can we make our point of view known if we are not on things like Scotland Tonight?”
He added: “The general consensus is that nobody is happy with what we have at the moment, but was the service before really all that great?”
With the current broadcast licences due to expire at the end of 2014, it is likely that any changes to ITV’s local news will not come into effect until January 2015.