Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Tom Gutteridge

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Tom Gutteridge

Article excerpt

IHATE to say "I told you so," but I told you so. I'm only surprised that I'm telling you so soon after my last comments here about what I called Jeremy Hunt's "crazy initiative for local television".

Just two years and PS40m later (that's just the money we, the television licence payers have pledged to Hunt's hare-brained scheme), we find that the whole project is a big fat turkey.

Last week the flagship local TV station, London Live, owned by Evgeny Lebedev, the billionaire proprietor of The Independent newspaper and London's Evening Standard, raised the white flag of defeat by asking Ofcom to slash the amount of local programming it is required to produce from three hours per day to just one. In other words, it doesn't really want to be local at all.

The reason is simple: viewers don't want Hunt's city TV. Since its launch four months ago, and despite its priceless position as Channel 8 on the capital's Freeview receivers, Londonscarcely-aLive has been getting such appallingly low audiences, at times it has received a zero rating.

We all warned that this would happen, but Hunt wouldn't listen. The first thing he did when he took over as Secretary of State for Culture in 2010, was to axe Labour's bold plans for regional and local digital news and replace it with this crackpot idea, based on his self-assessment of New York's local stations. He said that city has six successful local TV stations, so every city in Britain should have one.

He was wrong. New York's stations aren't actually local: they're all either affiliated to or owned by bigger networks, who provide their main shows, and they run a little bit of local news in between these and bought-in series, with the bulk of the schedule filled with acres of "paid for" shows that try to sell you things, from slimming aids to God. That's not local, in any sense of the word.

The experts were united, the financial analysts predicted disaster, his own department's officials rolled their eyes in despair, but Hunt wouldn't listen. Now Lebedev and the taxpayers are paying the price.

When he first moved into his office, Hunt found his department ready to launch our ambitious plans for local news. …

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