“BBC’s monopoly eroded.” Two cheers.

I told Radio 5’s breakfast show that Lord Carter’s proposal of a shift of a small, marginal BBC budget toward the ITV regional news operation at least had the merit of breaking the principle of BBC monopoly on state funding. Otherwise, it’s not all that clever. Locals should pay for local journalism, and probably use cheaper dissemination than TV.

Early reports suggest Lord Carter would like to help fix the crisis in local journalism. Commercial local journalism – print and broadcast – is in great difficulty. But ITV only ever did local news because it was made to, so Lord Carter’s move merely insists that the state must pay for whatever broadcasting it insists on mandating.

The real principle here is that local people should pay for local news and comment and whether they do this through the market, or their local councils or new voluntary bodies, is really their business. They could do this as the local branch of the National Trust of the Airwaves I propose.

I doubt that locally-financed journalism would use the ITV network as its main tool of dissemination, but it might. There’s local radio and local papers standing by as cheaper methods, and of course the internet and even local newsletters.

One good role for a national body might be for Reuters or PA to take local money to maintain local journalists whose material could be quality-controlled and disseminated by the wire services, local radio and TV and local papers.

That would maintain as much as possible of the great modern virtues: keep the state to a minimum; subsidiarity in funding and control (“as local as possible”); alternative technology (keep it cheap); encourage competition; fund good things commercially and voluntarily and only compulsorily as a last resort.

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Publication date

16 June 2009


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