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Local Media

Volume 519: debated on Monday 29 November 2010

We have announced radical plans to secure the future of the local newspaper industry, and have ambitious hopes to turn this country from one of the least well served by local television to one of the best served.

Many local newspapers have struggled with the recession, but the East Kent Mercury and the Dover Express in my constituency have done really well. Do Ministers think it right to praise successful local newspaper groups?

Yes, especially when they are in one’s own constituency. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best way in which we can help local newspaper groups is by making it commercially viable for them to turn into multi-media operations which offer their news product over radio, television, iPods, iPads and mobiles. I do not know what the broadcast footprint of Dover television might be, but I have no doubt that it would extend my hon. Friend’s reputation as a campaigning Member of Parliament across the channel to the north coast of France.

In the light of the uncertainty facing local radio operators such as Spire FM in my constituency over the path for migration to DAB, can the Minister tell us when the owners and operators of such stations will know whether they can secure a future beyond Ofcom’s seven-year licensing strategy?

I thank my hon. Friend for his important question. We greatly value the role of local radio, and we are also very committed to the transition to a digital future. We want to ensure that the timing is such that it does not force people to jettison their analogue radios in huge quantities. Our discussions are progressing rapidly. Last week I had a discussion with the managing director of one of the largest commercial radio groups, and we hope that our discussions will progress further in the next month.

There is a great deal of anger in Wales about the way in which the Minister and his Department have treated our local media. ITV Wales will probably not be able to sustain its public service requirements, and S4C has been treated appallingly. There has been no consultation with the people of Wales. There will be a single monopolistic presence in broadcasting in Wales, and the Minister is doing a great disservice to the people of Wales by the way in which he is advancing his cause.

The mess in local broadcasting in Wales was not created by this Government. It was the hon. Gentleman’s party under which audiences for S4C halved over the last decade, and which did absolutely nothing about it. We have sought to find a secure future for S4C that will maintain its independent identity but will also give it the support of our largest broadcaster. We have actually done something about the problem; the hon. Gentleman’s party did nothing about it whatsoever.

When the Minister does consult on the future of local media, will he speak to elected representatives? I note that he has completely ignored the views of all party leaders in Wales on S4C, including the leader of the Conservatives in Wales. Is not the way in which he is ignoring elected representatives from Wales an absolute disgrace? Will he start talking to people about something which is very keenly felt in Wales, and which he does not understand?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have talked to many elected representatives, but in particular elected representatives from this House, about the best way forward for S4C. We have put a solution on the table which secures S4C’s finances for the whole comprehensive spending review. If the hon. Gentleman has a better solution, perhaps he should put something forward, because we have heard nothing from the Labour party.