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Battle joined over North-East regional news pilot

A two-way battle is shaping up for the right to run the Channel 3 regional news service in the North-East after it was named it as the English location for the government’s pilot regional news scheme.

Last week, newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror announced it had joined forces with the Press Association and Bob Geldof’s TV production company Ten Alps in the hope of winning the licence to makes news programmes for the region.

But it faces opposition from a rival bid by ITN in conjunction with the existing news provider, ITV Tyne Tees and Borders, with other regional newspaper groups potentially waiting in the wings.

The government wants regional news consortia to take over the running of all Channel 3 regional news services from 2013, when ITV’s current licences expire.

Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw announced today that the Tyne Tees and Borders region, which encompasses the North-East and Cumbria, has been chosen to host an English pilot scheme to run from next year alongside similar pilot schemes in Scotland and Wales.

He said: “As well as providing a good mix of urban and rural areas, holding a pilot that spans the Tyne Tees and Borders regions will improve the current provision of regional news by having a far more localised news service, which the audience wants.”

Trinity Mirror’s Neil Benson, the spokesman for the Trinity-PA-Ten Alps consortium, said: “We are delighted that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has chosen the Tyne Tees and Border region as the test-bed for the independently-funded news consortia pilot.

“We are excited about beginning the tender process and looking forward to demonstrating the strength and depth of our proposal backed by the joint professional expertise of Trinity Mirror, Press Association and Ten Alps.”

Trinity’s involvement in the bid reflects its historic strength in the North-East where it owns two of the biggest daily titles, Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle and region-wide daily The Journal, as well as the Evening Gazette, Teesside.

Mr Benson added: “We are aiming to use the unique strengths of our consortium – localness, community roots, excellence in news-gathering and award-winning programme making – to design a winning bid and to produce a service the region will be proud of.”

But Trinity faces opposition from ITN which says it wants to build a “coalition” with as yet unnamed “newspaper, radio and comunity groups.”

Chief executive John Hardie said: “We’re excited to be joining forces with the talented staff who provide the current service in the Tyne Tees and Border region and in Wales to create the backbone of our bids for the pilots announced today.”

Mr Hardie said the so-called ‘IFNCs’ provided “an opportunity to re-invigorate local and regional newsgathering across broadcast, print and online and to ensure that there is an innovative and comprehensive alternative to the BBC.”

He added: “We are building a coalition with newspapers, radio and community groups to bring together the best in commercial journalism in each of the regions to offer a compelling multi-platform news service for viewers, listeners and readers.”

ITN is currently refusing to name the “newspapers, radio and community groups” involved in its proposed partnership, but it is thought that they could include other newspaper publishers with interests in the North-East region.

Johnston Press owns the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail, while Newsquest publishes Darlington-based regional daily The Northern Echo. The two companies have already teamed-up north of the border alongside DC Thomson and existing broadcaster STV to bid for the Scottish Channel 3 news service.