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More doubts cast over city TV plans

Industry leaders have voiced fresh scepticism about the government’s plans for a network of city TV stations.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to remove restrictions on cross-media ownership in a bid to create around 60 local stations to replace ITV regional news.

But Stewart Purvis, a former head of ITN and now a professor of journalism at City University, said Mr Hunt’s plans would have no effect on most newspaper owners.

“I have never met a single local newspaper owner who wanted to be a local radio owner or local TV owner,” he told the conference.

“There may be people in the audience but, by and large, people have not sought to be cross-media locally and do not seek to be,” he added.

Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey, whose company owns the daily newspaper titles in several major cities, has already said the city TV plan is not commercially viable.

A regional political editor has raised concerns about how journalists will deal with a mass release of local government data.

Paul Francis from the KM Group, said councils would be required from January to publish details of all transactions over £500.

But he said he was not sure local newspaper journalists had the resources and skills to be able to go through all the data.

He told a conference session on the media and democracy: “What this means is massively more information being disclosed.

“It is not something I would want to argue against but it is whether journalists have the resources, time, commitment and skills to go through this data,” he added.

Paul was speaking during a session on Democracy and the Media which looks at how political developments could affect the industry.

Press freedom campaigner John Kampfner said he was “cautiously optimistic” that reforms to the libel laws would be on the statute book by 2012.

Plans to curb ‘success fees’ charged by lawyers were axed by the outgoing Labour government shortly before the last election.

However the cause has been taken up by the new ruling Con-Lib coalition, with proposals for a civil liberties bill which would include the reforms.

As well as limiting success fees, the reforms would introduce a new defence of ‘responsible journalism alongside the existing fair comment and public interest defences.

John, a former political journalist who is now chief executive of Index on Censorship, admitted there were divisions within the coalition over the issue.

But he said: “The briefings I have had from the Ministry of Justice are grounds for cautious optimism.”

The incoming president of the Society of Editors has called for the abolition of the broadcast regulator Ofcom in his inaugural address.

Robin Esser, executive editor of the Daily Mail, believes the television industry should adopt a system of self-regulation similar to that of the newspaper industry.

He told the conference in Glasgow: “The UK government could save a lot of taxpayers’ money by abolishing the broadcast regulator, Ofcom altogether and encouraging a system of self-regulation which the industry itself should pay for.

“Ofcom’s annual budget is £143 million – much of it being taxpayer’s money – and they currently employ 873 people. The Press Complaint Commission’s annual budget is under £2 million and they employ 15½ people! The taxpayers’ contribution to the PCC is nil!”

Robin succeeds Sunday Post editor Donald Martin who stepped down as SoE president today after a year in charge.

Francesca Unsworth, head of newsgathering at the BBC, is the new vice-president.