The great station turn off

THE CHURCHWARDEN, David Stevens of Hazel Road, Botley, is “Mr Bemused of Oxford”. His local community TV station, Six TV, has switched off the signal and closed down without telling anyone. All that is left is a blank screen. “To suddenly just pull the plug and not to say anything was not the right way to do this,” he told the Oxford Mail. “We were just left clueless,” writes John Mair.

Oxford’s citizens were only just getting over losing their “local” ITV programme, Thames Valley Tonight, in March. That came from nearby Abingdon; on offer instead is Meridian Tonight, broadcast from an industrial unit near Southampton. Thousands have signed a newspaper petition calling for the TVT presenter Wesley Smith to be back on their screens. These are troubling times. Oxford is not alone, as many other communities once served by an ITV sub-region now find themselves without genuinely local news.

All over Britain, last week was dreadful for local, and especially ultra-local, television. The Manchester station Channel M, owned by the Guardian Media Group, told more than half its staff to expect their P45s. The Ofcom chief, Ed Richards, also played the undertaker to ITV regional news when he told a conference that it was “unsustainable even under a benign economic climate”.

In its prime, Six TV, called the Oxford Channel when founded in 1999, was a fairly good watch, a bit like superior student telly; in 2004, it employed up to 40 people. Earlier this month, that was down to two. Now to zero. Losses of £75,000 a year forced the owners, the Milestone Group, to close it down – without telling the audience.

Ultra-local television is dying, ITV local broadcasting is in a critical condition and the BBC Local TV experiment is on ice after a successful campaign by local papers protecting “their” rights to “their” TV on “their” websites. That could leave just the BBC’s non-national news to keep people informed about their communities. David Stevens is not the only local viewer left bemused.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in journalism

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