Almost entirely unnoticed in a week when our attention was justifiably elsewhere, Jeremy Hunt’s published a list of 65 potential locations for local TV. He’s been banging on about it for several years, usually comparing the amount of local TV in Birmingham, Alabama (4 stations) to Birmingham, England (2 local news programmes and, erm, that’s about it).
Only it turns out there was another local TV operation in Birmingham, which until Tuesday night almost no-one had heard of.
Suddenly, everyone’s talking about Sangat TV, lurking on the outer fringes of the Sky EPG.
With the BBC and Sky struggling to respond to the riots in Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere, Sangat was driving around Birmingham, producing fascinating footage. It barely conformed to the traditional standards of TV journalism, but it was impossible to switch off.
Overnight, what twitter calls “mainstream media” held back on reporting the incident that led to three deaths in Birmingham. Fearful of the consequences of mis-reporting a highly contentious event, they waited until they’d confirmed the story themselves.
Meanwhile, Sangat was chasing the story from the street where it happened to the vigil outside the hospital.
Their presenters may face questions from Ofcom about the language they used, albeit in the heat of the moment. There’s been criticism of the way the station’s covered a very volatile situation.
Twenty-four hours later, it’s still carrying arresting live coverage, proving there’s an appetite for local TV.
Existing operators, especially the ones who’ve closed or downsized regional operations, insist localised broadcasting just doesn’t work anymore.
And it’s true that the old ITV model, fifteen giant studio centres scattered across the country, is unsustainable.
But there’s Sangat, doubtless reliant on a lot of goodwill, still broadcasting live from Birmingham for hours on end.
Of course, the bigger question is how a local TV operation would survive during the 999 days out of every thousand when there isn’t a riot. Sangat’s rough-and-ready approach isn’t a business model for a sustainable full-time channel.
But it’s an interesting starting point for a debate about how we can help local communities, across the country, use TV to speak to each other, for more than half-an-hour at 6 o’clock every night.