A petition to preserve terrestrial TV and radio services has highlighted an urban/rural divide with stronger support for the retention of Freeview in the countryside.
Over 29,000 have now signed a petition supporting a guarantee broadcast TV and radio services. Data from the petition, which breaks down the number of signatories per constituency, shows the plea has so far attracted the greatest response in mostly rural areas including Berwick-upon-Tweed, Ceredigion, Louth and Horncastle, South East Cornwall, West Dorset and Wirral West.
Meanwhile, interest in the petition to save Freeview and broadcast radio is lower in larger cities and areas with a higher ethnic minority population, including those in the Birmingham Ladywood, Brent Central, Glasgow North and Leicester East constituencies. The relative disinterest in the cities is likely to reflect a lower dependence on terrestrial TV thanks to the availability of cable TV, more internet connectivity options and the fact that Freeview doesn’t offer an extensive range of international channels for ethnic minority viewers.
The rural divide is apparent when analysing the data in terms of the proportion of constituents that have signed the petition in each constituency and when looking at the overall numbers of signatories in each area.
Ironically, in many of the rural areas where interest in the petition has been higher, Freeview struggles to offer the full set of channels, with relay transmitters only carrying a sub-set of services. However, viewers in those areas may only have a limited number of options for online viewing, with some areas subject to lower speeds and/or reduced competition from fixed and mobile networks.
Over in Northern Ireland, interest in the petition is lower, despite the unique role of terrestrial TV in providing uncensored cross-border TV reception. Only overspill reception from the Republic of Ireland gives households in the north access to full RTÉ schedule, without programmes being blanked out, as is custom on cable, satellite and local relays of RTÉ in the north via Freeview.
The Government has already responded to the petition, but Parliament will consider the matter for debate if it reaches 100,000 signatures by 12th July.
From the Department for Culture, Media and Sport:
The Government remains committed to the future of digital terrestrial television (DTT), the technology underpinning the popular Freeview platform, and to the maintenance of broadcast radio.
We know that millions of households across the UK rely on DTT and we expect this to continue over the next decade. We also recognise the crucial role that DTT plays in the wider UK broadcasting system, in particular in helping ensure that public service programmes continue to be widely available to all audiences in a convenient and low cost format. This includes news and current affairs programmes, as well as popular entertainment shows that bring the country together.
For these reasons, the Government has already legislated to secure continuity of digital terrestrial television until at least 2034. We believe this strikes the right balance between giving certainty to audiences, platform operators and broadcasters on the one hand, while recognising that – in a decade’s time – the broadcasting landscape and quality of digital infrastructure might look very different.
In line with this approach, the UK’s preference at this stage is for ‘no change’ to international spectrum allocations as they relate to terrestrial television. As Ofcom noted in their recent Call for Input “our priority will be to ensure that, following the outcome of [this year’s World Radiocommunications Conference], DTT services can continue to operate”.
Before any decisions about the future of terrestrial television beyond 2034 are made, the Government will give close consideration to how any changes would impact audiences, especially those who rely on DTT as their primary means of watching television. To support this, we will continue to evaluate the future distribution of television as the sector evolves over the next decade, and we have asked Ofcom to undertake an early review of market changes that may affect the future of content distribution before the end of 2025.
Similarly, the joint government and industry Digital Radio and Audio Review, published in October 2021, underlined that broadcast transmission (particularly DAB) is likely to represent a significant proportion of radio listening for the foreseeable future. In recognition of this, and of the huge public value that radio provides, by way of trusted news and information as well as being a source of companionship to its listeners, the Government passed legislation in April 2022 to enable Ofcom to renew the two national commercial digital radio multiplex licences until December 2035. At the same time, at the hyperlocal level, numerous new stations are already taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the ongoing rollout of small scale DAB across the country following legislation passed in October 2019.
More information on the steps we are taking over the next few years can be found in our Broadcasting White Paper, (available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/up-next-the-governments-vision-for-the-broadcasting-sector/up-next-the-governments-vision-for-the-broadcasting-sector)