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WEARSIDE could get its own American-style local TV service under Government plans fleshed out today.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt travelled to the North East to set out his stall for a network of 65 local TV stations.

Under the proposals, Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields would be served by a single station, and Mr Hunt did not rule out it being based in Wearside.

The Tory MP said such a service would create jobs, boost business and provide news that mattered to people in Sunderland.

“People are passionate about news that happens near them, and when you come to the North East there are great cities like Sunderland which have a fierce civic pride,” he said.

“Sunderland has a very proud civic tradition. It has very engaging elections which capture national interest and I think there is room to do more of that locally with council elections.”

Mr Hunt cited Birmingham station Sangat TV’s coverage of the riots in Birmingham as an example of how small operations better-served their communities.

“We’ve always had great local newspapers and local radio stations – but we haven’t had local TV,” he said.

“They do have that in America, Canada and Sweden. Britain is the exception.”

Mr Hunt said a local TV station would also help businesses in Sunderland by giving them a chance to advertise on television without the hefty cost of national channels.

“Say you’ve got a restaurant in Sunderland, with TV you can really show people what you’re offering in a way you perhaps can’t with a newspaper or radio ad,” he said.

But Mr Hunt said that didn’t mean it would “eat newspapers’ breakfasts” as research showed local TV actually grew the overall advertising spend in a community.

He said local stations would also be a boost to creative industries, and there would be scope for Sunderland University – which has a strong media department – to get involved.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is consulting on local TV plans and will invite bids from potential operators once Parliament has approved the necessary legislation – expected to be in a few months.

Graeme Thompson, dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at Sunderland University, said there was concern it could be a means of reducing the provision of the BBC, and may not be seen as “cool” enough to attract younger generations.

But the academic, who is also chairman of the Royal Television Society in the North East, said the plans would benefit the region and urged the Government to “plough on.”

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