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ITV local cuts given green light by Ofcom

21 January 2009

Ofcom has given a green light to the ITV to slash its local news services. ITV had threatened to abandon its public service broadcasting commitments completely if it doesn't get its own way.

The NUJ said that the UK communications regulator has let local communities down in its rush to appease the broadcaster.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"I can't exactly say we're surprised by today's announcement. It was clear even before the latest consultation that a deal between Ofcom and ITV had already been struck. So exactly what was the point of consulting on these cuts to ITV local news?
"Ofcom claims that it has been unfairly criticised for dancing to ITV's tune. But, in getting caught up in its policy strategies, the regulator seems to have failed to understand its responsibilities to citizens – not just for the future but also for the 'here and now'.
"Once these local services are lost, it will become immensely difficult to recover them. All that blue skies thinking won't be much consolation to people losing their local news programmes over the coming weeks.
"Ofcom has presented its proposals as a framework for saving public service broadcasting, but the reality is that this report has given ITV the go-ahead to cut its local output. It means fewer local news programmes and fewer local stories.
"As hundreds of editorial staff walk out of the door, they'll be taking the links between ITV and local communities with them. That's hardly in the interests of citizens and viewers."

The NUJ also expressed concern about proposals to allow the production of regional news on Channel 3 to be contracted out to other providers. Jeremy added:

"Our experience of contestable funding for news provision is one in which cost is considered above everything else when selecting a provider. ITN has consistently been forced to underbid rival suppliers in order to retain the contract to provide national and international news on ITV. Cost savings trump quality every time – and it's viewers who lose out."

The NUJ welcomed Ofcom's commitment to avoid action that would jeopardise the ability of the BBC to do its job.

Jeremy Dear said:

"To achieve this goal, licence fee funding must be used solely to support the corporation and its objectives. Even using the money earmarked for digital switchover to support other broadcasters would open up a grey area, which could lead to companies vying for the pot when the licence fee comes up for review.
"There are some other areas of Ofcom's report that warrant further exploration, including ideas around spectrum for local TV and securing extra value from regulatory assets. The challenge is how we secure extra funding to support quality television, rather than just spread around what we already have more thinly."

Tags: , broadcasting, itv, ofcom, cuts, public service broadcasting, local media, bbc, top-slicing, bbc licence fee, consultation