February 8 2005
The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has been derelict in its duty in virtually killing off ITV regional programming, the NUJ said today.
In giving the go-ahead for non-news programming to be slashed to 1.5 hours a week - less than a tenth of what it used to be in some areas - Ofcom has ignored its own clear evidence that viewers want to watch local and regional programmes.
In its final report on public service broadcasting, Ofcom has neglected its duty under the Communications Act to “further the interests of citizens” in failing to maintain programming which reflects “the different interests of persons in different parts of the United Kingdom and of persons living in rural and urban areas.”
The cut to 1.5 hours a week can be made as soon as possible, the regulator said - and the level could be slashed even further to a paltry half hour a wee, after the digital switchover in 2012. Until two years ago the minimum output by regional ITV companies was eight hours a week, and some were producing 15 or more.
The NUJ has been fighting the cutbacks in regional production that followed the merger of all the ITV companies in England and Wales into one, ITV plc, in 2003. Studios in the South East and East Midlands have been closed and hundreds of jobs have been lost.
The union has welcomed one aspect of the report - the decision to retain the level of regional news on ITV at a minimum of 5.5 hours a week. This level will be maintained beyond the digital switchover. The NUJ claims this as a vindication of its campaign for regional TV.
The cut in non-news programming flies in the face of Ofcom’s commitment to "maintain and strengthen" the quality of public service broadcasting. It also defies the evidence Ofcom itself has assembled.
Figures in the report show that 96 per cent of viewers are "very" or "quite interested" in programming reflecting what is going on in their city/town or village. Viewing figures for a topical non-news programme in the Border region recently gave ITV a 52.4 per cent share against EastEnders. Other non-news regional programme viewing figures demonstrate similar strengths of popularity.
The unions are worried that with the cutbacks in production facilities in most regions, the production of network programmes still made in the regions will fall to independents and freelances.
Paul McLaughlin, NUJ National Broadcasting Organiser said: "Ofcom’s decision on regional programming is the biggest abdication of duty since Edward the Eighth and Mrs Simpson. The programs that Ofcom criticises as being unwatched and unloved are deeply valued by viewers up and down the country.
"This decision must have more to do with the share price of ITV plc than with the interest of public service broadcasting. It is a slap in the face for our members who work under difficult conditions to make programmes that people do want to watch."
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: "This is a kick in the teeth both for viewers and for those who work in the industry. Ofcom has done nothing to convince us they care about quality programmes made by local people for local people".
Union leaders are to meet Secretary of State Tessa Jowell and will be making strong representation to have these disastrous proposals overturned."
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