Ofcom puts ITV news jobs at risk

BECTU has criticised Ofcom for its decision to pave the way for ITV to withdraw from regional news altogether.

Today’s Ofcom PSB Review report rubberstamps ITV’s proposals to cut up to £40 million from its current regional news budget.

In addition, Ofcom’s suggestion that new, independently funded consortia could be set up to adminster bids to make regional news, in effect gives ITV the green light to withdraw from regional news altogether.

“Today’s report confirms that Ofcom has rolled over.”

To add insult to injury, Ofcom suggests that the funds available to make such programmes for the Nations and Regions could stand at £30 million to £50 million, significantly less than ITV proposes to spend under its scaled-back operation shortly to be introduced.

More than 400 production staff and journalists are set to leave ITV regional news in the next few weeks as services are cut from 17 to 9 flagship news programmes.

ITV’s revised budget for regional news is put at £60 million a year.

BECTU’s Assistant General Secretary Luke Crawley said: “Ofcom was at pains yesterday to refute the suggestion that it has rolled over in the face of ITV’s proposals for cuts. Today’s report confirms that Ofcom has rolled over.

“Furthermore, the regulator’s proposals for commercial regional news, without ITV, are over-complicated and put all ITV services and jobs at risk.

“In addition, the funds identified in the consortia proposal are insufficient to deliver a quality, alternative service able to compete with the BBC.”

The report does not deliver a proper evaluation of the suggestion that that BBC and ITV might share regional news resources; nor is it clear what role Ofcom would play in any new consortia.

More welcome in Ofcom’s announcement, is confirmation that the BBC licence fee will not be top-sliced; however, Ofcom’s proposal to redistribute money allocated from the licence fee to digitial switchover does represent a loss of income to the BBC which will impact on its operations.

Also absent from the report is a firm recommendation about Channel 4’s future; it would seem that the Secretary of State, Andy Burnham, and Lord Stephen Carter are to progress debate in this area.

Whilst Ofcom accepts that additional funds are necessary to prevent a weakening of public service broadcasting over time, the report points only at where the new funds might come from - digital switchover surplus, an industry levy, spectrum charges, and a possible contribution from devolved governments.

“Despite an extended review, it is clear that much of the detail required to give clear direction to the industry is missing.” commented BECTU.

Ofcom’s report does signal that funds should be made available to ensure that quality Children’s programming survives in the UK, along with non-news programming in the Nations and Regions.

BECTU views these as positive statements, as far as they go.

Wednesday 21 January 2009