Puttnam backs UK TV traditions

A parliamentary committee led by Lord Puttnam has called for protection of plurality and production.

The joint committee of MP and members of the House of Lords, has recommended that the new regulator Ofcom should have the power to insist that ITV should produce "high quality and diverse" output, and "substantial" amounts of regional programming,

Channel 5, said the committee, should also be considered as a candidate for quotas of regional output.

Before publishing its report today (July 31), Lord Puttnam's committee had spent ten weeks hearing evidence from organisations and individuals on the proposed new Communications Bill, due to be in the government's legislative programme from October.

BECTU's evidence included a plea that regional production should be protected, and that the UK production base spanning TV and Film should be protected.

Union calls for ownership controls were less favourably received, as the committee accepted that normal competition rules should be applied to the broadcasting sector whenever companies were taken over - BECTU had urged the committee to retain a separate statutory structure for media mergers.

However, the committee did challenge the government's detailed plans for ownership of ITV and Channel 5. Even if normal competition rules were applied, they said, special emphasis should be put on plurality of radio and TV whenever mergers were being considered, and a relaxation of foreign ownership regulations on Channel 5 should be delayed until 2006 at least.

Puttnam predicted that open ownership of C5 would lead to the channel being bought by a US major, with potentially damaging effects on UK television generally. He had drawn up five personal "economic tests" which he believed should be applied if there was any US move to buy into UK television: would new investment in production result; would competition be diminished; would employment be stimulated; did the bidder appreciate the unique tradition of UK broadcasting; and would plurality be reduced?

Other members of the parliamentary committee said that the case for non-European ownership of UK television channels had "still to be proved". Liberal Democrat front-bencher Nick Harvey warned of a "substitution effect", with new US owners replacing British-made programmes with material from their own archives.

Apart from its commitment to home-grown production, the committee brought more good news for industry workers with its recommendation that the training obligations on all broadcasters contained in the Bill should be beefed up.

The committee recommended that a clause demanding that UK TV companies should provide training for staff, should be extended to include all workers in the industry, including freelancers.

Puttnam's report will now be considered by both Houses of Parliament and the two government ministers responsible for the Communications Bill.

31 July 2002