Communications Bill "too weak"

More protection for regional TV is needed in new legislation, says BECTU.

The union is worried that future of programme production from the ITV regional bases hangs in the balance unless stronger regulation is written in to the Communications Bill, published this week.

BECTU is demanding commitments in the Bill to "substantial and significant" regional production and regional programming quotas.

General Secretary Roger Bolton commented: "The strong heritage of ITV regional production is in decline and under further threat from the loosening of ownership regulations and the proposed merger of Granada and Carlton. This is why a strengthening of these regulations is vital."

MPs with ITV regional bases in their constituencies outside London and Manchester are being warned by the union that without amendment, the Bill will cause job losses in their areas and the disappearance of their region from our screens.

Already four franchises made no programmes at all for the network in 2000. Tyne Tees's output has suffered a catastrophic 94% collapse from 92 hours in 1994 to just six in 2000. Yorkshire shrank from 204 hours production down to 156 in the same period.

And Scottish TV's network output fell from 225 hours in 1994 to 136 in 2000: so Scottish programming for ITV is now just 7%.

"As these proposals stand, the only appearance that most regions will ever make on ITV will be if they are lucky enough to have a football team in the Premier League," added Bolton.

The union is urging Parliament not to change the existing 25% quota arrangements under which independent producers supply up to 25% of programmes for ITV and BBC. This has served the sector and the viewers well.

BECTU opposes the lifting of the bar on non-EU ownership of ITV companies. Roger Bolton pointed out: "We are now faced with the prospect of American media corporations buying their way into British TV, unloading their programme stocks at the expense of domestic production and remitting profits to the USA rather that reinvesting them in the UK. We note that UK companies are not allowed by law to do likewise in the United States. This is a completely pointless liberalisation of UK regulations for its own sake."

BECTU remains committed to strong regulation upholding public service broadcasting standards and is opposed to the proposed 'light touch' self-regulatory approach in the Bill.

22 November 2002
Amended 29 November 2002