Review spells end for Regional ITV
BECTU is warning that the Ofcom review of public service broadcasting could mean the end of commercial TV in the regions.
A report published by Ofcom, the telecoms and broadcasting regulator, recommends changes which could halve the number of locally-produced programmes in ITV's 15 regional areas.
At present, the 15 separate licences oblige ITV to provide 8.5 hours a week of regional TV in England, and 10 hours a week in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Although most of this regional content usually consists of news and current affairs, at least 3 hours a week in England, and 4.5 in the Nations, are supposed to be mainstream programmes of regional interest.
Ofcom's most recent report, published as the second phase in a major review of public broadcasting, recommends a cut to 1.5 hours in the English figure, but makes no mention of the scale of reduction in the Nations.
This means that from January 2005 regional programming apart from news could be cut in England by 50%, and shows that typically go out at 2.30 and 11.30 could be axed, and others could be phased out over the next few years.
Ofcom has even proposed that eventually local News programmes will only remain if "financially sustainable", and staff working in the industry have taken this to be the green light for ITV to walk away from their existing commitments to regional audiences.
"Ofcom's report proposes that ITV be given the go-ahead firstly to reduce the amount of non-news output it produces, leading to the disappearance of non-news regional programmes altogether. Equally worrying is the question mark which Ofcom has placed over the future for regional news production" a BECTU spokesperson said.
"The report is terrible news for the ITV regions in England, and for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Irelend. Regional TV is vital to local democracy and to regional identity. Without continuing support for a commercial service to compete with the BBC, the regional voice will be stifled both within the region and from a UK perspective".
BECTU is supporting staff in their efforts to work with MPs and regional agencies to ensure that public service broadcasting remains a key feature of ITV output - both regionally and nationally. The union is also preparing its submission to Ofcom as part of the consultation which has been invited.
The deadline for responses is 24 November and BECTU is urging all viewers in the regions to take part in the consultation either by writing to their MPs or by responding to Ofcom directly. "ITV's staff are looking to viewers to support them in their bid to retain and improve the regional service" said BECTU.
"BECTU recognises that the funding model for ITV will have to change because of the plans for 'analogue switch-off'. It is for this reason that BECTU has supported ITV in its attempts to win support for a reduction in its licence fees. However the union takes the view that any relaxation of responsibilities for ITV should not come at the expense of regional television, the viewers, and jobs" said the spokesperson.
The 15 ITV Regions are; Anglia, Border, Central, Channel, Granada, Grampian, ITV West, ITV Wales, London, Meridian, Scottish, Tyne Tees, Ulster, West Country, and Yorkshire.