MPs attack Ofcom over regional ITV

Culture Minister Tessa Jowell yesterday faced questions from MPs critical of Ofcom's proposals for regional broadcasting.

MPs from many areas of the country attacked the plans and there was praise for the regional production of Tyne Tees, Yorkshire, Granada, and other ITV companies.

124 MPs have signed EDM (Early Day Motion) 235 that calls on Ofcom to rethink its strategy on ITV's public service obligation.

The Minister repeated her previous reassurances on news but was less helpful regarding non-news programmes. She refused to back MPs' demands for Ofcom to reconsider its proposal to allow ITV companies to reduce regional programming from three hours to one-and-a-half hours per week and also repeated the much disputed Ofcom view that regional non-news programmes are not valued by television audiences.

Ms Jowell's position appears to put her at odds with Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons and Secretary of State for Wales, who recently stated that the proposed cutbacks for ITV Wales were "not acceptable".

Labour MP John Grogan, who is leading the rebellion, warned in Parliament that Ofcom was in danger of being seen as a "soft touch" in its role of defending regional broadcasting and Austin Mitchell MP told the Secretary of State that "the concern for us is that there should be no reduction in either local service or local news. To reduce those services would be damaging to the regional roots of the companies that produce them."

BECTU, along with the other ITV Unions, is continuing to actively campaign against Ofcom's proposals for ITV regional broadcasting.

EDM 235

"That this House views with dismay proposals by Ofcom to reduce the public service obligation of ITV regional companies to produce high quality regional programming in the regions for viewers in those regions; believes that ITV has a strong tradition for producing regional political, current affairs, sport and documentary programmes specifically for each region; notes that the Ofcom review acknowledges that these regional programmes gain higher audiences on a slot-by-slot basis than general ITV output; expresses surprise that Ofcom is not linking discussion about reductions in ITV's licence payments with the maintenance of regional public service obligations at least until digital switchover; and calls on Ofcom to rethink its strategy."

8 December 2004