BECTU briefing Communications Bill: Regional ITV production

25 November 2002

BECTU briefing and proposed amendments on the UK Communications Bill: Regional ITV production


  1. Regional programme production is the defining characteristic of ITV. The advantages have been enormous:
    • Programming on regional themes and with regional coverage of great interest to local viewers, as confirmed in audience figures.
    • Programming of excellence produced regionally for a national audience through the national ITV network.
    • Significant benefits for regional economies in skilled jobs and business opportunities both directly in television and indirectly in the supporting infrastructure (confirmed in numerous business studies and summarised in the ITC's 'Television in the Nations and Regions').
  2. The strong heritage of ITV regional production is in decline and under further threat:
    • As ownership in ITV has consolidated, we have experienced a slowdown in regional production, under-investment in regional programming (lower costs per hour), an annual loss of 2,000 hours of regional opt-out slots, the withdrawal of some ITV companies from network production, a narrower range of programme genres produced regionally, the concentration of commissioning decisions in London, large scale redundancies and some studio closures.
    • The proposed merger of Granada and Carlton and the Bill's proposed loosening of ownership regulations provide a potentially huge impetus to centralisation of production in ITV at the expense of the regions.
  3. Against this background, ITV's regional production base will only be secured by strong regulatory requirements in favour of ITV regional production on the face of the Bill. The Bill contains clauses on regional programme production (clause 276), regional programming (clause 277) and - applying to all public service broadcasters - programming quotas for original productions (clause 270). These require strengthening.
    • The clauses set no specific minimum level for the original production, regional production and regional programming quotas but merely a level and range which is 'appropriate', 'suitable' or 'sufficient' in the view of OFCOM.
    • This is inadequate. Past experience has indicted that regulators have felt obliged to modify their views on what is 'appropriate' etc to fit the economic circumstances of the ITV licence-holders. Given the growing concentration of ITV ownership, the possibility of American ownership, and the continuing depression in ITV advertising revenue, the future pressure to lower the regional and original production requirements is likely to be extreme.
    • Furthermore, the requirements for programme production should apply just as much to national network programmes produced in the regions as to regional programming. This will be especially important if ITV evolves further towards a single ITV company or even a single ITV licence.
    • Such requirements should be on the face of the Bill. Commitments to OFCOM, as suggested in the ITC Review of Programme Supply, are not in themselves sufficient.
  4. We therefore recommend amendments, in line with the spirit of the Joint Committee on the Draft Bill.
    • to replace the words 'appropriate', 'suitable' and 'sufficient' with 'substantial and significant'
    • to require that this applies to a 'wide' rather than just 'suitable' range of programmes
    • to clarify that regional production requirements apply equally to network and regional programmes.
  5. The Government has indicated its support in principle for maintaining a strong regional television production base. These amendments are a necessary minimum step to fulfilling this aim.

Proposed amendments

Clause 270: Original programme production quota

Clause 276: Regional ITV programme production

Clause 277: Regional ITV programming

Clause 270 (1) (a)
page 238, lines 35-6:
DELETE: 'no less than what appears to them to be an appropriate' and INSERT: 'a substantial and significant'

Clause 276 (1) (a)
page 243, line 17:
DELETE: 'what appears to OFCOM, in the case of that service, to be suitable' and INSERT: 'a substantial and significant'

Clause 276 (1) (b)
page 243, line 22
DELETE: 'suitable' and INSERT: 'wide'

Clause 276 (1) (c)
page 243 line 24
DELETE: 'what appears to OFCOM to be a suitable' and INSERT: 'a substantial and significant'

Clause 276 (5)
page 243 after line 42
INSERT: ''programme' means both network and regional programmes'

Clause 277 (1) (a)
page 244, line 5
DELETE: 'sufficient' and INSERT: 'significant'

Clause 277 (1) (c)
page 244, line 11
DELTE: 'suitable' and INSERT: 'significant'

and equivalent amendments in Clause 277 (2) and 277 (4)

Last updated 3 December 2002