Bectu: Ofcom failing to hold ITV to news commitments

Broadcasting union Bectu has accused Ofcom of failing to commit to ‘maintaining and strengthening’ public service broadcasting.

Broadcasting bodies and unions today published their responses to the second phase of the regulator’s long-running review into public service broadcasting, which began in September 2007.

A number of options are currently open to consultation – including one where ITV and Channel Five lose their PSB status, leaving the BBC and Channel 4.

Commenting on Ofcom’s plans to lighten PSB requirements for some broadcasters and its approval of ITV’s £40m cut in its regional news budget, Bectu said that this undermined Ofcom’s previous indication that it would not make further concessions to ITV in the current licence period.

Bectu said: ‘This is a fundamental – potentially terminal – erosion of ITV’s distinctive characteristic of a strong regional structure. It will result in a regional news structure which is meaningless to viewers (with regions extending, for example, from Penzance to Worcester and Dumfries to Yorkshire).”

The union went on to criticise what it said was Ofcom’s failure to hold ITV to its PSB commitments, stating that ITV is ‘still fundamentally a profitable and viable company.”

‘We strongly believe that it should be required to maintain its existing regional commitments – with the promise of additional funding prior to any point at which its PSB licence is no longer commercially viable. That point has not yet been reached. The regional cuts are therefore in our view completely unjustified.”

Channel 4 said that the damage to ITV’s regional newsgathering capability would have ‘a negative impact on its own news service’as it relies on the regional production infrastructure provided by ITN for ITV.

‘This gives Channel 4 access to newsgathering resources across the UK, allowing Channel 4 to increase the range and diversity of stories it covers on Channel 4 News,’it said.

‘Given this relationship, Channel 4 believes that damage to ITV’s regional newsgathering capability would have a negative impact on its own news service. It is vital that a new model for nations and regions news is agreed which ensures continued public service competition to the BBC: where possible this should build on the brand.”

ITN, which provides news for ITV and Channel 4, said it supported the relaxation of ITV’s regulatory obligations. ITN said it thought ‘ITV should be unshackled to move freely in this fiercely competitive digital age”.

The National Union of Journalists Parliamentary Group submitted a response saying that it believed that the BBC should be alone in receipt of the licence fee.

‘The BBC should remain the cornerstone of public service broadcasting in the UK,’the union said.

‘Therefore we firmly oppose any proposals for top-slicing the BBC licence fee as a means of making public money available to commercial broadcasters being raised as an option.”

The NUJ added that it believed that there should be ‘public service provision and funding beyond the BBC across all existing public service broadcasters”.

Ofcom is expected to publish its final statement in the new year.

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