Calls for open debate on regional TV

The NUJ has renewed its call for discussions on future levels of ITV regional output to be held in public before the Independent Television Commission concludes its behind-closed-door talks on the commercial broadcaster’s proposals.

Union representatives met the broadcaster and MP Austin Mitchell to win support for an open debate on regional programming levels. They have also sought support from the chairman of the media select committee, Gerald Kaufman, in their bid to win a public consultation on the issue.

ITV’s proposals for a levelling of the number of hours broadcast by the regional franchise holders have been under discussion since last year.

The independent broadcaster is believed to have submitted plans that would involve 11 of the 16 ITV franchises. There are also fears that London News Network’s lunchtime news might be axed and replaced with a shorter bulletin.

The commercial broadcaster has denied that the proposals are part of a cost-cutting exercise or a diminution of its commitment to regional programming. Instead it claims that reducing the hours of regional output in daytime and late-night schedules would free more cash for peak-time slots.

ITV is also thought to have agreed to move its regional bulletin from the 11pm slot where it has floundered since News at Ten returned to its schedules last year.

But union representatives claim that major changes in ITV’s regional output should be a matter for public consultation and have called for "transparency" in the negotiations. They are due to meet ITC chiefs on Monday, but fear it could be too late as the ITC board meets this Thursday.

Paul McLaughlin, the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser, challenged Media Secretary Tessa Jowell over the lack of consultation on "significant" changes to ITV’s regional output when she spoke to a Voice of the Listener and Viewer meeting on Tuesday. He contrasted this to the extensive consultation on the draft communications bill.

By Julie Tomlin

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