ITV criticised for lack of regional guarantee

Sir Robin Biggam

 

A stronger commitment to regional programmes, in the form of joint guidelines drawn up between ITV and the Independent Television Commission, was called for by the watchdog’s chairman, Sir Robin Biggam.

Criticising ITV’s lack of commitment to regional programming in its submission on the communications white paper, Sir Robin said the ITC was prepared to work on a joint proposal, which could be submitted to the Government before the new communications bill goes through.

Sir Robin said at an ITC dinner in Manchester last week that ITV’s response to the Government so far had been "trust us", without offering any firm commitments to regional services and resources.

He added that the guidelines would have to address the trade-off that exists within commercial television between commitment to public service, including less profitable regional programmes, compared to the lucrative network programmes.

"Against this background I feel government will require more than ‘trust us’ from ITV," Sir Robin said.

"We, for our part, are prepared to discuss with ITV a framework for the nations and regions of the UK in the belief that we could present to government a joint proposal which would be more acceptable to them and would provide a guarantee to the regions of quality programmes produced in and from the regions and based on continuing regional resources."

Outlining the changes that have taken place since the original ‘federal’ system of 15 ITV broadcasters was set up, Sir Robin also repeated the watchdog’s call for a charter to "guarantee a strong regional presence on our screens" as the channel moved towards single ownership.

"It is against this background of consolidation of ownership of licences that the ITC believes it is necessary to have new and original thinking on how to ensure these changes do not impact on the regional strength of ITV," he said.

The charter, Sir Robin said, would cut out the "detailed minutiae of regulation" of the regions, but would ensure that "the richness and diversity of the UK had its rightful place on television and is also in keeping with the political mood of continuing devolution of government".

By Julie Tomlin

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