ITV plans drastic cuts to news provision

The NUJ has launched a campaign to save local and regional news on ITV after the company revealed plans to drastically change its regional news output.

The broadcaster proposed today to reduce the existing 17 news regions to nine.

This means that some existing regions will be combined.

In the north of England, Press Gazette understands the regional news for the Tyne Tees and Border TV regions will be combined. If approved, two newsrooms will close by 2009 and all news for the area will originate from a central newsroom in Newcastle. Mass redundancies are now expected as part of the cuts.

He is proposing to cut ITV’s regional news budget will be cut from £85 million to £35-£40 million.

ITV Plc made an announcement to the stock market this morning about a five year plan for the company’s future.

ITV chair Michael Grade said: “The current structure of regional news is based on an analogue rather than a digital map.”

He said: “We have developed proposals to symplify the sub-regional provision and allow the news services of the smallest regions and sub regions to be combined while ensuring that all regional viewers will continue to receive a service of sustained quality and with critical mass.”

Paul McLaughlin, National Broadcasting Organiser of the NUJ said: ‘ITV has a strong history of public service broadcasting in the UK. Plans announced today would drastically reduce local news in the UK.

‘This is a vital service for viewers and ensures that politicians and local organisations are held to account. ITV, the regulator Ofcom and the Government have a duty to maintain quality broadcasting in the UK. The NUJ will do everything necessary to safeguard this valuable resource.

‘The union opposes any reduction in the quality and service to viewers and we are calling upon all those who care about the future of quality broadcasting to back our campaign.”

Broadcasting union BECTU said the move would mark ‘a further significant and damaging step by the broadcaster away from its public service broadcasting (PSB) commitments”.

BECTU supervisory official Sharon Elliott said: “Today’s announcement is another kick in the shins for ITV’s regional news staff who work long and hard to produce good quality output that regional audiences appreciate.”

The ITV announcement was made in in the same week that Ofcom issued its initial framework document for the regulator’s forthcoming PSB review. BECTU accused ITV of ‘clearly trying to bounce Ofcom into accepting its proposals before the regulator’s review has even begun”.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch this afternoon, the newly appointed culture secretary James Purnell said the move would have to be examined and approved by broadcast regulator Ofcom.

“This is something which ITV will be approaching Ofcom about. There needs to be a proper process,” he said. “We know Ofcom have made it very clear that regional news is a continual part of the ITV role. Regional news is very important.”

Responding to the unions statements, an ITV spokesperson said: “ITV is committed to keeping a strong regional news service at the heart of the ITV1 schedule. What we have outlined today is our belief that the current regional news structure is unsustainable in the context of imminent digital switchover and the pressure of increased competition. Today’s proposals would reshape and modernise the service to provide nine high quality, impactful and well resourced regional news services. We look forward to a constructive dialogue about these proposals with Ofcom over the course of the PSB review.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is this the beginning of the end for regional TV news outside the BBC?

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