ITV plans to slash regional news staff by 40 per cent

ITV has announced plans to axe 40 per cent of its regional news staff including journalists.

A letter was sent to employees across the country today explaining that the current staffing levels of 1,075 would be cut by 429 to 646, although the exact number of journalists who face redundancy is not yet finalised.

The cutbacks are part of ITV’s proposals to merge some of its regional news operations and reduce the number of regional news and current affairs programmes it broadcasts.

The National Union of Journalists has condemned the proposal and warned that any attempt to push through the changes without negotiations with the union will be met with resistance and possible industrial action.

NUJ national broadcasting organiser Paul McLaughlin said: ‘Unless ITV meaningfully engages with unions over its plans for the future of regional news, industrial action seems inevitable. Any attempts to force through these massive cuts will be met with strong resistance.

‘Today’s announcement just goes to show the crisis facing public service broadcasting. Viewers will doubtless be asking how a regulator required by parliament to maintain and strengthen public service broadcasting is allowing this to happen.”

Unions were prepared for some job cuts after ITV announced in September 2007 it was implementing cost efficiently programme the ITV Turnaround Strategy, with the broadcaster saying it wanted to make savings of between £35 million and £40 million.

ITV News said although volunteers were being sought, it could not rule out compulsory redundancies.

Last week the broadcaster won support of media regulator Ofcom for its merger plans, the regulator stating that ITV should be allowed to concentrate on prime-time regional bulletins in the evening and drop its mid-morning and weekend lunchtime bulletins.

Also under the proposals, regional non-news programmes – such as current affairs shows – would be cut from 30 minutes to 15 minutes a week. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the ITV licensees would be allowed to cut non-news output from three hours to 90 minutes a week.

Commenting on the job cuts, ITV’s chief operating officer John Cresswell, said: “We are committed to a self-help, self-funding, solution to securing ITV’s future. In order to sustain our investment in UK content, we have to keep on top of our cost base.”

The move follows an Ofcom review, published last week, which backed public service broadcasting outside the BBC – but which admitted that ITV would be like to have a much smaller role to play in this when all TV broadcasting becomes digital post 2012.

Ofcom has said that after 2012 public funding of between £330 million and £420 million will be needed to fund public service broadcasting outside the BBC – and it has suggested three possible scenarios for how this money will be spent, all of which envisage a reduced rolee for ITV.

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