Journalists working at Carlton fear regional news and current affairs programming will suffer as advertising revenues continue to slump.
Staff at HTV West were told during a visit by Carlton chief executive Clive Jones last month that they will be expected to justify all expenditure on programmes. They were also told that programme budgets were unlikely to be increased this year.
"He made it pretty clear that he was expecting every programme maker to justify how they were spending their budgets for every programme," said one insider.
"The difficulty is that we have already been cut to the bone and people don’t feel we can be cut away any more, otherwise it will start to affect what you see on our screens."
With regional news and current affairs staff having to keep budgets tight, journalists also fear that programmes made in the regions will be less likely to make it onto the ITV network.
Their concerns were increased by a separate announcement from Carlton that priority will be given to promoting peak-time network programmes over regional programmes.
One source told Press Gazette: "When ratings are deemed so important and revenue is down after a record year last year, it’s perhaps understandable, but very sad, that their priority is to promote the peak-time network programmes.
"Regional news and current affairs are already pushed to the margins of the schedules and I think we will see that the amount of programmes that regional broadcasters are making which make it into primetime slots will be further diminished." The announcement follows the row between Carlton and Granada bosses over a leaked letter from Granada chief executive Charles Allen to Tony Blair, which claimed that the broadcaster could be snapped up by a foreign buyer and warned that advertising revenue was set to slump to record lows.
Independent Television Commission chairman Sir Robin Biggam last month criticised ITV for failing to make a strong commitment to regional programming in its submission on the white paper on communications. The watchdog offered to work on joint proposals to safeguard the production of less profitable regional programmes within ITV.
A spokesman for Carlton said that in the present climate it was "entirely appropriate" that a message had been "sent out" that unnecessary expenditure should be restricted. "But the last thing that would be touched would be the programme budgets," he said.
"We already produce way above the level of regional programmes we are required to and there are no plans to reduce that commitment."
By Julie Tomlin