ITV’ s plans to cut back on regional TV news have meeting with strong opposition from MPs and local councillors in the areas affected.
Councillors in West Sussex are fighting to stop the ITV merger of three separate regional Meridian Tonight news programmes into on for the south, south-east and Thames Valley.
Brad Watson, councillor for Southwater and Nuthurst, West Sussex said: ‘It will become less and less interesting for viewers and the relevance of local news will be lost to locals.”
Watson commented that one of the commitments of the ITV franchise is local news and that this should not be overridden. One of his main concerns is that it is often hard enough to get important local issues across to editors and that it will become increasingly harder to cover these items.
He added: ‘If this is a cost cutting exercise the whole premise is wrong. It’s of principal importance to give local people their local area news and if it’s not relevant, there will be no point in watching and they’ll lose the viewers eventually.”
ITV plans to cut the number of news regions and sub regions and reduce the regional news budget from £90m to between £40m and £60m.
The plans have to be agreed by industry regulator Ofcom.
ITV also plans to merge ITV Border with ITV Tyne Tees.
Nicole Regan, news editor for the Times and Star newspaper in West Cumbria said local opposition to the proposals comes from the feeling that Cumbria is fairly isolated and doesn’t receive much coverage to begin with
Regan said: ‘If we could say anything to Michael Grade it would be ‘leave our border alone!'”
She added: ‘We’re actually a newsy area. Although we have a reputation for being a backwater a lot goes on here. We have Sellafield, a new £10 million campus being built, a new hospital. These are important issues that need to be covered.”
Don Foster, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, has met with Grade to express his concerns at ITV’s plans to merge its West and Westcountry news shows.
Although there is a possibility the programme would contain additional ten-minute local content, this has not been confirmed.
Foster said: ‘The people in Bath are no more interested in news from Penzance 160 miles away than they are with news in Bolton which is 160 miles north. Regionalism is very important and this is a retrograde step.”
Foster is also concerned that the plans announced provide little detail on the staffing implications. He says that there is a great deal of uncertainty on how the new programming will be produced. He added: ‘It’s a pity the proposal presented has no flesh attached to it and only serves to demoralise the work force.”
A spokesperson for ITV said: ‘All of these concerns will be taken into account in the Ofcom review.”
“ITV are committed to a strong regional news service and that the nine regional outputs will be high quality programmes.”