The media secretary, James Purnell, has boosted the campaign to save journalists’ jobs by warning ITV that regional news lies at its heart.
Purnell told Parliament that ITV plans to merge regional newsrooms conflicted with the regional licences that ITV had been awarded.
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And he appealed to broadcast regulator Ofcom, whose approval is needed to authorise the rationalisation, that it should take account of the outcry the proposals have aroused.
“Local and regional news is at the heart of what people value about ITV,” Purnell told MPs.
“It would clearly be the best approach for ITV to find a way of making that remit profitable.”
More than 50 MPs in all parties have backed a Commons campaign to urge Ofcom to reject the shake-up in regional newsrooms before the proposals come into effect next year.
The chairman of the NUJ parliamentary group, Labour MP Austin Mitchell, told Purnell at media questions: “The cuts envisaged by ITV run directly contrary to the commitments made by ITV companies when they took on these contracts.”
He said the cutbacks, together with those proposed by the BBC, “will be substantially damaging to the provision of news and regional programmes”.
He said that instead of leaving the issue “to the market or a nervous Ofcom”, the Government should reaffirm “its strong public support and commitment to public service and regional broadcasting”.
Purnell told him: “I am very happy to make exactly that declaration.
“This house made very clear in the Communications Act we expected that regional television be right at the heart of what ITV does.
“He is absolutely right to say this would be a change in the terms under which they got their licences.
“Ofcom will have to look at this next year, and I am sure they will take account of the strong feelings that are being expressed in this house about the matter.”