Minister joins row over 'unacceptable' TVcuts

Hain: criticised Ofcom plans

Pressure is mounting on Ofcom to think again about sanctioning big cutbacks in ITV’s regional programmes.

The Parliamentary NUJ group of MPs plans to confront the regulator after Peter Hain became the first Cabinet minister to publicly warn that the cutbacks were unacceptable.

The Commons Leader and Welsh Secretary followed Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane in criticising the decision to allow the ITV companies to reduce the amount of regional programming they broadcast.

Hain was moved to speak out because of the impact on Wales, but his intervention is seen as significant and, it is thought, reflects general ministerial unease at Ofcom’s move.

“ITV Wales faces cuts in programming and this is not acceptable,” Hain told MPs in the Commons.

“We want a high-quality alternative to the BBC, we want variety and we want ITV Wales to be available right across Wales. Indeed, we want ITV UK to provide proper regional programming, especially in news and current affairs.”

Now the NUJ Parliamentary group is to meet the regulator to warn that it will face a Parliamentary storm if it does not reconsider its decision.

MPs in all parties and from every part of the country have backed the move. Labour MP John Grogan, who is spearheading the revolt, this week tabled a Commons motion, urging the regulator to “think again”. In the last session, 90 MPs signed a similar motion within three days of it being tabled, a pointer to the strong feeling among MPs at the threatened loss of regional programming.

The row has been intensified by the expectation that Ofcom may yield to pressure from ITV by reducing the £250mit hands over to the Treasury in exchange for licences to produce regional programmes.

The MPs expressed surprise the regulator had not linked discussions about reducing the licence fee to maintaining the public service obligations on ITV companies.

“ITV has a strong tradition of producing regional political current affairs, sport and documentary programmes specifically for each region,” the motion said.

Grogan said: “It is going to look pretty weak if Ofcom announces a reduction in the ITV licence payments at the same time as reducing its obligations to produce regional programmes”

By David Rose

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