MPs accuse ITV over job cuts in the regions

Angered: Estelle Morris

Media Secretary Tessa Jowell came under renewed pressure from the NUJ to intervene this week as ITV companies continued to axe jobs in the expectation that cutbacks in regional programming will go ahead.

Estelle Morris, the junior media minister, slammed ITV companies for pre-empting a final decision by Ofcom, which is still consulting on the cutbacks.

Morris told MPs: “If people are acting as though this consultation has taken place, and a decision has been reached, I abhor that. It is not on, and not conduct we would expect.”

She levelled her criticism after MPs warned they feared ITV’s regional news service would eventually be axed if Ofcom confirmed its plans to allow non-peak non-news regional programming to be reduced from three to one and a half hours a week.

Their fears have been sparked by Ofcom itself making clear that while regional news is not under threat at present, its future depends on it continuing to be “financially sustainable”.

Raising the cutbacks in a special debate, Labour MP John Grogan said there was no guarantee ITV regional news would continue beyond 2007.

Backing him, Labour MP John McDonnell said that if the “decimation” of regional programming went ahead “regional news would virtually cease to exist.

“It means regional news will no longer be a priority and eventually we will lose production on a massive scale.”

Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, who listened to the debate, told Press Gazette : “This was an attempt to stop the regional vandalism being carried out by Ofcom and ITV.

“This is vandalism built on a series of untruths about the popularity of local and regional programming, and carried out in the name of shareholders – not for the benefit of viewers, citizens or the democratic process.

The Government must demand that Ofcom act now to stop it.”

Earlier McDonnell said ITV companies had treated the Ofcom proposals as the green light to axe jobs.

Giving details of the jobs purge, he said that following the axing of 175 jobs by Meridian, Granada had announced 20 job cuts, Yorkshire 38, Central 400, and he said 200 jobs were expected to go at ITV Wales.

Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey accused Ofcom of mounting a “softening-up exercise” that would result some years down the line in undermining regional ITV news.

But despite her criticism Morris gave no indication the Government would act to prevent the cutbacks going ahead.

She said: “I can live with any reduction in regional non-news programmes outside peak time. I don’t think that is the end of regional programming.”

And she warned: “Some loss of jobs will be inevitable.”

While Tory shadow media secretary John Whittingdale defended Ofcom, he said the cutbacks should be phased in over a longer period.

By David Rose

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