MPs have called on ITV to make clear its commitment to regional news in the wake of an Ofcom review that has proposed ending its public service commitments.
John Whittingdale, Conservative MP and chair of the culture committee, said making more public funds available to ensure future public service content on commercial TV was the most viable option, but that ITV had to show its commitment to it.
He said: ‘ITV has made clear it sees itself as the national commercial channel which should mean the maintenance of the news coverage. At the same time, it is withdrawing from children’s and regional programming – areas where there may be a case for specific support.
‘But it is up to ITV to make its case for public funds, and ITV chairman Michael Grade has said he would not accept public funding.”
Part one of Ofcom’s review into public service broadcasting was unveiled last Thursday
It proposed four future models of commercial public-service broadcasting, three of which could potentially strip ITV of its public service obligations and benefits.
Earlier this month, ITV amended its plans to reduce regional news programming from 17 to 11 regions after pressure from MPs, audiences and staff. It revised the original plan of merging regions, replacing this with six minutes of guaranteed airtime for ‘sub regions’on regional news programmes. But it still wants to save £40m, which could mean job losses.
John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby, said: ‘Would ITV going beyond 2012 really want to give up all that heritage that offers distinctiveness in the market. What then would be the difference between it and Sky One?”
The Ofcom report affirmed ITV’s insistence that its commitment to regional news was not economically viable beyond 2014, when the current ITV licence ends.
Ofcom’s proposals for public service broadcasting
Models of PSB:
- Evolution of current system with changing benefits and responsibilities for Five, Channel 4, ITV and S4C
- BBC becomes sole public-service broadcaster
- BBC and Channel 4 as joint public-service broadcasters
- Competitive funding for everyone with BBC retaining core role
Models of funding:
- Direct public taxation
- Using licence fee money currently ring-fenced for digital switchover schemes
- Introduce regulation, allowing access to a cheaper spectrum, creating more public service broadcasters