Ofcom: Investigations only 5 per cent of broadcast news

A study published this week by Ofcom into the future of current affairs journalism has revealed that investigative accounts for only 5 per cent of the genre's output by public service broadcasters.

Gavin MacFadyen, former World in Action journalist and director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said that he was not optimistic about the future of the news form on television.

MacFadyen told Press Gazette: "Investigative journalism is very time consuming and tends to be expensive, while it's cheaper for newsrooms to rely on hand-outs and press conferences.

"There was a big move last week to return Panorama, the only remaining investigative current affairs programme on television, to its prime-time slot. But unless that is supported by a lot more money it will struggle."

In an analysis of network content, Ofcom looked at current affairs output of the terrestrial public service broadcasters — BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five — between July and December 2005.

The study assessed the future of current affairs, examined the existing state of the genre and also discussed how it will evolve in the move towards digital switchover.

It found that all of the broadcasters reached or exceeded the quota for current affairs programming.

The current affairs programming on BBC One and ITV1 has increased since 1998, while the volume of programming within the genre broadcast on Channel 4 during peak-time rose from 96 hours in 1998 to 125 hours in 2005.

The study also found that there was a higher volume of current affairs output in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than in England.

The BBC was the largest provider of non-network current affairs programming in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whereas ITV was the largest provider in England.

Politics and coverage of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly dominated output in the regions.

Whereas in England the range of subject matter was much wider, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were much less likely to broadcast features or "fly on the wall" documentary-style programmes as current affairs.

The study found that while viewers were often drawn to current affairs programmes because they had a personal interest in the subject, the "desire to appear knowledgeable" was also a factor.

With international current affairs, the report showed that viewers increasingly watch such programmes with a view to how it affects them personally.

For example, Ofcom found particular interest in viewers on international terrorism and crime in holiday resorts.

The focus groups expressed that while there was a general interest in political programmes, there was also a frustration with the emphasis on the process of politics.

Respondents also voiced frustration at stalemates and said they lost interest in long-running subjects that appeared to have no resolution.

Regarding current affiars broadcasting post digital switchover, Ofcom said: "In the future it will be important to continue to access the breadth of current affairs programming in peak [hours], as some sub-genres (e.g economic and political programming) tend to be broadcast during the day or later in the evening."

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