Ofcom: 'We must safeguard public service broadcasting, let's dismantle ITV News'

ITV’s dramatic cuts to editorial jobs outlined yesterday expose a paradox in media regulator Ofcom’s proposals for the future of public service broadcasting.

ITV announced yesterday that it planned to cut staffing in its regional news broadcasting division from 1,075 to 646. It has yet to reveal how many of those affected will be journalists.

This followed Ofcom’s finding last Thursday that ITV should be allowed to scale back its public service broadcasting commitments as the benefits of having a terrestrial TV broadcasting licence evaporate in the run-up to complete digital switch over in 2012.

ITV’s cutbacks will include the merger of six of the current ITV regions: Border and Tyne Tees TV regions, West and Westcountry, and Meridian and Thames Valley.

But while allowing ITV to dismantle its regional broadcast news network – Ofcom also said last week that public service broadcasting outside the BBC was essential in the post 2012 world and that public funding of up to £420 million will be needed to fund it.

Ofcom has put forward three proposals for how these millions should be spent – all of which envisage a smaller role for ITV.

It seems perverse and illogical of Ofcom to say that public service broadcasting – and so regional news – outside the BBC must continue after 2012, while at the same time allowing our nation’s network of regional broadcast TV newsrooms to be destroyed.

If we are going to have to start again from scratch in 2012 quality will suffer to say nothing of the unneccessary hardship being inflicted on many skilled and experienced broadcast journalists whose services are being tossed aside.

If Ofcom is serious about protecting public service broadcasting outside the BBC – it needs to find a way to protect ITV’s news infrastructure, while at the same time accepting that its output could be used in a very different way in future.

Public funding should be found to protect ITV’s regional news bureaus and if neccessary sever them from ITV Plc – which clearly is far more interested in maximising short-term profit than it is in safeguarding its regional broadcast news network.

These regional news stations should be protected as agencies which could provide broadcast TV news wherever it is needed after 2012 – whether that is to TV sets via the digital spectrum of channels or via the internet to computers and mobile phones.

Commissioning another series of Animals Do the Funniest Things is no doubt a quicker way to make short-term profits for ITV than investing in news and documentaries.

ITV will find itself in a rapid race to the bottom if it stakes its future on quick profts from cheap trashy telly – rather than the sort of unique service it could provide by continuing to invest in news.

In the meantime Ofcom should fulfil its stated aim of protecting independent TV broadcast news by acting now to protect our network of broadcast TV journalists.

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