Regional output gets ITV viewers' support

North East Tonight: viewers in the North want ITV to retain regional set-up

The vast majority of viewers believe that ITV should continue to make regional programmes, although most would accept fewer if quality was improved, a new survey has revealed

The prospect of a single ITV has raised concerns about the commercial broadcaster’s commitment to regional programmes, which intensified as it negotiated a reduction in its requirements in a new Charter for the Nations and Regions with the Independent Television Commission.

But research carried out by the watchdog showed that 89 per cent believed that ITV should continue to produce regional programmes, fearing the BBC’s standards would also suffer if the regions became the sole preserve of the corporation.

"Most of those consulted felt that without competition, the quality of regional output would diminish," the report said. "They predicted that this in turn would lead to loss of audience, and worried that the BBC might then take the decision to stop providing it altogether, given that it has no remit to broadcast regional programming."

But while 82 per cent of 5,500 viewers surveyed said they were interested in regional news, quality was regarded as the top priority and judged to be of more importance than the quantity of programmes produced.

One juror was quoted as saying: "You don’t buy a chocolate bar because it is made in Bournville but because it is nice. The same goes for programmes. You do not watch them just because they were made in the region, but because they are good."

Younger viewers were less attached to regional programming than older viewers, but most of those who took part in citizens’ juries from the North, Wales and Birmingham said they would prefer ITV to retain its current model for regional programmes.

Viewers in Birmingham aged 29-40 believed that the financial benefit of having bigger regions would mean ITV might be able to deliver the desired improvements in programmes.

But along with older viewers they believed that news should remain local, a view held by the northern jury, which "accepting that the status quo was unlikely to be tenable in the long term" opted for a system of larger regions.

They also raised concerns that this would be the first step towards ITV becoming a national broadcaster and argued that bigger regions would only be acceptable if budgets for regional programmes were increased.

In Wales the jurors opted to keep the current range of programmes on Wales, but suggested that alternative sources of funding, such as the European Union, should be explored.

The importance of regional programming in promoting local talent and creating jobs and wealth in the local community were also acknowledged by the juries. They concluded they would "feel a bit cheated" if a programme about their region was made in London.

By Julie Tomlin

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