Regions outside M25 'magic circle' in jeopardy, says ITC

Wilson: ITV empowers non-Lon

Journalist Tony Wilson has spoken out against the "approaching demise of the federal system in ITV" which he claims has been "the only true emotional empowerment" of people living outside London.

The famed Granada Reports journalist, whose name became synonymous with the Manchester music scene in the Eighties, said that the regional ITV Network empowered the "disenfranchised 87 per cent of the population" outside London.

In a new report by the Independent Television Commission, Wilson, who rejoined the programme in May after 13 years, said: "We can look back on circa 50 years where the system created to keep the media entrepreneurs’ profits within reason has been perhaps the only bulwark against the transformation of each distinct cultural region of England into a compliant suburb of the kingdom within the magic circle called 25."

The ITC report, Television in the Nations and Regions, follows the announcement last week of a merger between Carlton and Granada and highlights the importance of regional news in preventing broadcasting falling into the hands of the metropolitan elite.

"London was often described as the most parochial part of Britain, inward looking, obsessed with its own power and values, and slow to react to big stories outside the M25, such as the case of Dr Harold Shipman," the report says.

But the ITC also highlights the apparent contradiction between viewers’ claims that regional news is "essential" and the fact that audiences have dropped in the past three years.

Schedule changes and the "intense" competition that puts ITV’s regional news bulletins up against the national news on BBC1, Hollyoaks on Channel 4 and Channel 5’s Home and Away are partly blamed for the drop.

While the BBC, under director general Greg Dyke, has signalled an increased emphasis on the regions, senior news figures within ITV expressed doubts about the network’s commitment to regional news. One claimed the network saw it as an "obligation, not an asset" and warned that it could "disappear within five to 10 years".

The report concludes that the future of regional television depends on the establishment of regulation that will protect quality and investment.

By Julie Tomlin

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