Seven-year death threat to ITV news

Stewart Purvis: regional news programmes should be safe until 2011

Regional ITV news is under threat of being scrapped in seven years time when analogue TV signals are expected to be switched off.

Giving the Society of Editors lecture, former ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis said he believed regional news programmes were safe until the expected analogue switch off in 2011.

But he said: “At that moment everybody with a TV set either gets multichannel television if they’ve got the right boxes, or nothing if they haven’t.

The option for the existing five channels on their own won’t exist any more. And so, ITV argues, most of the special value of being one of those five channels in our homes disappears too.

And therefore they should pay the Treasury a lot less money and should stop making the programmes which regulators now make them transmit.

“Nobody should be in any doubt that this could mean the end of regional news programmes on ITV in say six or seven years time. That’s not to ignore the small issue of the possible end of national news on ITV too.”

Speaking during a later conference session on broadcasting, ITV news group chief executive Clive Jones maintained his commitment to regional programming, saying: “Regional news has been part of ITV since the beginning. We want to maintain it.”

But he added: “At the point of analogue switch-off there is a threat”. He said ITV’s future owners may not want to maintain the “expensive regional news infrastructure”.

Jones said: “There needs to be a dialogue with government and the regulator because it will be very hard to maintain. Maybe we should talk about some support for the public service aspects of ITV and Channel Four.”

Jones also made a passionate defence of the importance of regional early evening news programmes.

“The hour between six and seven currently has around 10 or 11 million who watch news on BBC and ITV.

They are the most watched news bulletins in the UK. To think that might be taken away beggars belief. This is a vital service to British journalism and British democracy.”

Reports by Dominic Ponsford and Ian Reeves

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