TV watchdog stresses news concerns over bill

A loophole in new broadcasting legislation could allow peaktime news on ITV and Channels 4 and 5 to be reduced to a clip of headlines, the Independent Television Commission has warned.

The ITC has voiced concern that the requirement under current legislation that broadcasters have a "sufficiency of news" has been dropped from the draft communications bill.

ITC chiefs last week told the joint committee of MPs and peers now examining the bill: "While ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will still be obliged to transmit news in peaktime, there is no provision to ensure that this is anything more than, at one extreme, a short clip of headlines."

The watchdog argued that broadcasters should be free to strike the right balance but reserve powers should be given to new media regulator Ofcom.

"Ofcom should not specify the precise duration or timing of peak time news bulletins," the ITC’s response to the bill said. "Individual broadcasters are best able to judge the balance. But there should be a backstop power to prevent such an extreme case arising."

ITC chief executive Patricia Hodgson was the first witness to be questioned by the joint committee when it began its twice-weekly examination of the bill.

The ITC also welcomed a new obligation on ITV to ensure the news provider, currently ITN, is adequately funded. In its most recent annual report, the ITC expressed concern that funding restraints threatened a reduction in the range and quality of output ITN could provide.

"We recognise the inherent tension between ‘adequate funding’ and the competitive tender process set out in the current legislation. We believe, however, that properly drafted the proposed obligation should help stop and preferably reverse the current trends."

The joint committee has been asked to submit a report to Parliament by 7 August.

By David Rose

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