ITV’s decision to cut its regional news output in some areas by more than a third had been condemned as “totally unacceptable”.
The National Union of Journalists has condemned media regulator Ofcom for allowing the broadcaster to cut regional news minutes as part of the package agreed for a new ten-year Channel 3 licences beginning in 2015.
Under the agreement, 30-minute early evening news slots in all ITV regions except London, the North West and the Borders would have only 20 minutes of dedicated local content – with the remainder including news from outside the region. The cuts will also see regional lunchtime bulletins reduced from six-and-a-half to three minutes and late evening and weekend news slots cut from ten to five minutes.
“This would mean viewers in Yorkshire being shown daffodils from the West Country rather than a full 30 minutes of home-grown news,” said Sue Harris, national broadcasting organiser at the NUJ.
Harris called the changes “a major blow to public broadcasting”.
She added: “This has happened because Ofcom's role as a light-touch regulator has allowed ITV to have its way every time. This erosion is taking place at the same time as a massive decline in local newspapers, with titles closing and some towns being left without a local paper, plus a similar decline of local news services in Independent Local Radio.
“The maintenance of PSB obligations on broadcasters is critical to ensure that the public are properly informed, so that they can have access to, and properly engage with local, as well as national, democracy. It is also vital that there is a plurality of services, so that different voices and opinions are able to be heard."
ITV said in its submission to Ofcom it was not “economically rational” to place advertising in peak-time regional news programmes. But the NUJ said the argument was “totally unacceptable, given the broadcaster is now hugely profitable.”
ITV reported a pre-tax profit of £464 million in 2012, up from £398 million the previous year.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “When services were cut by ITV in 2009, that was under very different financial circumstances. Today, ITV is hugely profitable yet it is making further cuts to regional news, a key part of why the brand has been so successful.”
The NUJ did support the broadcaster’s proposal to revert to a more localised news system, increasing the number of regions from eight to 14, the level it had before 2009. But the union warned that “such services can only be provided at the appropriate quality if they are properly staffed and resourced”.