Audience disenchantment with declining regional news coverage is ‘inevitable”, ITV‘s chief executive has told a Parliamentary committee.
But speaking before the House of Lords Communications Select Committee’s media ownership inquiry this morning, Michael Grade also said broadband delivery of news could eventually solve the problem of delivering regional television news.
Responding to a question from Baroness Scott about whether ITV was heading further down the road of dwindling regional news and increasing audience dissatisfaction, Grade told the committee: ‘Your forecast, as to the point where people become so disenchanted with regional news provisions, is some way off. [But] I think it is inevitable.”
But Grade added that the problem of delivering regional news would be solved over time by broadband delivery of very specific news and information.
He said: ‘What we are working on is a broadband delivery of ITV Local through our website, ITV.com, which we have rolled out. ITV Local is very, very local, specifically targeted, using our newsrooms, using ITN, using our regional newsrooms to provide information, entertainment, news.”
ITV plans to cut the number of news regions and sub-regions and reduce its regional news budget from £90m to between £40m and £60m. As part of the plans, the Border and Tyne Tees news regions are to be merged. The plans have to be agreed by industry regulator Ofcom.
Grade said the regional model was originally designed for an analogue era and was outdated, as competition expanded and audience share fragmented.
‘We do believe there’s value for the ITV audience in providing regional news,’Grade said.
‘There’s an important democratic duty on us, I think, to provide a regional news alternative to the BBC and not to leave the BBC with a monopoly in the regional news supply, but we have to do it in a way we can justify to our shareholders.
‘I don’t think the viewers will notice much difference. The newsgathering on the ground is what counts. The fact we don’t have a building in this town or that town is neither here nor there.”
On the contentious proposal to close the Borders newsroom and work from Tyne Tees, Grade said: ‘What the viewers will see is a regional news programme which may well be coming from the Tyne Tees area, but the fact that we have got plentiful journalistic resources on the ground throughout the region will mean that the news programme that they see [will have] that dedicated 10 minutes [specific to your region]. But the whole bulletin will not ignore the Border region. It will be done on news values on the night.”
Grade also confirmed that the revived News At Ten is to run for four nights a week only.
He told the Communications Committee: ‘We are going to go four nights a week at ten o’clock on ITV. We will go head to head with BBC1 and the audience will make their choice.”
Asked if there was the possibility of partiality in ITV’s news coverage of events concerning itself, Grade, referring to recent phone-in scandals at the broadcaster, said: ‘I think we have had plenty examples this year of getting a good kicking from our own news organisation, which is quite right.’
Asked if he thought ITV received any preferential treatment, Grade quipped: ‘It didn’t feel like it on the night, I can assure you, which is exactly like it should be.”