Ofcom backs ITV proposals to slash regional news output

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ITV has won the support of media regulator Ofcom in its bid to merge some of its regional news operations and reduce the number of regional news and current affairs programmes it broadcasts.

The regulator has proposed today that ITV should be allowed to concentrate on prime-time regional bulletins in the evening and drop its mid-morning and weekend lunchtime bulletins. This would lead to regional news output falling from five and a quarter hours to three and three-quarter hours a week.

Ofcom has also provisionally agreed to what it describes as a “new pattern” for regional newsgathering. This will lead to the merger of the Border and Tyne Tees TV regions, West and Westcountry, and Meridian and Thames Valley – but each area will still broadcast a separate 15-minute sequence of local news within the merged bulletin.

Ofcom partner for content and standards Stewart Purvis said: “We regard the provision of regional news for England as an essential requirement for any future model of public service broadcasting.

“The aim of this agreement is to ensure a framework is put in place at a realistic level to enable ITV to continue to meet audience’s needs, especially for prime-time regional news.”

Under the proposals, regional non-news programmes – such as current affairs shows – would be cut from 30 minutes to 15 minutes a week. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the ITV licensees would be allowed to cut non-news output from three hours to 90 minutes a week.

The regulator said that the majority of respondents to its consultation on the future of public service broadcasting wanted ITV1 to continue providing regional news to complement that offered by the BBC.

Ofcom chief executive, Ed Richards, said that although it was felt that ITV1 should remain a public-service broadcaster until its licence expires in 2014, the costs of providing news, documentaries and factual programming was outweighing the commercial benefits.

“Audiences value public service programming highly, but strong digital TV take-up means it is becoming harder for our leading commercial broadcasters to provide this,” he said.

“We have provided a clear set of choices for maintaining and strengthening public service broadcasting in the future. Along with our proposals in the short term, timely decisions by government and Parliament will be critical.”

The regulator has now launched a further public consultation into the proposals, which closes on 4 December. A final decision is expected early next year.

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