Ofcom has accepted proposals from ITV to reduce the amount of local news it broadcasts in the evenings by up to a third.
The changes will come when the new ten-year broadcasting licences for ITV, STV, UTV and Channel 5 start in 2015.
The cuts to ITV’s regional news programming in England are needed, ITV said, because of “significant economic pressure on nations and regions news”. ITV claims that it is not “economically rational” to place advertising in regional news programmes in peak time and it says that the value of Channel 3 licences has declined rapidly in recent years.
Under the changes, ITV’s weekday early evening regional news bulletins will reduce from 30 minutes to 20 minutes – but will be placed inside 30-minute slots which will include some non local news content.
ITV is also proposing to revert back to a more localised system, as was the case prior to a shake-up in 2009, with 14 news regionals (rather than the current eight).
In a statement Ofcom said that it “considers that, in most regions, the benefits to viewers of a more localised news service will more than offset the reduction in the amount of regional news that ITV is required to provide under its licences”.
But it has insisted that ITV continue with 30-minute early evening news broadcasts in London, the North West of England and the Border region which covers both sides of the England/Scotland border.
Outside the main early evening slot, Ofcom has reduced regional lunchtime news bulletins from 6.5 minutes to 3 minutes and late evening bulletins from 10 minutes to five minutes. The two daily regional news bulletins at weekends will be cut from 10 minutes to five minutes.
In Northern Ireland, Ofcom has rejected UTV’s proposal to reduce the amount of regional non-news programming. This will remain at two hours a week.
No changes have been made to the Channel 5’s news obligations.