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Release time: 2 October 2008

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has condemned the Broadcasting Regulator Ofcom’s decision to allow ITV companies to slash regional news coverage as “a betrayal of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB).”

The cuts will result in the loss of more than 400 jobs in regional newsrooms with a number of regions merged and output reductions. It also comes just days after Ofcom published the second phase of its review of Public Service Broadcasting ( PSB). The review finds that in order to sustain PSB programmes on channels other than the BBC, some £145-235 million in replacement funding will be required by 2012.

Chairman of the Institute’s Broadcasting Division, Paul Leighton, said “We are concerned that Ofcom’s role of maintaining effective public service broadcasting is undermined as it openly sought to smooth the path for this shabby round of job cuts and lost programming.

“What kind of regional news service will be left when big centres like Bristol and Plymouth are merged?  Has the Regulator even looked at the map let alone the very diversely different communities that live in these cities?”

The Institute’s submission in the review of PSB urged that the regional requirements of PSB could be maintained by a greater sharing of facilities with other news providers and that a re-think of Government financing along the same lines as its support to the British Film Industry should be examined.

In a detailed submission to Ofcom’s first part of the Review earlier this year, the Institute urged the Regulator not to give in to ITV proposals to reduce regional coverage as a response to falling advertising revenue. It also pointed out that a reduced level of regional news coverage would be a disincentive to advertisers and lead to an even greater loss of viewers in the longer term.

Mr Leighton, added: “In these days of the credit crunch we have sympathy with any business trying to deal with losses of revenue. CIoJ is still urging MPs to understand the crisis.”

Ofcom’s own research indicated the value that PSB is held in by the public. Losing local news coverage is just a start of the rot and Ofcom seem too caught in the financial spotlight.

CIoJ General Secretary Dominic Cooper said: “Once the fabric of this local broadcasting network has been decimated by Ofcom’s green light to ITV, it will never be replaced. Other companies will be keen to take advantage of this precedent.

“The attraction of this simple answer to the immediate problems facing ITV, and thereby PSB, are easy to comprehend. However, this quick fix solution will undoubtedly have massive long-term effects on plurality, focus and relevance of local broadcast news.”

End

Notes to editors

1.      Ofcom’s review closes on 4th December 2008 and can be found at:- http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/psb2_phase2/

2.      The Ofcom Review also proposes reducing the obligations on ITV plc and the other channel 3 licensees next year to make the provision of highly valued programmes – original British content and news – more sustainable until the initial expiry date of the existing licences in 2014.

3.      The biggest changes – which prioritise peak time coverage – involve a restructuring of ITV’s regional news services in England and the Scottish Borders

4.      Institute represents journalists throughout broadcasting and the written media and has been serving journalists and journalism for more than a hundred years. Its broadcasting members include household names like Kate Adie and James Alexander-Gordon.

5.      If you wish to interview someone about this subject please get in touch with The CIoJ on 020 7252 1187.

From Liz Justice, CIoJ Press Office, 07780 661926.

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