Release time: immediate
The Chartered Institute of Journalists condemns ITV plans to reduce its regional news output as a buck-passing exercise brought about by a dip in profits caused by the phone-in crisis earlier in the year.
However, no matter what the cause, if this is not a breach of the legal requirements of their public service broadcasting obligations it is certainly an abrogation of their responsibilities towards the regional needs of their audience.
Regional news is very often vital to those residents in local communities who rely on this local or regional news coverage to keep them informed about issues in their area. Often, as in the case of the recent spate of floods, local television news is a vital source of emergency information.
“Good quality regional television news is not produced by further diluting the essential local element. To create larger and larger geographical areas for coverage is to deny the viewer a service to which they have become used and can only damage the public perception of local television journalism. The viewer and local newsmen deserve better than that. We hope that Ofcom will take a similar view. Certainly that is what we are campaigning for,” said Paul Leighton, Chairman of the Institute’s Broadcasting Division.
The proposal that a credible news coverage can still be produced without having regional bulletins is nonsense. For instance, the Yorkshire TV area covers a region stretching from the North of Norfolk to North Yorkshire and local news programmes cater for the disparate needs of communities within that vast region A ‘one size fits all’ approach is certainly no answer to local needs.
While the Institute has no doubt that the quality of the news items will be maintained – since the professionalism of those journalists is not under question – the current depth of coverage will not be continued.
Another factor, which the Institute believes enters the equation, is the effect that a reduction of competition would have on other broadcasters. Journalists know that the presence of a competitor sharpens reaction and smartens up presentation. No matter how professional a broadcasting newsroom is, the knowledge that there is no competitor to beat does affect the approach the news coverage – maybe fewer staff and less equipment assigned to stories or fewer stories covered.
With interim profits in the region of £151 million there can be no real reason for this move other than to recover some of the reported loss of £21 million in profits from phone-ins, due to the public’s lack of confidence since the scandals earlier in the year.
“It would be ironic if Ofcom were to allow ITV to reduce a service that the public can rely on, to fund the profit gap brought about by the collapse of the networks phone-in competitions, on which they could not rely,” said Institute General Secretary, Dominic Cooper. “Because those scandals, recently brought to light, questioned the integrity of wider editorial judgement, this proposed move is cynical and ill-timed”
When delivering his first set of interim figures for the network, Michael Grade said he was taking a “zero tolerance” approach to those in the TV industry responsible for an “apparent and casual contempt towards viewers”. Presumably his first port of call will be those in his own network who seek to treat their own viewers with contempt by reducing this service while trying to convince them that the service will not be affected.
Press contact: Dominic Cooper, tel. 0207 252 1187, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ), 2 Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, London SE16 2XU. Website www.cioj.co.uk
Notes for Editors:
Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.