ITV 'jumping the gun' on regional cuts
From the media.guardian.co.uk
Dominic Timms Thursday November 4, 2004
Broadcasting unions have accused ITV of jumping the gun over cuts to regional non-news programmes, by planning "hundreds" of job losses before an Ofcom consultation on the proposals has even closed.
The media regulator is proposing to allow ITV regional franchises in England to reduce their non-news output - such as local features, lifestyle and documentary shows - by 50%, from three hours to one-and-a-half hours a week, from the beginning of 2005.
But unions believe ITV is already going ahead and planning the cuts, and associated job losses, before they have had a chance to lodge formal objections.
The public consultation on the proposal closes on November 24 - just five weeks before Ofcom is planning to let ITV cut its non news-regional commitments.
Susan Woodward, the Granada managing director, has already emailed staff saying the proposal allowed the company to get on with planning cuts in its regional non-news programmes in the north-west.
Broadcasting union Bectu wrote to the Ofcom chairman, Lord Currie, and Richard Hooper, chair of the regulator's content board, to complain about the email, accusing ITV of jumping the gun.
But Bectu said it was told Ofcom had no "jurisdiction" over how ITV ran its business or how it chose to implement the regional cuts.
Around 1,500 people are employed in ITV's 10 English franchises on regional programmes, with about 200 of those working on non-news shows and the rest on news bulletins.
"ITV is clearly trying to steal a march by planning cuts before the end of the consultation period," said Sharon Elliott, Bectu's independent broadcast official.
"The company has steadily cut its regional staffing levels but the Ofcom proposals could result in hundreds more going. Ultimately what we are looking at is the end of regional TV."
The NUJ predicted "hundreds of jobs" would go as a result of the review and called on Ofcom to embed a public service broadcasting remit into ITV's replacement digital licence, due to be phased in at the end of this year, rather than hand over this commitment to the regulator's proposed public service publisher.
"If you look at what will remain [after the proposed cut in output], of the one and a half hours, if 30 minutes is sport, 30 minutes is current affairs which will be driven from news, and 30 minutes is produced by independents, what's left in house? Zero apart from current affairs," said Paul McLaughlin, the NUJ's national organiser for broadcasting.
"What we are saying is that Ofcom should build proper public service obligations into ITV's new licence and bring in more regional news and non-news into the equation."
Mr McLaughlin said that if this did not happen ITV's regional staffing levels would be further depleted.
"In Central's Birmingham headquarters for example, which is already having to consolidate after the closure of ITV's Nottingham studios, unions predict that up to 30 jobs in the non-regional news department could go. Multiply that to represent the other regional centres and you start to get a picture of the size of the cuts," Mr McLaughlin added.
An ITV spokeswoman denied it was jumping the gun by planning cuts ahead of the consultation process, but admitted that proposals would have a "significant impact for staff working on regional programmes".
"Ofcom's proposals are currently in consultation, and it is too early to define the precise impact on our staffing arrangements going forward. We will open discussions with staff as soon as we have concluded our review," she said.
The spokeswoman added that ITV remained "fully committed to maintaining a high quality regional news service" and said plans to raise out of London production quotas to 50% would have a "positive impact on network production jobs in the regions".