Written evidence submitted by BECTU
1. BECTU is the trade union for workers
(other than performers and journalists) in the audiovisual and
live entertainment sectors. We have many members working in local/regional
broadcasting and related independent production. Among the issues
raised by the Inquiry, we address those of particular relevance
to BECTU members and we set out our views in summary form:
2. We strongly believe that the provision
of local/regional news is a vital component of our broadcasting
services. Furthermore, we believe that audiences consistently
place a high priority on local/regional news.
3. This was confirmed in the research undertaken
by Ofcom for its recent Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Review:
88%"thought it important that the
main TV channels provide nations and regions news".
"There were high levels of agreement"
that "it was important for ITV1 as well as the BBC to
provide nations and regions news programmes".
"Respondents in each English region
and devolved nation believe that nations and regions news provision
cannot be left solely to the BBC".
OF ITV REGIONAL
4. As can be noted from the Ofcom research
quoted above, audiences not only strongly support the provision
of local/regional news but also wish this to be provided by a
plurality of sources, especially including ITV.
5. We note that ITV plchistorically
(including its predecessors) a very profitable companywon
its licence for the current period by promising to provide a specified
level of regional news services. Despite these commitments, we
Successive waves of serious budget cuts
and job losses in ITV regional services.
Significant reductions in the number
of ITV news regions/sub regions and local news opt outs.
A move to merged regions based on large
geographical areas of no relevance to local communities.
Regulatory fines for failing to attain
the required regional programme quotas.
6. This represents a fundamental erosion
of ITV's historically distinctive characteristicits strong
7. Sadly, Ofcom has proved all too compliant
in this scaling back of ITV's regional commitments. Despite the
regulator's duty under the Communications Act 2003 to "maintain
and strengthen" PSBof which regional programmes are
a vital componentOfcom's light touch regulation of ITV's
regional services has, in effect, amounted to deregulation.
8. There is an alternative strategy. We
fully recognise the funding shortfall arising from the growth
of digital channels and the resulting fragmentation of audiences
and revenue. However, there are alternative funding streams which
are both available and deliverable. We have set out our arguments
on these in our submissions to the Ofcom PSB Review and to Digital
Britain. In summary form they are:
levies on non-PSB broadcasters which
provide minimal original PSB programming in proportion to revenue
and on new media platforms such as mobile phones and the internet
(which use but do not contribute to PSB programming).
use of spectrum resources ie gifted/discounted
spectrum for regional/PSB programming together with the hypothecation
of a proportion of any possible spectrum auction proceeds.
9. We believe that such alternative funding
streams could provide essential resources for local/regional programming
and that ITV could be held to strong local/regional programming
targets in exchange for benefiting from such funding.
ITV/BBC SHARED REGIONAL
10. Faced by the current erosion of ITV
regional news, several alternative options have been put forward.
11. ITV and BBC have jointly proposed the
use of shared facilities for regional news, possibly including:
the sharing of buildings (ie ITV to move
into BBC buildings) in 8 regions in England and Wales;
the closure of many smaller ITV news
further job losses in ITV regional news.
12. BECTU strongly opposes these proposals:
This could, in effect, amount to a takeover
of ITV regional news by BBC.
BBC footage and facilities would be used
by ITV as a substitute for ITV retaining adequate staffing levels
for its regional news service.
It could require the rescheduling of
rival news programmes which are currently broadcast at overlapping
times. The scheduling of a programme has implications for the
nature of the audience and thereby for programme content. And
if there is resulting pressure to reshape programme content, this
compromises the claims for continuing editorial independence.
Ultimately, BBC staff would be undertaking
the work of ITV staff who had been made redundant.
13. In any event, the resulting savings
(estimated at a maximum of £7-8 million per year by
2010) would not in themselves be sufficient to prevent the erosion
of ITV regional newsas is openly recognised by ITV plc
14. Ofcom has put forward the idea of publicly-funded
independent consortia to provide regional news on ITV in the event
that ITV itself withdraws from regional news provision. Organisations
such as ITN have been mentioned as possible bidders to provide
such a service.
15. BECTU's initial view is that this is
an overcomplicated and inadequately funded response to the problem:
Bringing in independent consortia accepts,
as a fait acompli, that ITV plc should withdraw from the provision
of regional news.
The amounts of funding quoted (£30-£50 million)
appear seriously inadequate and less than even ITV's current scaled-back
Diverting funding from the BBC license
fee would be totally unacceptable, since this would simply undermine
one PSB regional news provider in order to subsidise another.
Even if some independent consortia were
potentially able to provide an adequate service in some individual
regions, this could not be assumed to apply across the board.
16. Furthermore, the BBC/ITV proposal for
shared regional news facilities indicates that sharing arrangements
would also apply to any third party provider. Since such independent
consortia would have none of ITV's existing regional facilities,
they could potentially require the use of the entirety of the
BBC's facilitieswith significant implications for any BBC
staff affected and for editorial independence.
17. We believe that our proposal (referred
to above) for the use of alternative funding streamsallied
to strong regulatory requirements on ITV to provide regional news
in exchange for the receipt of such fundingwould provide
a preferable future strategy building on the strengths of ITV's
historically successful regional structure.
18. BECTU strongly supports the maintenance
and development of BBC local and regional programming. We accept
that the BBC has a responsibility to position more of its in-house
and independently sourced production in the nations and regions
in order to better reflect the contribution which audiences across
the UK make to the BBC through the licence fee. We therefore support
in principle the BBC's relocation of some programme-making resources
from London to the regions.
19. However, we do have concerns that following
the closure of Television Centre in 2012 and the possible
sale of Elstree, the BBC may not own a single major television
studio London and the South East and may not be able to produce,
for example, drama/light entertainment/Children in Need without
hiring commercial facilities.
20. We continue to have reservations about
any single definition of regional as "outside the M25".
This can, notoriously, lead to productions originating from production
offices just outside the M25 (eg Amersham) but which, in
effect, use London facilities. We therefore believe that a meaningful
definition should be adopted. We note Ofcom's proposal that at
least two out of the following three criteria should apply: regional
location of the main production office; a prescribed minimum level
of regional spend; employment of a prescribed minimum number of
21. We support in principle the provision
by the BBC of local news services both on video and online. We
regret that the BBC's local initiatives have, at a previous stage,
been opposed by other local press and media interests. We further
regret that the BBC Trust responded to such pressures by cancelling
the development of "bbclocalvideo". Far from representing
a threat to local print news providers, we believe such initiatives
could open up opportunities for local partnerships and syndication
in the right circumstances.
22. We have long noted, with regret, the
evolution of commercial radio away from independent local providers
and into a sector characterised by concentration of ownership
and standard programme formats.
23. We continue to wish to see regulatory
support for the maximum possible range of local content and identity
in commercial radio. We have therefore expressed reservations
about the loosening of controls on formats and the weakening of
24. We oppose the development of American-style
centralised news hubs and shared programmingwhich can develop
to the point where there is little or no meaningful local news
coverage or information provision.
25. We believe that specific media ownership
regulations continue to be necessary in addition to basic competition
rules. We believe that such regulations are necessary because
market forces alone will not provide the pluralistic media which
a democracy requires.
26. We therefore believe that any relaxation
of media ownership regulation should be judged on the basis of
broad democratic and social criteria rather than just on narrowly
27. We recognise that there is a wholly
separate dimension of debate concerning media services in the
nations. We have not, in this submission, attempted to address
such issues (eg on the proposal for a new Scottish channel, on
the future funding of S4C)on the basis that these continue
to be discussed intensively in other forums.
28. We appreciate the Select Committee's
interest in this issue. We hope you will take note of our views
and we look forward to the outcome of the Inquiry.