Memorandum from 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:
SUPPORT FOR LOCAL/REGIONAL NEWS BROADCASTING
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.
was confirmed in the research undertaken by Ofcom
for its recent Public Service Broadcasting
- 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'.
FUTURE OF ITV REGIONAL SERVICES
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.
note that ITV plc - historically
(including its predecessors) a very profitable company - won its licence for
the current period by promising to provide a specified level of regional news
services. Despite these commitments, we have seen:
- 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
represents a fundamental erosion of ITV's historically distinctive characteristic - its
strong regional structure.
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'
PSB - of which regional programmes are a vital component - Ofcom's
light touch regulation of ITV's regional services has, in effect, amounted to
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.
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 NEWS FACILITIES
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
- the sharing of buildings (ie ITV
to move into BBC buildings) in 8
regions in England and Wales
- the closure of many smaller ITV
- further job losses in ITV
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.
any event, the resulting savings (estimated at a maximum of £7-8m per year by
2010) would not in themselves be sufficient to prevent the erosion of ITV regional news - as is openly recognised by ITV plc itself.
CONSORTIA PROVIDING NEWS FOR ITV
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
- The amounts of funding quoted (£30 - £50m) appear seriously inadequate
and less than even ITV's current scaled-back regional spending.
- 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.
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 facilities - with significant implications for
any BBC staff affected and for
believe that our proposal (referred to above) for the use of alternative
funding streams - allied to strong regulatory requirements on ITV to provide regional news in exchange for the
receipt of such funding - would provide a preferable future strategy building
on the strengths of ITV's historically successful regional structure.
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
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.
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 2 out of the following 3
criteria should apply: regional location of the main production office; a
prescribed minimum level of regional spend; employment of a prescribed minimum
number of regionally-based workers.
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.
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.
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
oppose the development of American-style centralised news hubs and shared
programming - which can develop to the point where there is little or no
meaningful local news coverage or information provision.
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.
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 economic criteria.
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.
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.