Shake up of UK network TV on cards

ITV’s share price soared five per cent on Sept 25 on news that it might benefit from some of the cash currently flowing into the BBC, and that a bid might be emerging from RTL (which already controls Channel 5).

A series of proposals from TV regulator Ofcom helped significantly, and Ofcom’s suggestions could herald a dramatic shake-up of the UK public broadcasting scene.

One Ofcom proposal, likely not to be well received by the BBC, is that Channel 4, currently a wholly advertising-supported pubcaster, could take over responsibility for BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm. The logic, at least from Ofcom’s point of view, is that BBC Worldwide’s profits would then close the increasing funding gap that C4 is predicted to suffer. Channel 4 has only this week announced 15% staffing cut backs and is trimming its commitment to programme-making in order to save £150m over the next three years.

ITV, suggests Ofcom, could have its public broadcasting obligations, already heavily modified to relax its obligations that cover kids’, religious and other minority broadcasting, further eased in terms of its news coverage. The idea is that ITV further consolidates its regional newsrooms and local news and current affairs programming in order to save cash. The National Union of Journalists suggest that if the plan is permitted then up to 500 jobs will be lost amongst ITV’s regional newsrooms.

One objector said it would mean the merging – and even abolition – of news coverage from southern Scotland with the north of England, and was a “complete failure” to take into account public opinion.

The ideas, presented for discussion, are Ofcom’s idea of getting the UK television industry in better shape for analogue switch-off, which will be complete in the UK by 2012.

However – and not for the first time – there are grumbles that viewer needs and expectations are being ignored by Ofcom. Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of the broadcasting workers' union Bectu, said: "Ofcom has not fulfilled its responsibility to the viewers. They are looking after the interest of the broadcaster instead."