Ofcom has invited viewers to give their thoughts on new proposals regarding the ITV regions, including STV in Scotland and UTV in Northern Ireland and Channel 5 which are all public service broadcasters. One proposal is to create a new ITV franchise for the ITV Wales region which would be separate from the current shared-licence with ITV West.
The public consultation follows Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, reviewing the current public service requirements for the regional network ITV and national broadcaster Channel 5. Ofcom is now working towards issuing new 10-year licences ahead of the expiration of the current licences at the end of 2014.
Ahead of the next re-licensing period, the television regulator has published three separate consultations. These are on the programming obligations in the licences; the proposed creation of a separate Wales licence from the Wales and West licence currently held by ITV; and the methodology by which Ofcom will determine the financial terms on which the licences will be renewed.
Public service broadcasters must meet certain programming obligations, such as the provision of news and current affairs programming and the amount of original and independent productions. However these have, despite STV and UTV proving regional ITV still works, seen ITVplc appeal to have the amount of regional content slashed in England and somewhat Wales.
However the latest proposals include restoring the regional news output to acceptable levels for viewers, many who have complained that most of the ITV regional service fails to provide adequate coverage of the region is it supposed to cover, this is due to many areas being merged together into ‘super regions’.
For the English regional licences currently held by ITV, Ofcom suggest an increase in the number of regions in England with dedicated news broadcasts from seven back up to 14, with the cost offset by reducing the amount of regional content required in each licence (making the programmes 20 minutes rather than 30 is one suggestion). For the Border licence currently held by ITV, two alternative proposals to increase the amount of regional news and current affairs programming in the Border area, aimed at enhancing the coverage of Scottish issues for viewers north of the border.
UTV have also sought to have an equal footing with the Northern Ireland licence holder wishing to reduce its regional non-news obligation by half an hour a week to bring the regional programming obligations in line with those provided by ITV Wales and STV Central and STV North. UTV currently provides one of the most watched local news programmes in the UK, beating its BBC rival.
Ofcom proposes to create a separate Channel 3 licence for Wales by redrawing the boundaries of ITV’s Wales and West licence. Under this proposal, the remaining area covered by that licence – Bristol, Somerset, parts of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire – would then be served by the South West of England licence currently held by ITV.
The two regions within the Wales and West of England licence already receive separate regional programming and there are separate licence obligations in relation to each. Ofcom is proposing to maintain the current level of regional programming which is required for Wales in the new Wales only licence.
Ofcom is proposing to maintain the existing programming obligations in the Channel 5 licence.
[Reported by Ian Westhead]