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Ofcom’s PSB review – a round-up

January 21st, 2009Posted by in Broadcasting

In its public service broadcasting (PSB) blueprint, UK industry regulator Ofcom made a series of recommendations for Channel 4, the BBC and ITV – there’s a video explaining the report on Ofcom’s YouTube channel, but for those of you wanting something more textual here’s our round-up:

Key points:

  • There needs to be alternative public services to the BBC – echoing Lord Carter’s comments last week
  • More choice for regional news consumers
  • Retention of the licence fee and no top-slicing
  • News content for ITV and Five, but limit level of public service commitments

Recommendations were given for each of the UK’s broadcasters in turn, but given news this week of potential mergers with Five or the BBC and yesterday’s pledge to invest £500 million in regional production and programming, here’s a synopsis of the points directed at Channel 4:

  • “A new organisation, with public purposes at its heart, should be established; Channel 4 is well-placed to be central to this.” This could potentially be funded by a chunk of the £130m-a-year BBC licence fee digital switchover surplus.
  • Full range of digital content and news and programmes from outside of London needed
  • Merger with BBC Worldwide, Five or other organisations not ruled out, but “[P]artnerships should complement market provision and ensure economic sustainability, accountability, choice and competition. New governance and accountability arrangements would be essential.” (Report from Telegraph.co.uk, says Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said there is ‘more of a tension’ surrounding a possible deal with Five)

Following the regulator’s market impact assessment late last year, which formed part of the BBC Trust’s decision to reject local online video plans, the report also reviewed PSB in the nations and regions:

  • Potentially good news for local newspapers in England (welcomed by the Newspaper Society) – “Ofcom believes that the Government should plan for an alternative way of securing regional news for the devolved nations and English regions from 2011”.
  • Plans for ITV and BBC to share some resources and infrastructure in England will be reviewed – in particular, how sustainable this model is.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed concerns over Ofcom’s recommendations for ITV Local – suggesting a deal had already been agreed between the channel and regulator rendering a consultation on cuts to its local news provision meaningless.

“Ofcom has presented its proposals as a framework for saving public service broadcasting, but the reality is that this report has given ITV the go-ahead to cut its local output. It means fewer local news programmes and fewer local stories. As hundreds of editorial staff walk out of the door, they’ll be taking the links between ITV and local communities with them. That’s hardly in the interests of citizens and viewers,” said a statement by the union.

Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, gives his thoughts on the review in this Comment is Free article and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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