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Ofcom set to slash news


AS WORKERS went to press, workers in broadcasting were bracing themselves for a report on ITV from the regulator, Ofcom. It is widely expected that Ofcom will permit the monopoly broadcaster to reduce its regional news programmes from 17 bulletins to 8, a move that could result in the loss of 500 jobs and would leave areas and communities across the country without proper local news coverage. Union reps are set to hold meetings in response, and industrial action can’t be ruled out.

ITV is a network of 15 companies, each licensed to broadcast in a region of the UK. It wants to cut its regional news budget by around £40 million in order to hike profits. “In a shareholder-driven broadcasting environment, costly programmes that don’t deliver big bucks audiences to advertisers are not considered viable,” National Union of Journalists General Secretary Jeremy Dear wrote in the union’s journal, adding, “News and current affairs, regional and other public service programming should not just be another commodity to be bought and sold, but a valuable benefit to enable informed citizens and greater democratic participation in society.”

Since the plans were announced, broadcasting workers have been waging publicity campaigns up and down the country, in the process also reviving previously moribund union branches. In the north, for example, where Border TV journalists have been fighting to stop their service from being axed, 16,000 members of the public have sent postcards into Ofcom urging it to ensure that the daily Lookaround programme is kept. Supporters have included the Eddie Stobart transport company, which lent campaigners its private jet to take them to a meeting on the Isle of Man.

• NUJ members employed by Trinity Mirror in the Midlands voted to strike against compulsory redundancies. Ballots were held after the company served redundancy notices on its Midlands journalists, including those at the Coventry Telegraph and Birmingham Post and Mail. The company has told its editorial staff that they have to reapply for their jobs.

Journalists in Coventry and Solihull voted 85.4 per cent in favour of strike action on a 79 per cent turnout; in Birmingham, 68.4 per cent in favour on a 71 per cent turnout; and at Midland Weekly Media - 87.5 per cent in favour on a 61.5 per cent turnout.

The journalists are outraged at the compulsory nature of the redundancies, and fearful of what the reduction in staff would mean for already hard pressed news rooms. In Coventry, where the editorial staff has halved over the past five years (before the latest proposals), there are not enough staff to answer the phones when local readers ring in with news.