Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rearranging the deckchairs...?

It's official! Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has signed the death warrant of local news on ITV. Hundreds of ITV staff will leave in the coming weeks as news programmes are merged, axed or reduced in length. Viewers and citizens will lose out, local democracy will be damaged but ITV's shareholders will have been given a big boost as they take steps towards their final goal - ditching their public service commitments and becoming a purely commercial channel.

For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland an as yet undefined consortia can bid for as yet undefined amounts of money to produce as yet undefined amounts of news for the nations. If the experience of contested funding for news elsewhere is anything to go by we'll see a competitive process that drives down the cost, quality, range and scope of news. It's not the answer.

The rest of Ofcom's report raises as many questions as it answers. Their plans so far are robbing Peter to pay Paul, taking money off one public service broadcaster and giving it to another or a consortia of others.

Here's our official take on it.

Alongside the Ofcom report we have the increasing clamour from newspaper owners for state aid to prop up the ailing newspaper industry. Does their greed know no bounds? Whilst they have made excessive profits over the past decade or so and failed to properly manage their businesses they now want taxpayers to bail them out - not because they are losing money but because they can't maintain such high profit levels. And on top of that they want further relaxations in media ownership rules as a way of solving "the crisis". Each time ownership rules have been relaxed we've been told this will solve the crisis, each time it has led to more job cuts, a fall in quality and a boost in profits - until the next crisis comes along. Any merger/takeover resulting from any relaxation of ownership rules should only be approved under conditions on investment, resources for news-gathering and employment rights. Anything less would simply be feeding the insatiable appetite of the corporate news industry.

So what else have i been up to? On Friday I took over as President of the Federation of Entertainment Unions and chaired the annual general meeting before meeting with the families of a number of murdered journalists - Kate Peyton, Anna Politkovskya, Roddy Scott - as well as media safety campaigners and the IFJ to talk about improving the support given to families and friends of journalists killed in the course of their work. On Saturday I spoke as chair of Justice for Colombia at a Latin America solidarity event at Bolivar Hall.

This week has so far been dominated by meetings going over budgets, staffing issues and pension funding and with preparing for today's meeting of BBC reps to talk about the pay claim for this year and getting ready for Saturday's Jobs Summit which has had to move to a bigger venue given the level of interest.

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