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David Puttnam

ITV should make more current affairs content

ITV should make more current affairs content

14 June, 2016

ITV should make more current affairs content

Broadcaster should air more current affairs in return for keeping EPG position and retransmission fees from Sky, says peer

ITV should be required to make more current affairs programming in return for increased support from regulators, according to an influential inquiry into the future of broadcasting in the UK.

The inquiry, led by film-maker and Labour peer Lord Puttnam, said there was an opportunity to strengthen the broadcaster’s public service role and “recapture the scale and ambition of the best of ITV’s historic reputation for flagship current affairs programming”.

The suggested increases in the minimum requirements for current affairs programming are modest, moving from 15 minutes to 30 minutes a week of regional programming and the equivalent of 90 minutes a week on ITV’s national network. ITV’s licence currently requires 43 hours of current affairs programming a year on the national network and in 2015 it broadcast 63 hours. However, 90 minutes a week would be equivalent to 78 hours, the level required roughly a decade ago. 

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In return ITV would get additional support including continued protection for its prominent place on the electronic programme guide and on future online services. The inquiry also recommends that, along with other public service broadcasters, ITV should be paid by platforms such as Sky which currently host its channels for free. 

As well as increasing minimum requirements for non-news current affairs, the inquiry is calling for regulator Ofcom to embark on a review of ITV’s role in the UK’s broadcasting ecology and create an “imaginative proposal” for strengthening its contribution to democratic accountability.

Puttnam said: “There is a great opportunity here to reinvent current affairs television content for the 21st century, while building on the very best of ITV’s traditions. This would have the additional benefit of raising the game of other broadcasters, not least the BBC, by restoring the competition for quality that was a hallmark of the public service television world in the recent past.”

When ITV was established it had far more stringent public service commitments, but these have been steadily reduced as bosses argued they were hindering its commercial performance. 

In 2013 Ofcom allowed ITV to reduce its weekday regional news bulletins from 30 minutes to 20 minutes but increased the number of regions targeted to 14 from eight. The regulator said audiences would benefit from more targeted programming. ITV currently runs 20 minutes of purely regional news as part of 30 minute programmes in all regions except London and Granada, where purely regional news makes up the full 30 minutes. 

In 2015 ITV recorded an 18% rise in pre-tax profits to £843m, on revenues that grew 15% to £2.97bn. It has in recent years shifted increasingly into production through its ITV Studios arm, buying up companies such as The Voice creator Talpa Media.

Though ITV has been criticised for reducing current affairs output over previous decades, it recently launched Peston on Sunday, a weekly politics show fronted by former BBC business editor Robert Peston, one of a number of high profile hires.

An ITV spokesperson said: “ITV is proud to be a public service broadcaster with a strong commitment to very significant investment in original UK content, including international, national and regional news and current affairs.

“We welcome the inquiry’s recommendation that ITV, and other PSBs, should receive a range of regulatory support, including continued EPG prominence and the payment of retransmission fees. We look forward to reading the full report when it is published later this month.”

An spokesperson for Ofcom said: “Ofcom welcomes discussion about the future of public service broadcasting, to ensure it continues to meet audience expectations and needs. We will review Lord Puttnam’s report when published.”

The full findings of the Puttnam inquiry, which are expected to focus on the future of the BBC and Channel 4, will be published on 29 June.

Source: The Guardian