Archive for the ‘ITV’ tag

Local press subsidies are not the answer

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Most people would now acknowledge that there are serious structural issues facing regional and local news. ITV says it’s too expensive and it will stop providing it unless the government makes it worthwhile (see Michael Grade’s piece in the Telegraph). Local newspaper circulations have been dropping virtually non-stop for the last few years and, more importantly, their advertising and classified revenues keep falling. As a result news organisations are cutting local staff, closing offices and shutting down newspapers (see Job Cuts Timeline at journalism.co.uk, Roy Greenslade on Archant shutting offices, and the FT on newspaper closures).


Some local areas have it worse than others. This week two Welsh politicians called Wales a ‘media wasteland’ where stories of public and political interest simply go unreported – despite the devolution of power to Wales a decade ago. ”Since 1999″, Dai Davies said, “we have seen a vast increase in powers to politicians in Wales and yet more and more journalists losing their jobs, and less and less reporting of politics and political debate and decision-making” (from BBC News Wales).

Now English politicians are also starting to become animated about the decline in reporting and lack of political coverage. Ashok Kumar, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland says he is next week going to ask the government to provide state support for the regional press (from Press Gazette).

Kumar and other politicians follow a growing number of voices from within the media itself who are suggesting the government should subsidise local newspapers. Most notably Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, who wrote back in November:

“Is there any reason why local newspapers – whether in print, on broadband or broadcast – shouldn’t compete with the broadcasters for some form of subsidy in return for providing the public service of keeping a community informed about itself?”

But subsidising the local press is not, IMHO, a good idea. For at least three reasons:

1. An independent commercial press would be neither independent nor commercial if it was taking hand-outs from the government. The watchdog role played by the local press would be seriously compromised were it to be state subsidised. Imagine the attitude of local councillors to reporters whose salary was partly dependent on government financing?

2. There are huge changes taking place in the way news is collected, edited, published, delivered and consumed. These changes are forcing news organisations to completely rethink how they do business. Subsidising a 20th century model will not help them rethink and reform, it will just encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing

3. It would distort local editors and journalists view of who they serve. Instead of feeling – at root – responsible to the public, they would inevitably feel a degree of responsibility to the government.

This is not an argument against intervention per se. The government can set parameters – particularly fiscal parameters (i.e. tax) that incentivise people to collect and publish public interest news. But this is fundamentally different from providing a subsidy, however arms length, that organisations can apply for. 

Written by Martin Moore

January 16th, 2009 at 1:06 pm

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Journalism past and future?

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Beside one another on my RSS feed:

“Up to 500 editorial jobs could be cut from ITV regional operations, the National Union of Journalists said today after Ofcom endorsed ITV proposals to slash its local and regional news services” (from Media Guardian)
and…
“The Teesside Gazette is to increase its roster of ultra-local contributors to 1,000 in the next year, building on the 400 it already has across 22 postcode-related sites (from Journalism.co.uk)”

Written by Martin Moore

September 29th, 2008 at 10:53 am

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ITV's entertaining interpretation of public service TV

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Let me get this straight. Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, believes entertainment programmes like the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent should be more clearly defined as ‘public service’, so that they can become better supported by the state – if necessary to the detriment of news, current affairs and children’s programmes.

If I’ve understood the speech he gave to the Edinburgh TV festival on Friday correctly, he is arguing that big-budget high entertainment is the preserve of old broadcasters like ITV. Only these 20th century broadcasting giants can deliver both the programme quality and the bums on seats that provide a shared national experience, he suggests. The market does not – cannot – make these kinds of programmes for broad audiences. As such, ITV should be released from its other onerous public service commitments so that it can focus on these types of programmes. ‘Keep TV popular’ is Fincham’s mantra.

Hogwash. Or in the words of the London mayor, piffle. Fincham’s argument falls down on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

The market, bless it, does provide these sorts of programmes and will provide them whether or not ITV exists to commission / make them. Indeed if the market was left to its own devices there is a good chance many TV channels would make these programmes almost exclusively (which is no doubt one of Fincham’s worries).

More astonishing is Fincham’s attack on the state – on the “television that is understood by regulators, consultants, strategists and media commentators”. Not only is it far too easy to cast OFCOM and the DCMS as the villains of the piece, it’s also completely misleading. If anything, OFCOM has been one of ITV’s biggest cheerleaders. Listen to it arguing that ITV should be released from its commitments to regional news and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a party political broadcast for the third channel. It is not OFCOM’s fault that ITV has lost viewers in droves, nor that ITV made such a terrible hash of its new media strategy (remember Friends Reunited?).

As for Fincham’s apparent vision – for a channel that is subsidised to make commercial entertainment, has its profits protected from the stiff wind of competition, and has almost no other programming obligations. Can you think of any country in the world where this happens? The only parallel I can think of is the Roman amphitheatre (which some of the programmes cited by Fincham bear more than a passing resemblance to).

To whose benefit is this vision? To the publics? It seems as though the public have already made their view clear, by deserting ITV to entertain themselves in other ways. No, the vision seems only to benefit established broadcasters, most notably ITV.

Only an industry like television, that has enjoyed such a prolonged golden age, could be so myopic as to think that, purely due to its legacy, it should be such a major recipient of state support. And, that the support should come without any strings attached.

Written by Martin Moore

August 26th, 2008 at 2:02 pm

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The contradictions of impartiality

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I’m finding it more and more tricky to work out what people mean by ‘impartiality’ in news.

In the responses to OFCOM’s consultation document, ‘New News, Future News – Responses’ - released yesterday – almost all the respondents argued strongly that impartiality rules should remain in place for all broadcasters (i.e. not just for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and S4C).

ITV even said that:

“[regarding] loosening impartiality rules on some more niche or specialist news providers, ITV believes this would undermine the tradition of impartial broadcast news and act against the public interest. This could have a knock-on effect to the overall perception and confidence in broadcast news across the board”

Yet at the same time, both ITV and Five are pushing hard on integrating ‘citizen media’ to news – the first through its Uploaded service and ITV local, and the second both on its website, in partnership with Friction TV, and on its TV news.

Neither Uploaded nor Friction are ‘impartial’ – you’re encouraged to be as partial as you like, that’s the point. Friction TV’s tag is ‘spark the debate’ and ITV asks people to ‘send us your views’. And it’s not restricted to the web; ‘The very best clips’ ITV says, ‘will be broadcast on our ITV News bulletins’.

Equally, it’s pretty difficult to know if a report sent in by a member of the public (text, audio, video or still pictures) would conform to ‘impartiality guidelines’ – especially since at no point are these mentioned – yet the public are invited to send in whatever they can (for the princely sum of at least £100 at Five).

In his thoughtful piece for Prospect, ‘Impartiality Imperilled’, David Cox wrote that ‘Impartiality involves no more than the attempt to regard different ideas, opinions, interests or individuals with detachment’. But isn’t what ITV and Five (and others) are doing the opposite? Aren’t they asking their audience not to be detached but to be involved, to be quite literally partial? And if so, isn’t the end point a news which encourages partiality?

Written by Martin Moore

October 23rd, 2007 at 4:17 pm

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