Increasing ITV’s current affairs output would help sustain public service television in the UK and fill a “democratic deficit” across the country, according to a report from Goldsmiths, University of London.
The first findings released by the Future for Public Service Television Inquiry, which is based in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, highlight the importance of a strong mixed ecology in the delivering of values of public service TV in a digital age.
The report says ITV has a key role to play in this future – with the Inquiry calling on industry regulator Ofcom to construct an imaginative proposal which guarantees ITV’s role in return for a new package of regulatory and wider support.
The report calls for a doubling in the amount of ITV regional current affairs output to 30 minutes per week – and increasing network current affairs programming to the equivalent of 90 minutes a week.
It states: “It would be for ITV to decide how best to meet the creative challenge posed by these new commitments, but we believe they could hugely invigorate local reporting and democratic accountability, and re-capture the scale and ambition of the best of ITV’s historic reputation for flagship current affairs programming.”
The report adds: “With the decline in the regional newspaper industry, the need for regional representation has grown. A democratic deficit has emerged whereby local voices are seldom heard and political accountability is being lost. It should not be left to the BBC to be the sole provider of recognisable regional television.”
In return for increasing its commitment to regional non-news and current affairs output, the Inquiry recommends that a package of support could be developed, including continuing prominence on electronic programme guides (EPGs) and on on-demand interfaces as they develop.
The Inquiry further recommends that ITV (and other public service broadcasters) should be paid retransmission fees, ie should be paid for the channels that they currently make available to pay platforms such as Sky for free (in ITV’s case, this recommendation refers to its main channel, ITV1).
These findings were delivered by the Inquiry’s chair Lord Puttnam at the Sheffield Doc/Fest ahead of the formal launch of the full Report on 29 June at the British Academy.
In its Report, the Inquiry will:
Recommend that ITV, as a key PSB, should receive a range of regulatory and wider support but in return its commitment to public service should be strengthened.
Suggest that Ofcom be asked to conduct a major review of how best ITV can contribute to the PSB ecology for the next decade and beyond, including explicit commitments for programming and investment alongside a fresh look at the range of regulatory support which can be
Suggest that, alongside its continuing commitment to UK production in drama and entertainment, ITV should be asked to take on a more ambitious role in regional TV and in current affairs.
Speaking on behalf of the Inquiry, Lord 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.”