As previously reported by D+CFilm, ITV is keen to make big cuts in its regional television service. Their plan would mean an end to Westcountry’s local news service for Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset.
Instead, there’ll be one regional service stretching from the Scillies to Gloucester and Swindon, with, one would imagine, huge emphasis on news from Bristol. The sort of sympathetic television coverage our towns, cities, and villages have enjoyed through the years of Westward, TSW, and now Westcountry, would completely disappear.
A local TV news service lets people know what’s going on around them, keeping an eye on local government, health services, transport and utility companies. It’s an invaluable aid to the arts and tourism industries which are so vital in this popular area with its rich cultural traditions.
It’s also important to environment and wildlife campaigners who can get their message across with powerful images as well as words. Many people in this region don’t have access to daily newspapers for economic or geographic reasons, and our local television news is, unlike newspapers, free to anyone with a television.
BBC Spotlight is already threatened by budget cuts. If its ITV competition goes it’s likely to suffer even more and the region would see a further loss of public service broadcasting for this very individual and beautiful area.
Let’s have a closer look at what impact these changes could have.
Westcountry’s closure would seriously affect the economy of the region. A University of Plymouth report in 2001 said the two ITV companies in the West and South West “contributed £30.5 million to South West GDP in 2001 and supported 558 full-time equivalent staff”. This has already declined as a result of recent cuts in features and current affairs programmes, and the South West’s share would go entirely if Westcountry were to close.
The same report, by Prof. Peter Gripaios, also noted that ITV “has been important in many cases for the early survival and growth of independent companies in the region. In this way, ITV companies have acted as a ‘growth pole’ for the cultural and media industry in the South West”.
Staff at ITV Westcountry say they are obviously concerned for their own future, but they also say they care deeply about the region they live in and the service they provide.
John Andrews, the programme’s defence correspondent, said: “We all want to serve the region by keeping its issues in the public eye, and by celebrating its splendours.
“I’ve been a fan of local television news since my teenage years. I discovered more about the area where I lived through the medium of television than I did from books or newspapers.
“Television can take us to places we would never otherwise go, and that’s as true of places in our own locality as it is of exotic far away destinations. It inspired me to care about the people and places around me and I hope my reports continue to do that for new generations.”
If you want to help save local news the journalists’ and broadcast technicians’ unions, the NUJ and BECTU, are urging you to lobby your MP, register your objections with the television regulator Ofcom, and complain to ITV.
Write to your MP at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, and to Michael Grade, Executive Chairman, ITV plc, 200 Gray’s Inn Rd, London, WC1X 8HF. You can contact Ofcom at Riverside House, 2a Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 9HA.
Posted by Tim Lezard, defence correspondent, ITV Westcountry