Gloves off as ITV and BBC slug it out over public service broadcasts

Click to follow
The Independent Online

ITV and the BBC have begun their war of words as they lobby media regulator Ofcom to reduce their public service broadcasting (PSB) requirements.

ITV and the BBC have begun their war of words as they lobby media regulator Ofcom to reduce their public service broadcasting (PSB) requirements.

In its submission to Ofcom, ITV claims that its PSB requirements will become commercially unsustainable as more homes take up multi-channel television. It says it could be forced to hand in its Channel 3 licences and broadcast via an alternative national frequency free of PSBs if they are not eased or alternative funding provided.

But the BBC has hit back, accusing ITV of pleading poverty to get a better deal.

"The BBC does not share the overly pessimistic view of their [commercial PSBs] future prospects contained in Ofcom's report," it says. "We would contend that there is a tendency in certain quarters to overplay the financial vulnerability of the main commercially funded networks in the UK, which also over-exaggerate the cost of their public service obligations."

It adds that ITV's PSBs should not be relaxed too much as they would be "out of step with audience expectations" and that ITV, as the dominant commercial broadcaster, is financially robust enough to support PSB.

ITV says it spends £475m each year on licence fees and PSB programmes, which include 104 hours of religious programming, 365 hours of network news and 520 hours of children's television. It says it needs greater commercial freedom to be able to compete with rivals such as Sky, which has no public service remit.

In its submission published last week, it argues that its licences fees - or "super tax" - must be dramatically cut. It also says that compensation to help fund its PSBs could include preferential channel listings on the Freeview EPG and more capacity to launch new channels on digital terrestrial television. Other direct benefits to fund non-commercially viable PSB could also include a share of the licence fee, which it says should no longer be seen as the BBC's "birthright".

As the analogue switch-off, now set for 2012, approaches, ITV argues that it would be "unrealistic" to impose PSB requirements when its rivals are free to operate without them.

In the worst-case scenario, it warns: "Either the owners of Channel 3 licences will hand them in and seek to broadcast via an alternative national frequency free of PSB requirements; or, the regulator will need to effectively pay the Channel 3 licence holders to continue to meet these obligations."

Comments