Keep regional programmes, Smith tells ITV

Keep making distinctive regional programmes, the Government is to tell independent television companies. Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, is to introduce tough new requirements preventing "Identikit" coverage.

Keep making distinctive regional programmes, the Government is to tell independent television companies. Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, is to introduce tough new requirements preventing "Identikit" coverage.

Mr Smith told the industry he believes production of programmes such as Coronation Street, Boys from the Blackstuff and Heartbeat is one of the "great glories" of British television.

The Government's Communications White Paper, expected before Christmas, will also make it clear that mergers of regional television companies will not be an excuse for scrapping regional slots viewers have been used to. There will be no end to local television for local people.

Government sources indicate the existing requirements designed to preserve regional identity in each of the 14 regional television licences will be the minimum standards recommended in the White Paper on regulation of the communications industry for the next decade.

Mr Smith used a recent private seminar at Downing Street to make clear to industry his absolute commitment to public service broadcasting and regional diversity. "Developing regional talent and regional voices, together with geographic, gender and cultural diversity will be of increasing importance if we are to release the full creative potential of this country."

But the industry, while stressing a commitment to regional programming, remains hostile to detailed regulation. Susan Woodward, head of regional services at Granada, said: "We have a passionate belief that regional television is an absolute must for ITV, but we think our delivery should be measured in other ways - in terms of quality."

Colin Stanbridge, the managing director of broadcasting at Carlton, said it was a myth there was less regional broadcasting than there used to be. They already exceeded the amount of regional production they were obliged to provide.

But Lord Puttnam, in his lecture to the Royal Television Society, said: "As ITV becomes ever more focused on a national agenda, I have a suspicion even regional news will find itself squeezed into a once a day opt-out ghetto.

"I regard Michael Green, Clive Hollick and Gerry Robinson (the bosses of ITV companies) as real friends. But I don't believe for one moment that the provision of regional news features particularly high on their agenda - and in all fairness there is no reason why it should, as their own focus on the ITV system becomes increasingly national."

He said ITV was becoming a "single national broadcaster" but people were "showing an ever-stronger preference for locally-produced programming of all kinds".

He added: "People everywhere are responding to the cold wind of global competition by sinking their roots that much deeper into their local community and the greater sense of permanence it seems to offer."

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