Whispers from the Yorkshire coalface

Regional television programming is well loved, and vital when a story breaks outside London. So why is it being slowly killed off, asks Michael Jones
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The Independent Online

It's not right fair. You had to sympathise with the media student on work experience in the Calendar newsroom at ITV Yorkshire this week. Coming to the end of her £4,000-plus investment in a postgraduate course in broadcast journalism, she now faces the task of getting employment in an increasingly uncertain industry. She found herself in a packed regional television newsroom on the day they announced 38 redundancies - oh, and an "exciting" £1.8m investment in new technology.

And there could be more job losses to come. Ofcom is set to rubber-stamp the ITV bosses' request to reduce their weekly regional non-news programming from three to 1.5 hours per week - up for the chop are local favourites such as Dales Diary (a whimsical look at the characters and sights in the Yorkshire Dales) and the double RTS award-winning Rugby League Raw (a warts-and-all look at the second tier of semi-professional rugby league).

By the way, the boss in Leeds is in hot water with his workers. MPs have been bombarded with requests for parliamentary support to challenge Ofcom's proposed regional cutbacks. Fair play to them (the MPs that is) that they've taken up the cause with all the gusto of a ban on hunting. One local MP recently wrote to the ITV Yorkshire boss asking for an explanation and, with all the aplomb of a graduate of the Gerald Ratner school of motivational management, the boss repeated Ofcom's statements that the programmes to be lost were "poorly appreciated" by viewers and at the margins of output. The MP forwarded this correspondence to his constituent and the letter is now on the staff tea bar wall. (No noticeboard is big enough to display all the correspondence.) What hope is there if the bosses can't even champion their own output?

So the bosses don't care that regional telly is dying on its backside, but why should they? YTV launched the careers of Richard Whiteley, Jonathan Aitken and Richard Madeley. (Yes, he began as a Yorkshire TV news reporter and, yes, archive footage from the early 1980s shows that he still has the same hairstyle.) Can we rely on the London-based national media outlets to give us decent and informed coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, the Bradford fire, the Great Heck train crash, PC Broadhurst's murder or the Bowyer/ Woodgate trial? The bigwigs at ITV News were very grateful this week for ITV Yorkshire's in-depth coverage and background report on the David Bieber murder trial - the Leeds material winged its way to London - but will those same appreciative news bigwigs be knocking down Charles Allen's door to keep the level of journalistic and technical expertise in the regions that produced those much-lauded reports?

The PM is a big footy fan, and with all of Yorkshire's football clubs outside the top flight, who will report on the latest takeover shenanigans at Elland Road or boardroom battles at Hillsborough? The network's canter into regional football consists of buyouts at Man Utd and Wayne Rooney's choice in women.

Charles Allen, chief executive of ITV (and, incidentally, co-chairman of London's 2012 Olympic bid, which, with all the wining and dining probably means he hardly ever sees any telly) must think a decent night's viewing consists of: Emmerdale, Corrie, Britain's Worst Holiday from Hell Scumbags, more Corrie, I'm a Minor Celebrity, more Corrie, I'm a Minor Celebrity Extra, News at 10.30ish unless we've got a movie on, Late night I'm a Minor Celebrity... Just have a look at ITV3 to peep at the future.

Do the viewers care? Apparently not if you look at the ITV companies complaints logbook - "Ant and Dec's goldfish bowl on I'm a Celebrity is too small for the fish" and "Was Frankie Barlow's coat real fur on Corrie?".

But things are looking up for those regional staff who'll survive this week's cull. There's a whopping 2.8 per cent pay rise with 0.5 per cent in ITV shares on its way. Of course, the advantage of giving salary increases in shares is that they aren't involved in redundancy payment calculations. They must be worth having, though. The big boss was granted 390,000 of them (at 108.5p a share) last week for the "achievement of performance targets". You've got to trust their judgement, though - ITV Digital, G-Whizz and the WellBeing Health Channel - maybe, just maybe, they've got it wrong with their regional cutbacks.

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