ANOTHER VIEW: Don't go, Richard and Judy

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The Independent Online
The relocation of Granada television's This Morning programme to a new London base has been presented almost exclusively as a matter of personal convenience for Richard and Judy, the show's presenters. They are tired of travelling, and finding it difficult to get big-name guests to travel to the programme, so it is goodbye to the heart of Granada television's operations in Liverpool.

There is no satisfaction now in rereading the fine words that were used to win back Granada's regional licence in 1991, and which now ring so hollow. Granada boasted on the opening page of its application that it would be the largest single contributor to ITV - "thus giving tangible evidence of a regional company's ability to make its voice clearly heard in national broadcasting - a better situation than having London impose its tastes on the whole country". Difficult to imagine anyone associated with This Morning or even the company as a whole being able to utter similar sentiments.

As the city's MPs and politicians have already protested, this is a serious setback to Liverpool. But, as a programme-maker, I would argue that it has even greater implications for the regional infrastructure of British broadcasting, one of its proudest achievements. For what Richard and Judy and the Granada management have demonstrated is that there is no longer any glue holding together the regional framework that used to be ITV. Richard and Judy's move should make it clear to everyone that the regional structure of ITV is slowly, inexorably, being dismantled.

For people in the regions, this myopic attitude does not affect ITV alone. Take the case of Channel 5, which when first mooted was widely assumed would be a non-metropolitan service. However, none of the four bidders in the recent auction offered any substantial regional output, nor were they prepared to locate themselves outside London. The hopes of 1989 for a non-metropolitan Channel 5 were not underpinned by any statutory obligation on the new channel - just as there is no regulatory obligation on Granada to supply programmes from its North-west region. It can just sit back and enjoy its regional monopoly of television airtime.

In the New Year, the Government will introduce a Broadcasting Bill to lay the foundations for the next generation of broadcasting - digital television - which promises many more channels. But there is as yet no regional dimension to the Government's plans. It is time to learn the lessons of Channel 5 and ITV and ensure that a legislative framework is guaranteed for regional, local and city television within digital television - as is already the case in commercial radio.

When the Bill is passed, there must be frequencies set aside for regional services only. Without a statutory guarantee, something that is central to the vast majority of the population which lives outside London will remain at the whim of a few individuals' travel arrangements.

The writer is chairman of Mersey Television.