Rob Williams: Why ITV's regional cutbacks spell a disaster for democracy

Independent Minds
  • @bobjwilliams

The disastrous effect that ITV cutbacks have had on public service broadcasting in Wales has been widely ignored by the press. It took the suggestion that shows such as Heartbeat or The Bill may be in danger, for ITV's cutbacks to become front page news worthy. Among the detritus of ITV's demise there is the anomaly of the social networking site Friends Reunited which was acquired in 2006 for the ridiculous fee of £120m.

ITV is now likely to sell it for a dramatically reduced amount. This once popular site has failed to move with the times and has become inconsequential in the light of more developed, user-friendly and responsive social networking sites like Facebook.

So far, so disastrous, but the question I have is this: given the obligations to provide Public Service Broadcasting that ITV has, why was Friends Reunited not sold earlier?

ITV has consistently cut a swathe through its public service broadcasting commitments, while this failing website hung like an albatross around its scrawny neck. The most recent decision was to merge its 17 news regions across England, Wales and the Scottish borders to just nine. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the last 15 years ITV Wales has cut its workforce from around 800 to just 100 people. This, by the way, was happening for the most part during the longest period of sustained economic growth in recent history.

The BBC will have almost complete news dominance in Wales once the current cutbacks are instigated. This is extremely worrying. News coverage of the Welsh Assembly, both print and broadcast, is extremely limited. These cutbacks will make it more so. The fact that ITV made obscene purchases such as Friends Reunited whilst deliberately and systematically destroying Public Service Broadcasting in Wales and other UK regions, is borderline criminal. Despite what ITV says, cutbacks in public service broadcasting are nothing to do with the current economic climate, they have been going on for years.

This has all happened, quite simply, because ITV didn't care about its duty to provide a public service.

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