Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ofcom endorses ITV news overhaul

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Ofcom has backed ITV's plans for the south of Scotland

Major changes to ITV news services in southern Scotland have been endorsed by media watchdog Ofcom.

It backed plans for the Border and Tyne Tees areas to be merged with a single main regional weekday bulletin.

The regulators said ITV had "pledged to maintain" specific local content for the south of Scotland within its services to address public concerns.

Ofcom has also recommended a new way of funding be found for broadcast news across Scotland as a whole.

The watchdog said ITV's plans to merge services provided a way of ensuring a news service continued across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

It said: "To maintain the future of regional news in southern Scotland, Border and Tyne Tees areas will be served by a single regional main weekday bulletin.

I am hugely disappointed with the outcome of this Ofcom report, which amounts to the final nail in the coffin of Border TV
John Lamont MSP

"ITV has now pledged to maintain, within a revamped Lookaround programme, a specific local bulletin broadcast at 6pm and 10.30pm for audiences in southern Scotland."

At present, the south of Scotland is covered - along with Cumbria and the Isle of Man - from offices in Carlisle.

Under the new scheme ITV will operate out of a base in Gateshead.

The decision has been criticised by politicians for the area.

Tory MSP John Lamont said: "I am hugely disappointed with the outcome of this Ofcom report, which amounts to the final nail in the coffin of Border TV.

"Thousands of people supported the campaign to save Border TV and this announcement represents a complete failure by Ofcom to stand up for those who depend on their local news service."

Labour MP Russell Brown also expressed his disappointment.

"ITV, and unfortunately Ofcom too, have substantially ignored local people's outrage at the swingeing cuts to local news," he said.

"They should have recognised that people want more not less local TV programming."

That view was echoed by Lib Dem MP Michael Moore who said people would feel "let down" by Ofcom.

However, South of Scotland SNP MSP Christine Grahame said the move meant there were now "strong grounds" for extending STV's franchise into southern Scotland.

In addition to endorsing the news shake-up, Ofcom has also suggested a new way should be found to fund broadcast news in Scotland.

One method could be a fund to pay for Scotland-wide TV, local TV, online and radio content, it said.

The report added: "The Scottish Broadcasting Commission has proposed the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network (SDN).

"SDN would provide news and other programmes via traditional TV and online methods.

"Responses to our consultation were also in favour of this new network, alongside STV."

Ofcom said that "if resources and competing priorities allow" the Scottish and UK governments should consider such options in order to decide "what's best for Scottish viewers".

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