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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 01:44 GMT
Fight for 'embattled' production firms
Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell has welcomed the ITC's suggestions
The Independent Television Commission (ITC) has called for protection for independent programme makers who fear being flooded out of the market by foreign TV shows.

The ITC released a report on Tuesday calling for new communications watchdog Ofcom to have stronger powers to support independent producers against the forthcoming change in media ownership rules.

The Communications Bill, published last week, outlines plans to open up UK television companies to foreign ownership, which some independent producers fear could threaten UK TV production.

If the bill becomes law, Ofcom will regulate all aspects of broadcasting in the UK, replacing the ITC and other watchdog bodies.

The ITC wants Ofcom to safeguard the future of UK producers, and ensure growth, as well as make sure original UK programmes would still be made.

It has also called for Ofcom to support regional television production outside London, as well as programmes made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And it says the watchdog should make sure there is proper training in television production.

Big Brother, an independent production
Big Brother is made by independent firm Endemol
The recommendations come after a two-month review that included public consultation.

Competition

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell had asked the ITC to carry out the report to gauge the health of Britain's independent programme-making sector.

Pact, the Producers' Alliance for Cinema and Television, has welcomed the ITC's proposals.

The producers have complained that current quotas for independent programme-making were being ignored by the BBC and Channel 4.

Terrestrial channels have to offer 25% of their programming to independent companies.

But the actual average was only 15% because channels were unwilling to offer news or large outdoor events to independent production, said Pact.

"We accept that news programming has a special significance, and that there are arguments for retaining it in-house," said Pact chief executive John McVay.

Opportunity

"But we firmly believe the principles of competition and diversity should be extended to areas of the schedule such as sports and acquisitions that are currently withheld from independent producers."

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell also welcomed the suggestions by the ITC.

"We share the goal of a vibrant independent market as set out in the report. Its health is inextricably linked to the economic and creative strength of the broadcasting industry overall," she said.

"I will take the suggestions for strengthening the independents very seriously, with the aim of giving them the framework they need to stand on their own two feet."

She denied the freeing-up of foreign ownership rules would harm independent producers. She said it was "an opportunity, not a threat".

The bill is expected to become law in mid-2003.



Setting up Ofcom

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