European Journalists Warn of “Disastrous” Digital Policy For UK Regional Television News

The European Federation of Journalists today warned that plans to introduce digital television services at the expense of regional news coverage in the United Kingdom may set a trend for digital development that could be disastrous for news programming in Europe.

European journalists were responding to plans by the UK broadcasting regulator to remove the obligation to provide regional news services under new digital licenses granted for commercial public broadcasting.

“There is a possibility that hundreds of jobs of journalists and broadcasters will be sacrificed in a policy that puts the future of news for the regions of Britain at risk,” said Marc Gruber, Public Broadcasting Campaign Officer of the EFJ. “If this trend is taken up across Europe we might see the death of news programming on a disastrous scale.”

The EFJ is backing protests by the British National Union of Journalists and other unions in the industry over proposals from the broadcasting regulator OFCOM, which has given the commercial public broadcaster ITV permission to halve its regional non-news output.

Hundreds of jobs have already gone, says the NUJ and 200 more are expected to be axed.

“Some departments have already stopped making programmes. Budgets have been reduced, and regional programmes have been moved out of key time slots and studios have been closed,” said Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary.

The EFJ says that there is a desperate need to protect and promote quality regional programming - including news - as part of the Europe-wide campaign for public service broadcasting.

“The regulator is planning to issue digital licenses with no requirement for regional news as well as reducing the level of non-news regional broadcasting,” said Gruber. “This is a negative model of switching to digital which if taken up elsewhere could undermine public service values in many countries where the national broadcasting systems are weaker than they are in the UK.”

The UK has one of Europe’s most extensive public broadcasting systems where the national broadcaster the BBC competes with terrestrial commercial networks that must also follow extensive public service rules. Only satellite broadcasters are beyond the reach of the UK public service regulator.

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The EFJ represents more than 200,000 journalists in over 40 countries