Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Regional Broadcasting (East Midlands)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 30th March 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield 3:30 pm, 30th March 2004

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I received the same letter—indeed, it was sent to all east midlands Members. I was, at the very least, disappointed. In fact, I thought the letter a disgrace. I thought that I was receiving a letter from the chief executive of ITV—it read exactly like that. It is not the job of Ofcom to do the dirty deals and business of ITV. Rather, it was established to protect ordinary people's rights, needs and aspirations in respect of creative media communications coverage.

I was also disappointed that, five or six days after I tabled the early-day motion to which all colleagues in this Chamber have added their signature, I received a telephone call from a senior Ofcom official who made various excuses as to why ITV should be allowed to do what is proposed and said that it was quite a good thing and TV coverage would generally progress. I had to remind her that it was not her job to serve ITV. Ofcom's job is different: it is about public protection.

Many hon. Members here today and some who are in Committees elsewhere are furious about the situation. For those who represent seats in the east midlands, it is causing major anger and disquiet. We cannot understand why these events are occurring. We all believe that the proposals are extremely detrimental and will lead to nothing other than the east midlands once again becoming, as it was 20-plus years ago, the Cinderella region and—I say this with all due respect to the Minister and the seat that she represents—being reliant on the bigger, brasher brother in Birmingham for any coverage that it receives on major issues that are important to the people of our region.

Let us consider some of the facts that I have managed to glean on the issue. Since the formation of the single ITV company, hundreds of jobs have been lost in TV broadcasting in the regions, and studios have been closed irrespective of their profitability. The first closure programme involved the Northam studios in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham, who takes a close interest in these matters. Those studios, which were the birthplace of programmes such as "The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, "Worzel Gummidge and "That's Life, closed with the loss of 175 jobs. Other studios have closed in other parts of the country. Now it is the turn of Nottingham, the home of shows such as "Family Fortunes, "Popstars and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Just as importantly, it is the base of "Central News East, the hub of news delivery for the east midlands, which has regularly won awards for its coverage, including the world gold medal this year for its programming.

The Government are deeply committed to regionality. As recently as June 2002, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said in respect of broadcasting:

"Regional character matters. We will look to Ofcom to defend it with vigour.

Sadly, as has been pointed out, we are getting no vigour at all when it comes to the protection of people's rights and the opportunity to receive fair and decent local coverage. Instead, we are getting representation by Ofcom in favour of amalgamation and the isolation of regions such as ours.

If we do not get our act together, worse is yet to come. A significant period elapsed before the proposed closure was challenged. If we rely simply on Ofcom, it will be too late. The boards and shutters will be put up on the studios. The teams will be disbanded and lost. Journalism will have to rely on Birmingham as the main area of supply. All the good work and all the money that has been spent on recruitment, technology, mechanisms and methods for these people to work will be gone and will be difficult to replace.