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Regional Broadcasting (East Midlands)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 30th March 2004.

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Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State (Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts) 3:47 pm, 30th March 2004

I will answer my hon. Friends' comments together. Yes, I do think that that duty exists, and I shall explain how it works. There are targets, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield just referred to, for four hours of local news. That figure has not been reduced. It is part of the contract that Central has with Ofcom for delivering localness. Indeed, localness is written into the Communications Act 2003 in a way that it was not included in legislation before. The Government have acted to protect localness by including in primary legislation the requirement that Ofcom must have regard to it. That is absolutely at one with what my hon. Friend is saying.

On localness, people must know where they stand. When the commercial contract is signed, companies are given targets for the delivery of local programming and production which they must meet. Local programming is what we are debating: programmes about local issues, made outside the M25. No matter how Carlton reorganises itself, those targets remain the same. They do not change because of the merger or job losses. People cannot say, "We're closing the east midlands centre, so we're reducing the number of hours of local news that we'll broadcast. The four hours is part of the target of eight and a half hours of regional programming—or rather it is not a target, but a deal; it does not change. Four hours of that total is local news. The allocation was increased the last time that the targets were looked at.

Ofcom has a statutory duty to ensure that the targets are met and that any reorganisation of the delivery of services in the region does not negate them. In the commercial world, as long as those targets are met, companies have discharged their responsibility to achieve localness. As far as I am aware, nobody called for an Adjournment debate on those targets before the job losses were announced, so I can only assume that the debate is now about whether the targets will be met.