Arts and drama threatened under Ofcom rule change for ITV and C5

Joanna Taylor

Proposals by Ofcom to relax ITV and Channel 5′s public service commitments could signal the end of arts and original drama on those stations, a leading television campaigner has warned.

The regulator last week published the first phase of a major review into public service broadcasting, which recommended scrapping ‘box-ticking’ rules requiring broadcasters to show specific amounts of arts, drama, children’s and religious programming.

Chairwoman of broadcasting pressure group the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Jocelyn Hay has criticised the report, saying that she can find no evidence of Ofcom’s determination to ensure these genres remain an “integral part of British broadcasting”.

She added: “It seems that ITV1 and C5 are to be relieved of important public service programme obligations in regard to programmes such as arts and original drama, which under the 2003 Communications Act form a valued part of their public service remit – in the belief that in the new digital age, the ‘market’ will provide them. But where is the evidence of this?”

Ofcom recommends in its review that ITV, C4 and C5 should be given broader and more general remits. It states that ITV and C5′s core PSB requirements will now be news, regional news and original programming. Channel 4 will continue to have a key role in developing innovative, original PSB output but again will be able to claim more of its output as PSB.

Chief executive of ITV Broadcasting Mick Desmond welcomed the report. He said: “The report highlights that viewers take a broad view of what PSB is. For viewers, soaps and sport have as much of a role to play as the more traditional PSB genres like arts and religion.”

Under the current system, ITV has to air 365 hours of news and current affairs, 104 hours of religion and 39 hours of arts per year, which chief executive Charles Allen has claimed costs the broadcaster £400 million per annum. C4 is required to air at least three hours of multicultural programmes each week.

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