The coronavirus pandemic has shown that the BBC and ITV need to invest in local news.
Local news programmes on BBC One and ITV are some of the most watched programmes on a daily basis. The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in the number of people watching their local news. BBC regional news programmes at 6.30pm have been attracting figures approaching 8 million viewers.
It’s not uncommon for the public to turn to their local news programmes in times of crisis. People want to know what’s going on in their area and how the big story everyone is talking about if affecting their lives. Local news is also a comfort blanket; a familiar face, reassuring voice and a friend that you know and respect.
Never more so today has the public needed good, reliable, local news programming. The coronavirus means that broadcasters have to get the right balance in terms of keeping their staff safe but managing to bring viewers the service they expect.
BBC One has stopped its regional news updates during Breakfast. ITV has reduced their lunchtime and late bulletins – two bulletins that already suffered at the hands of ITV putting revenue above their public service requirements.
The local TV channels such as Tyne and Wear TV and London Live have failed in their remit to deliver local news of the standard expected by the public. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the news output was limited and the channels relied heavily on programmes that have nothing to do with the local area.
Local Television Limited, the people behind Tyne and Wear TV, can often be found running repeats of Judge Judy rather than getting to the heart of the stories that matter to the public. You’ll often find their lead presenter standing in front of a bush or a balcony, reading off a short summary of police and council press releases.
A number of the initial channels which launched in 2014 are either no longer broadcasting or have been merged into bigger groups, such as Local Television Limited. We asked Ofcom whether they’d been failure on their part for granting licences to companies who would go on to either under deliver or fail.
“We completed our standard checks on the directors, shareholders and any affiliated companies linked to either the licence-holding company, or where directors held directorships at other organisations. When we grant licences, we must be satisfied that the ownership structure for the licence-holding meets the relevant statutory obligations. The process we completed when licensing local TV services was identical to the checks we complete for all our licensees.”
Over the past six years media regulator Ofcom has continued to agree to cuts in the requirements of live and local programming at the request of the companies. Ofcom told us that they recognise the financial struggles but ensure the character of the services are maintained.
Ofcom does not cut down the commitments of local TV licences, it considers programming commitment change requests. 34 locations across the UK now have access to local TV, and the reach of these services means that just over half of the UK population has access to local TV content on digital terrestrial TV. However, we recognise the financial struggles of the sector and our decisions take account these challenges, while ensuring the character of the services is maintained.
Once the coronavirus pandemic is over there needs to be a long hard look at all broadcasters as to whether they have met their commitments to public service broadcasting. There also needs to be a re-working at the BBC and ITV to ensure audiences are getting the best from their local news services.
The local television network also needs looking at. No one wants to watch someone reading out the headlines from a car park or a report put together by the amateur media club. It’s a great way for university media students to learn their craft, but they shouldn’t be leading it and the people at the top shouldn’t be letting them package and produce such sub standard content.