UTV on the brink

To highlight the plight of UTV staff when so many face redundancy elsewhere may seem like special pleading but it isn’t. The united joint statement from the Assembly leadership seems like a last ditch appeal against already authorised cuts.

“The regulator (Ofcom) believes UTV should be permitted to cut news output from five hours weekly to four and non-news programming from four hours to just 90 minutes.”

On the face of it, this sounds like UTV opting out of all but top-line news coverage and its proud history of half a century of reflecting the wider, especially the popular culture which it often carried out with considerably more panache than the more lumbering BBC.

It is always possible, although a real loss, to make fewer video reports, to get out and about less, even at a pinch, to do away with studio altogether. But jobs apart, it is now urgently incumbent on the UTV management to say what they mean by the following:

“No one is more committed to high quality regional production for Northern Ireland than UTV.”

The prospect of leaving NI with a virtual local BBC monopoly takes us back to the mid fifties, a disaster in the digital age. And no, FaceBook and YouTube and certainly RTE’s northern-focused output don’t cut it, as a complement to UTV’s deplorable reduction to the scale of a local news station in the US boondocks.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London