Written evidence submitted by ITN
ITN response to DCMS Committee Call for Evidence: Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill
Independent Television News (ITN) holds a unique place in the UK media landscape providing news services to up to 9m people daily by producing ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News as well as hundreds of hours of long-form factual programming for broadcasters and platforms through ITN Productions.
It has 67 years’ experience in public service broadcasting and is renowned for being able to deliver journalism of the highest standard across all output.
Most recently, ITN Productions has been awarded an extended contract to produce more of the weekday current affairs discussion programme Jeremy Vine, with hosts Storm Huntley and Alexis Conran keeping the conversation going from 9.15am-1.45pm until August.
All three of ITN’s early-evening bulletins – ITV News at 6.30pm, Channel 4 News at 7pm and 5 News at 5pm – are now an hour long, ensuring audiences receive a comprehensive mix of national and local coverage, alongside the latest on international events.
C4 News recently won the Bafta for best news coverage for its reporting in Ukraine.
ITN firmly believes that it is vital for viewers to have access to high quality, accurate and regulated journalism from a variety of independent sources, and that this is an essential component of a progressive democratic society. Any policy interventions which may have an impact on this environment must be carefully considered and balanced against any adverse outcomes.
ITN is home to a unique and delicate ecosystem which provides economies of scale for all three PSB news services (Channel 4 News, ITV News and 5 News). Each of ITN’s newsrooms are staffed by trained, expert journalists, producers, reporters and behind-the-scenes technical staff making daily broadcast bulletins, social media content, podcasts and digital video content right across the commercial PSBs.
Each newsroom benefits from cost-effective sharing of resources to ensure efficient value for money and maximum investment in journalism – wholly founded on decades of prowess built from the ethos of public-service broadcasting, compliance with Ofcom regulation and
high internal editorial standards.
The company recently came together to deliver coverage of the Coronation for ITV and international audiences and also covered the event on our news services – applying the standards that are used across our newsrooms to produce the historic event.
The Media Bill and its aim to protect public service broadcasting is very welcome and ITN is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s work assessing the bill in its draft state.
On a general level ITN urges the committee to make one of its recommendations to introduce the Media Bill at the soonest possible opportunity. The pace of development in the media sector is rapid, and to preserve the cultural and economic benefits of public service broadcasting in the UK, swift action is needed.
ITN’s response will focus on the value of news within the current system and to highlight how important it is to recognise and maintain the value of broadcast news in this new regime, which explicitly sets out to give prominence to PSB content.
Importance of news in public service broadcasting
ITN welcomes the requirement in the Bill for public service broadcasters to continue to provide news and current affairs from across the UK and around the world when delivering their public service remit.
Ahead of answering the specific questions related to ITN, this feels like an appropriate place to highlight the importance of regulated broadcast news.
At the Westminster Media Forum conference discussing the Media Bill in April, analyst Alice Enders described the role of UK broadcast news and the impact it has on public service broadcasting news.
In a keynote speech discussing the context of the Media Bill, Enders noted the value of impartial TV news in UK society noting that this specific characteristic “anchors society in a way that print news does not” and highlighting that it is “extraordinarily important” for the continuity of the democratic debate and discourse.
“We forget what we have here in this really precious environment”, she added, after making reference to American broadcast news.
The opinions of Alice Enders reflect ITN’s views and experience that news is at the heart of the public service broadcasting ecology and that making news content is easy to access across as many different platforms as possible is crucial to sustaining its democratic relevance and value.
These opinions are relevant to this pre-legislative work as prominence in Public Service Broadcasting is an area the committee is looking for.
Public Service Broadcasting/Prominence
The case for prominence has been clearly articulated in recent years and while the Media Bill goes some way to enshrine prominence for this specific content. However, ITN would support calls for clearer definitions of what prominence in online services looks like.
As the media landscape continues to evolve significant prominence is needed to protect audiences' ability to easily find PSB content in the same way that they are able to do with linear broadcasting.
While Part 1 of the draft Bill relating to Public Service Television and the public service remit references news and current affairs, there is no further mention of this key genre in other sections of the bill that aim to deliver prominence of public service content through online services and platforms.
The section, prominence on Television Selection Services, outlines the details by which a service will be designated and given prominence. The specific section 362AA (3) (a) and (b) set out that the internet services provided by Public Service Broadcasters should:
(a) be capable of making a significant contribution to the fulfilment of the public service remit for that licensed public service channel; and (b) that the public service remit content included in the service is readily discoverable and is promoted by the service.
However, ITN believes that consideration should be given to explicitly stating that news and current affairs should be made prominently available on these internet services within subsection (b).
While ITN understands that for an internet service to be given prominence the provider will already be heavily committed to the principles and genres of public service broadcasting, which news and current affairs are a key part of – inserting a specific requirement would safeguard future changes to ensure the availability of accurate and impartial news is protected.
As well as inserting a specific requirement for news to be available and promoted on internet service providers, ITN would support further clarification on what appropriate prominence will be in the new regime.
The legislation currently outlines that designated services from current PSBs should be given appropriate prominence and within those services, appropriate prominence should be given to public service content.
This allows both the platforms and public service media providers a wide range of flexibility on what prominence looks like. ITN believes that significant prominence would be a more appropriate term to use rather than appropriate within the Bill.
Public Service Broadcasters delivering their remit across linear and online
ITN recognises the need to give public service broadcasters greater flexibility in how they deliver their remit as audience habits change, therefore it is appropriate to be able to deliver their remit across linear and online. But, within this flexibility there needs to be specific and proportionate guarantees for news content to be made consistently available across the variety of mediums that public service broadcasters are able to deliver content on that will contribute to their remit.
The legislation is based on the need to update the current regulatory framework in response to changes in audience behaviour. ITN has often highlighted concerns about the emergence of ‘news deserts’ in conversations about how to update the UK’s regulatory framework. In 2021 ITN warned that without “a clear regulatory framework to ensure the provision and visibility of broadcast news in a digital environment, misinformation and disinformation will continue to thrive while regulated, accurate, professionally-produced news will become harder to find.
While Ofcom will have the power to monitor the services provided by public service broadcasters, ITN would argue, that the proposed framework does not create a clear regulatory framework for the provision of news in a digital environment. However, this could be easily resolved by inserting a requirement for a minimum amount of public service broadcasting news content to be made available across the platforms that can contribute towards the public service remit.
ITN welcomes the move to bring content available on VoD platforms in line with linear content and believes it is appropriate. All ITN content is produced to the same standard regardless of whether it appears on linear or online. The Media Bill is an opportunity to keep driving standards up and ensure that British broadcasting remains a global player.