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UTV's local shows 'will not be lost under new owners'

By Margaret Canning

Published 01/04/2016

Claims: Lord Puttnam
Claims: Lord Puttnam

The author of a book on UTV has said ITV will protect Northern Ireland programming, despite contrary claims by film producer Lord Puttnam.

Media commentator Don Anderson said he believed ITV, which snapped up UTV in a £100m deal,  would value local shows.

Mr Anderson, author of 50 Years Of UTV, spoke after Lord Puttnam, who is heading up an inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting, said he feared for the future of local shows under ITV’s stewardship.

Puttnam, the producer of classic movies such as Chariots Of Fire and The Killing Fields, and who has also held senior positions in broadcasting, said his experience as a director at Anglia Television suggested locally-made programming could be at risk.

Under a licensing deal with telcoms watchdog Ofcom, UTV in Belfast currently broadcasts four hours of news and two hours of other content a week, with the rest of its schedules filled with content from ITV.

Ofcom is currently carrying out a change of control review to ensure UTV continues to abide by the terms of its licence.

Lord Puttnam, who now lives in Skibbereen in Co Cork, was a director of Anglia from 1982 to 1998 during a period when it became part of the wider ITV corporate family.

He said that takeover had resulted in the immediate erosion of local programming. 

“I really hope the same thing does not materialise in Belfast, and the media must ask the right questions to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he added.

“Forget all the economic arguments and think: ‘Will your region and your people be better represented, and will it have good job opportunities in the long-term?’

“I think the short answer has got to be — looking at what happened in all the British regions — a big no.”

Lord Puttnam also told how he had visited Havelock House during his time at Anglia. “I always felt it was being run by people who wanted what was best for the local community,” he said.

A spokesman for ITV said it “intends to continue with exactly the same UTV programming commitments made to Ofcom as existed before the ITV acquisition”.

He said ITV Anglia’s coverage included a monthly political programme on which the region’s MPs appear.

"It also has a well watched local news service providing programming for the east and west of the region,” he said

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