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					SOUTH AND SOUTH EAST ENGLAND: MERIDIAN
BROADCASTING


The regional service provided by Meridian improved in several areas in

1997, including current affairs and arts. Criticisms in the 1996 review

relating to shortfalls against licence requirements in certain strands were

addressed and there was a welcome increase in new material overall. The

ITC remained concerned about the particular regional relevance of certain

programmes and the quality of regional entertainment programmes.

However, the licensee deserves credit for trying out new ideas and for the

wide range and general high quality of material provided. Meridian again

slightly increased its supply of programmes to the network in 1997 and

rightly won widespread praise for commissioning the uncompromising

drama - documentary, No Child of Mine, shown in February. The service

complied with the licence conditions.


Regional Service


Meridian’s three news centres in the South, West and South East provided

separate high quality news services in each sub-region, supported by six

local news studios across the region. Meridian Tonight, the weekday news

magazine, rated highly in the South East but lost audience in the South and

was overtaken by the BBC. The format remained essentially unchanged,

but several new elements were successfully tried in the hour long Friday

edition, including a series of reports on the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal
Berkshire Hospital in the West and a live studio phone-in to council leaders

on Kent’s budget crisis in the South East.



The regional dimensions of the two momentous national events of the year,

the general election and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, were

comprehensively reported with impressive sub-regional news specials. The

General Election coverage in each sub-region was particularly thorough

and Meridian Tonight was first with the delayed Winchester election result.

The weekly current affairs programme, 7 Days, ran a series of lively

programmes looking at regional election issues in more depth.



Current affairs series under the umbrella of Meridian Focus showed a

clearer editorial direction and improved quality after some variable

programmes in 1996. Several particularly strong regional investigations

were produced. However the eight individual editions would have been

easier to find if they had been scheduled in a regular pattern.



As regards other non-news programmes, ITC research showed that

Meridian viewers thought highly of their quality. The range of programmes

was impressive, and new ideas were tried out, with varied success, in every

area of the schedule. Over 130,000 requests from viewers were received

during 1997 for the impressive range of programme support material

produced by Meridian’s outstanding Community Liaison Unit.
Social action programmes are one of the strengths of Meridian’s regional

service. In December a campaign aimed to reunite young runaways and

missing persons with their families. Entitled Come Home for Christmas,

two powerful live one-hour specials were shown on consecutive Sundays

supported by the National Missing Persons Helpline, and by celebrity

promotions throughout the week. Spotlight, Meridian’s annual awareness-

raising week, focused on mental health in an excellent live studio-based

programme backed by a helpline and comprehensive programme support

booklet. A debate on mental health and related programmes in the Three

Minutes strand also appeared. A new series, Home Truths, tried a different

format in discussing dilemmas facing particular families by involving a

studio audience who voted on them. The ITC’s Viewer Consultative

Council (VCC) felt that the poor quality of the on-screen advice

undermined effectiveness of the series.



Arts output achieved high standards, with two new series, appealing to

different audiences: Pier Pressure, a fast-moving and innovative arts and

entertainment magazine which was made by and for young people;

Summer Festivals, a well-made and enjoyable series on festivals in the

region which was shown at 6.30pm. The regular weekly arts documentary,

The Pier, maintained last year’s improvements in both quality and diversity,

and its film editions showed a fresh and more regional approach. Finding
suitable regional slots for arts resulted in some late-night bunching of

series, although most were repeated at more accessible times.



In the 1996 review, the ITC criticised a lack of regionality in the

entertainment strand. Despite progress, Meridian struggled to find formats

that combined popular appeal with regional character. The two new series

introduced, Relative Knowledge, an undemanding family panel game co-

produced with HTV, and Truly, Madly, Weekly, a derivative news quiz

based on regional newspapers, were disappointing although both were

acceptable in terms of their regional content.



Factual output generally had a strong regional flavour, and the VCC was

impressed by the range of subjects covered. Among the most original and

interesting were Four Returns to India, taking regionally-born Asians back

to their ancestral country for the first time, and Rural Rides, retracing

William Cobbett’s horseback journeys in the south.



Because of the increase in regional programmes there was slightly less

reliance on co-productions to meet licence requirements than in 1996 and

regionality overall was less of a problem. The Parish, a well made

documentary series co-produced with Channel 4, followed the work of a

Brighton parish priest: the VCC welcomed this as a refreshing alternative

to other ‘fly on the wall’ series. By contrast, Fair Cops, a three-way co-
production with Anglia and Carlton on policewomen in Southend was of

very limited regional relevance, and the three-way co-production

Waterlines appeared contrived, in trying to link a common interest in

sailing. However In Nelson’s Footsteps, a high quality series portraying

the life of Nelson, co-produced with Anglia, showed how the schedule can

be enhanced when featuring subjects which have a natural association

between regions.



11.    It was regrettable that   Countdown to Christmas was scheduled

concurrently as a regional and a network series, and offered nothing

significant to distinguish the versions. Also Archbishop, a high-quality

documentary series on Dr George Carey, began life as a regional series but

a shorter version was then shown on the network, at different times on the

same day for part of the run. Cyber.café, a series about the Internet and its

users, was originally a late-night part-network series. In the latter part of

1997 it became a regional programme although there was little to

distinguish it from its network counterpart, and the few regional elements

included failed to give the programme a distinctive regional flavour.



Regional sport, with limited access to football, regularly covered

motorsport and sailing. An expanded range of other minority sports was

also covered, in a commendable effort to offer diversity although Beach

Volleyball was of limited audience appeal. The regionality of a new golf
magazine was not always clear, but it did offer a new attraction for the

many golfing enthusiasts in the region.



Overall, Meridian’s regional service achieved a high standard in 1997.

Production values were good, new ideas in evidence and as in previous

years the contribution made by independents was considerable. Difficulties

in finding suitable regional slots for some of the high volume of regional

output resulted in greater use of late evening slots but more use was also

made of weekday and Sunday early evening slots where regional

programmes achieved good ratings.




Supply to the Network

Meridian further increased its contributions to the network in 1997, with

particular success in drama and factual programmes.



Drama output included six new Ruth Rendell Mysteries (two of them two-

part plays). A more significant achievement was No Child of Mine, a

controversial drama-documentary about the experience of childhood sexual

abuse. This was hard to view, but intensely memorable. Meridian’s

respected Community Liaison Unit took several months to plan and set up a

sophisticated support strategy, involving a free, confidential helpline for
survivors which received over 46,000 calls and two authoritative free

publications, of which nearly 30,000 copies were distributed.



In factual programmes, Meridan’s sensitive handling of another potentially

harrowing theme, Dunblane – Remembering Our Children, was widely

praised and nominated by ITV for the Prix Italia Documentary Award.

The current affairs series Straight Up was unusual in being targeted at

young people. Despite some initial problems over bad language, the series

brought a fresh approach to familiar themes over its fifteen-week run.



Meridian continued to supply a wide range of programmes to Children’s

ITV, although there were no significant new commissions in 1997.



Compliance

One intervention occurred in 1997, concerning the children’s entertainment

programme Reboot: To Mend and Defend, shown in July. The ITC considered that the

violent content was inappropriate for the time of day and target audience.




Regional Facilities

In April 1997 the Basingstoke news bureau was closed and a new bureau

was opened on the Isle of Wight, with the agreement of the ITC. Meridian

gave an undertaking that Basingstoke coverage would not be diminished.
Audience Research

Meridian’s audience research was provided by the company’s in-house

research department and by Paradigm (Worldwide). Routine analyses of the

audience for its programmes and those of its competitors were undertaken.

The company commissioned its biennial survey of its corporate image at

the end of the year.    Among a number of ad hoc research projects

undertaken were studies of audience attitudes to the series, Summer

Getaways, and to regional news programming.

				
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