NEARLY 100 jobs are to be cut at Meridian TV's newsrooms after regulators gave ITV permission to change the way it delivers regional news.

ITV News hopes the cuts across its regional services will help it to save millions of pounds.

Meridian has been particularly hard-hit by the plans, with 97 redundancies coming in the region. However, its Hampshire studios at the purpose-built Whiteley base has been safeguarded, despite the number of newsrooms nationally being slashed from 17 to just nine.

A letter sent to journalists, technical staff and other employees in England and Wales said current staffing levels of 1,075 would be reduced to 646, a cut of 429 jobs.

Unions condemned the proposals and warned of possible industrial action to fight the job cuts.

The company has already said it wants to make savings of £40 million and unions were braced for details of job cuts, with officials saying their worst fears had been realised.

Laura Davison, assistant broadcasting officer of the National Union of Journalists, said it was a ''really bad day'' for ITV News staff, estimating that the cuts amounted to 40% of total staff.

''We do not accept the level of cuts ITV News wants to make and it is difficult to see how we can avoid a fight over this.''

Ms Davison said she could not rule out industrial action by staff as part of a campaign to try to reverse the planned job losses.

Staff were told the grim news at meetings in ITV News offices across England and Wales on Tuesday morning.

ITV News said it expected around 430 jobs to be lost across the group and while volunteers were being sought, it could not rule out compulsory redundancies.

John Cresswell, ITV's chief operating officer, said: ''We are committed to a self-help, self-funding, solution to securing ITV's future. In order to sustain our investment in UK content, we have to keep on top of our cost base.''

The company said in a statement: ''Having today outlined the proposals for regional news with employees across the ITV News Group, ITV plc is providing further details of its cost efficiency programme, first announced as part of the ITV Turnaround Strategy in September 2007 and updated at the ITV year-end results in March 2008 and interims in August 2008.

''In September 2007 ITV plc announced that it would deliver £40 million of annual savings in its regional news services, taking effect in 2009. We shall now begin consultation with employees over proposals to reduce the headcount.''

The company also indicated that, in the face of ''challenging market conditions'', it intended to make further cost savings of £35 million across the company by 2010.

Media regulator Ofcom published its second public service broadcasting review last week, which proposed that regional programmes on ITV could be slashed to help it save £40 million a year.

Ofcom's consultation will run until December 4, with a final statement early next year. The Government and Parliament would then be due to consider issues raised.

ITV's regional news services were said to be among those in the firing line to ease pressure on the broadcaster as it suffers an advertising slowdown.