MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Eyre must fight for an ITV free market after his news war

Amid the clamour surrounding the momentous news about Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to buy Manchester United, it’s easy to forget more mundane matters such as News at Ten.

Amid the clamour surrounding the momentous news about Rupert

Murdoch’s attempt to buy Manchester United, it’s easy to forget more

mundane matters such as News at Ten.



Even before it was usurped by the epoch-making BSkyB bid, it was

tempting to dismiss as old hat ITV’s formal submission to be allowed to

move the main news bulletin. Tempting, but wrong.



OK, so details of the proposals have been widely known for some time,

while the pros and cons of the move have been debated for as long as

I’ve been writing about media. Even the intervention of the Prime

Minister, Tony Blair, was predictable. Last time, in 1994, John Major

stepped in.



On that occasion, however, ITV backed down. This time, the momentum is

greater, the three main power brokers in the ITV network are stronger

and all are united behind the network’s chief executive, who is fresh

and ready for a fight.



Whether Richard Eyre will need one is uncertain. Sure, the politicians,

encouraged by Blair, will have their say, but the arguments in favour of

the move are so compelling that the Independent Television Commission

surely cannot refuse.



The huge number of news bulletins and even whole news channels that

exist today give the viewer who wants to watch the news no excuse for

not being able to find it. The presence of all this choice underlines

what, for ITV, is a huge increase in competition - not just in news -

which, as a commercial enterprise, it has a duty to respond to. If the

ITC is to prevent ITV from exercising this duty, it needs to find a

better reason for doing so than anyone’s thought up so far in all the

years the debate has been raging.



High-minded paranoia about the consequences of not having a late peak

news bulletin on the main commercial network simply won’t wash. Let’s

face it, there isn’t a great deal of what Tony Blair would recognise as

’news’ in Britain’s best-selling newspaper, but that didn’t stop him

enlisting its support at the last election. Nor does it stop people

buying broadsheets.



But then newspapers are produced in a free market. It would be

ludicrous, for example, to try and compel the Daily Telegraph to carry a

certain proportion of items about religious affairs. But ITV is forced

to do so.



The media - newspapers or TV - are broad and diverse enough to cater for

most tastes. And for those not catered for by commercial TV, there’s the

BBC.



To my mind, this is the battle ITV should be preparing to wage once it

has won the News at Ten fight. Instead of continuing their doomed

campaign to have the BBC regulated by the same body as ITV, Eyre and his

supporters in the advertising community should accept the difference

between the two - and use it to ITV’s advantage. After all, the logic

for moving the news is exactly the same as that for freeing ITV from the

shackles of all its public-service commitments.



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