Carlton attacks government over ONdigital support

LONDON - ITV company Carlton Communications has attacked the government for not supporting its joint venture digital terrestrial service ONdigital, just days after condemning its partner Granada for criticising the government's handling of cross-media ownership rules.

Speaking to the Royal Television Society last night, Nigel Walmsley, Carlton's deputy CEO, questioned the government's decision to ask the private sector to finance the creation of a national digital terrestrial infrastructure while charging ITV £300m a year in extra taxes.

Walmsley was referring to the charge for the Channel 3 broadcasting licence. He added that over five years the ITV companies, which include Carlton, Granada and SMG, would still pay £1bn in licence fees, despite a saving of about £100m a year under a scheme which rebates tax for digital households.

Walmsley said, "This [£1bn fee] is equivalent to providing 5m homes or 15%-20% of the population with free set-top boxes or subsidised integrated digital TV sets."

Walmsley said that more help from the government was needed if it seriously wants to switch off the analogue signal in 2010. He has called for more frequencies and more power, which would allow ONdigital to reach a wider audience.

Carlton's attack comes just days after Granada chairman Charles Allen wrote a letter to the prime minister Tony Blair. In the letter, Allen warned that ONdigital could close because the government failed to address old-fashioned media ownership rules which prevent Carlton and Granada from merging.

This, Allen said, would leave the companies vulnerable to foreign predators.

Carlton CEO Gerry Murphy publicly dismissed Allen's comments, which were leaked to the press, as hysterical scaremongering.