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
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
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
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.