Let us run our own news service, plead ITV chiefs

System banning ITV from owning ITN is ‘anachronistic,’ says Jones

ITV chiefs have called on the Government to clear the way for the broadcaster to run its own news service in the forthcoming communications bill.

The present system, whereby ITV’s news has to come from a nominated news provider, historically ITN, has been retained by Media Secretary Tessa Jowell under the regime of new media regulator Ofcom.

But dismissing the present system as "anachronistic", ITV’s joint managing directors, Clive Jones and Mick Desmond, called on the joint select committee on the bill to back their plea for a Government rethink.

"We are the only major broadcasting organisation in the world not allowed to own its own news organisation," Jones told the committee, chaired by Lord Puttnam. "Why is ITV singled out? Our news service is as well regardeed as the BBC’s."

But the possibility opened up by the draft communications bill of a foreign-owned ITV means the Government will also come under increased pressure to safeguard the future independence of its news service.

The bill has built-in protection for the news provider, with guarantees of "adequate financial support" and Ofcom powers to ensure that future bids for news contracts are also assessed on the grounds of whether they provide adequate resources to sustain the quality of the news.

ITV, which announced earlier this month that it had bought out ITN’s share of the 24-hour news channel, has been criticised for cutting its news budget after a rival bid from a Sky-led consortium forced ITN to lower its price by around £10m for the 2003-2008 contract.

Channel 4 chief executive Mark Thompson argued against ITV owning its news supplier, claiming ITV’s investment in ITN had fallen in recent years.

But ITV bosses warned the committee that unless ITV was able to own its own news service, "it could effectively sound the death knell for ITN and leave the UK with only two significant TV news suppliers.

The ITV chiefs told the committee: "It undermines the prospects for the maintenance of a strong and independent third force in the supply of news in the UK [alongside the BBC and Sky News] as it runs the risk that at some point in the future ITN might lose the Channel 3 news contract." ITV also called for the Government to abandon its proposal to write in a new requirement for "adequate" funding for news, claiming "there is no evidence that the quality of ITV’s news coverage is in decline".

"At recent reviews, the Independent Television Commission has made no complaint about the quality of ITN News and has, in fact, recently praised ITV’s coverage of the events of September 11 and the death of the Queen Mother."

The joint committee has power to recommend changes to the Government when it submits its report by

7 August. The Government will then, in November, introduce its main bill, which will give MPs and peers a further opportunity to make amendments before it becomes law.

By Julie Tomlin and David Rose

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