Right of Reply: The director of programmes, ITV Network, replies to a speech by the head of BBC Broadcast

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The Independent Culture
IT'S NOT been a good month for the BBC. So I am hardly surprised that Will Wyatt decided to use his speech to the All-Party Media Group at Westminster - repeated in this newspaper last week - to rip into ITV. It's an old PR tactic, but one that only serves further to tarnish the Corporation.

Will's line is that as broadcasting becomes more competitive, the BBC will stick to its Reithian values while ITV and the rest ditch the baby of public service broadcasting along with the bath water of quality and diversity. Like most "spin," it's a simple lie, distorting a complicated truth.

ITV is not ashamed of broadcasting popular programmes. But who ever said that popular programmes couldn't offer quality and diversity? ITV spends more then pounds 800m a year in original production. We broadcast more drama, more factual programmes, more arts and more news than BBC1.

The national debate about "dumbing down" - and the BBC's Reithian posturing - is insulting to an audience with highly sophisticated viewing habits. It is viewers who demand diversity and quality. By raising our game - and increasing investment - ITV has started to turn the tide of audience decline, a major achievement for any network. We have begun the year with a peak-time audience share of more than 40 per cent. Not just on the back of Coronation Street or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, great programmes that they are. But also on epic drama such as Hornblower, evocative documentary like Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island and uncompromising drama-documentary such as The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Today we launch two flagship news programmes. Tomorrow a live Budget programme. Within weeks, an hour-long current affairs programme in peak time.

So we'll take no lectures from the people who spent pounds 2m of licence payers' money to bring you The Vanessa Show. We invite Independent readers to watch ITV and judge for yourselves.

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