Bad news for ITN as Blair misses the headlines

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ONCE YOU could rely on the ITV news to start on time; after all, Big Ben doesn't bong at three minutes to 10. But in a sign of ITV's changed priorities, the channel's new 11pm bulletin has not actually started at 11pm on a single occasion during the past three weeks.

Instead, the Nightly News, which is part of the schedule that replaced News at Ten in March, has started broadcasting at times ranging from 10.50pm to 11.05pm.

No 10 Downing Street, perhaps the most news- obsessed address in the country, is said to be fuming. Tony Blair, no less, keeps missing the start of the news because ITV moves the start time around to accommodate whatever is on before it. The Prime Minister is being displaced by James Bond films, football matches and repeats of old David Jason crime dramas.

ITV says there is nothing in its contract with the Independent Television Commission which says the nightly bulletin has to begin at the stroke of 11pm - even if listings pages claim that it does - unless it is more than four minutes out. The ITC confirmed this, saying that ITV had simply promised to run its late news at "around" 11pm.

But Labour MPs, many of whom opposed moving News at Ten in the schedule, are furious. Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, plans to put down a question in the autumn to find out how many viewers have been lost by changing the time of the news.

Claire Ward, a member of Mr Kaufman's committee, plans to complain to the ITC about the shifting times. "It's driving me mad when you turn on the TV at 11pm and find the news has started early. The whole point of a news programme is that it is on at a designated time you can rely on to find out what is happening. A new bulletin in particular needs a specific slot instead of being moved to accommodate some old James Bond film."

ITV maintains that News at Ten would often begin a moment or two adrift from 10pm and that all programmes on commercial channels are subject to slight adjustment: "It has always happened," said a spokeswoman.

"Advertising minutage will dictate when programmes start within limits. And we have more flexibility with this new news. The 6.30pm news, which is the one that has replaced News at Ten, always begins bang on 6.30pm. We can control that one because we have a live regional programme on before it. The late bulletin is preceded by recorded programmes and a set amount of sold adverts."

Moveable News

Starting times for the

Nightly News last month

Date start

12 July 10.51

13 July 11.04

14 July 10.55

15 July 11.03

16 July 11.05

19 July 10.50

20 July 11.03

Date start

21 July 10.55

22 July 11.03

23 July 11.04

26 July 11.04

27 July 11.04

28 July 10.55

29 July 11.04