BBC's pounds 1m offer to McDonald

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The Independent Online
A GAME of newsreader musical chairs looked set to break out yesterday when it emerged that the BBC is trying to poach Trevor McDonald from ITN.

The BBC already has a number of its star newscasters worrying about their futures whilst it undertakes a root and branch review of its news programmes.

Now Sir John Birt, the BBC's Director General and Alan Yentob, Director of Television, have asked McDonald to present one of the corporation's flagship bulletins for a reported pounds 1m a year.

McDonald, 58, has been ITN's main evening news presenter since 1992. However, his contract is up for renewal and there is some uncertainty about the future look of news bulletins on both the BBC and ITV.

The ITV companies which buy news from ITN are keen to move News at Ten to an earlier slot next year to allow films and drama programmes to be shown uninterrupted in the late evening. A 6.30 bulletin to replace News At Ten is one favoured option.

Meanwhile BBC newsreaders like Peter Sissons and Michael Buerk have been told their contracts will not be renewed ahead of a long delayed review of news output at the BBC. The corporation started its news review last year after research showed its programmes were too concentrated on politics and had declining appeal among younger viewers.

Trevor McDonald is thought by some of the BBC to have a lighter, more accessible presenting style that could bring viewers back. McDonald's solo presence at News At Ten is credited with giving the programme a lead over the Nine O'clock News in the ratings.

Last year News At Ten had an average audience of six million to the Nine O'clock News' 5.4m. The BBC programme's ratings were particularly badly hit during the general election when its extended running time turned viewers off.

McDonald is thought perfect for a magazine-style news programme, which may replace the Six O'clock News. This new 6pm show has been dubbed "Son of Nationwide" by BBC insiders after the Seventies magazine programme.

A BBC news spokesman said yesterday: "There is a lot of speculation going on about who might come and go both at the BBC and ITV. But there has been no formal approach made to Trevor McDonald from the BBC."

Because ITV is also changing its current affairs output and on the hunt for star anchors the BBC last week secured top presenter Jeremy Paxman's future with the corporation by signing him up to present Newsnight and Radio 4's Start The Week for four years at a cost of pounds 1m. Independent producers bidding for a new hour-long current affairs show on ITV had hoped to use Paxman as the programme's main presenter. The new ITV show will be based on the long-running American programme Sixty Minutes.