Backing for independent producers angers ITV

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SIR Bryan Carsberg, the Director-General of Fair Trading, yesterday cracked down on the 'anti-competitive' practices of the Channel 3 television companies, announcing rule changes to help independent programme producers.

He ruled that producers should be able to sell their programmes direct to the ITV network, bypassing the 15 ITV licensees that are currently the exclusive buyers. He also outlawed long-term contracts that unfairly penalise independent producers.

The ITV companies reacted furiously, accusing Sir Bryan of creating 'a charter for Rupert Murdoch'. Their trade body, the ITVA, said it would 'almost certainly' appeal to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

But independent producers were delighted. John Woodward, chief executive of the Producers' Alliance for Cinema and Television, said: 'This is a great day for independent producers. They now have the capacity to be profitable.'

Sir Bryan said the existing ITV networking arrangements were 'likely, indeed were in part intended, to have an anti-competitive effect on the television programme making and the television broadcasting businesses'.

Independent producers were at a disadvantage to the in-house production divisions of ITV licensees because of the extra costs of finding a willing buyer and the potential conflict of interest within licensees, he said. Producers should be able to deal direct with the ITV network centre.

Existing contracts were too long and exclusive. He ruled that the standard terms for programmes acquired by the network should be no more than five years with an option to extend for two more years. Currently the normal term is 10 plus five years.

If the ITV contractors do appeal to the MMC, as they have the right to under the Broadcasting Act, the old networking system would remain in force for at least the six months of the investigation.

Greg Dyke, chairman of the ITVA and chief executive of London Weekend Television, said the proposed new rules were unfair because they did not apply to Mr Murdoch's BSkyB, the BBC, Channel 4 or other broadcasters.

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