Government backs down on ads ban

The Government yesterday backed down in the face of concerted pressure from ITV companies, withdrawing a controversial amendment to the Broadcasting Bill that would have outlawed teletext advertising by Channel 3 franchises.

Several ITV companies, including HTV, Scottish and Central, had complained about the amendment, which they believed unfairly advantaged Teletext Ltd, the national teletext company controlled by Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.

A spokesman for HTV said: "They have been sensible about this, and have absorbed new information about the market." ITV companies had argued that offering teletext advertising, in conjunction with on-screen advertisements, attracted significant regional business. HTV, licence holder for Wales and the West, said last night that it earned as much as pounds 500,000 in advertising revenues from companies attracted by the combination of teletext and on- screen formats.

While the U-turn was applauded, ITV companies continued to express concern last night over the Government's apparent willingness to bow to lobbying by special interests. Associated chief executive Sir David English was said by one ITV source to have "the key to the door at National Heritage. It is annoying they are open to this kind of pressure."

Said another senior ITV source: "We won this one, but we only seem to win on the small issues."

Teletext Ltd, which provides teletext services on Channel 3 and Channel 4 nationwide, had argued that ITV companies were unfairly taking revenues away, and had questioned whether the sales of teletext advertising space was consistent with Government policy. The company, which has a public- service mandate to provide teletext services but which is free to take advertising, has built up a profitable business, particularly in the market for travel advertising. The amendment was withdrawn yesterday as the Bill went through the report stage in the House of Commons.