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ITC to rule on TV share scheme

The Independent Television Commission is expected to rule, as early as tomorrow, on a controversial plan proposed by Granada and Carlton to meet Government rules on their shareholdings in ITN, the national news provider, writes Mathew Horsman.

The two ITV licence holders, which each own 36 per cent of ITN, have been told to reduce their shares to 20 per cent each by 31 December. But they have been unable to reach a satisfactory deal with potential buyers, and were still holding the shares just before Christmas.

The two companies have concocted a parking scheme, under which they would undertake not to exercise voting rights attached to the excess shares. The ITC is expected to look long and hard at the arrangements, however, in light of the Government's insistence that new shareholders be brought in. The ITC declined to comment yesterday.

Insiders at Granada and Carlton, which inherited the excess shares when they took over the smaller ITV companies LWT and Central, respectively, in 1993, complain that they are between a rock and a hard place. Potential buyers of the shares, which include other ITV companies such as Yorkshire- Tyne Tees and MAI, are offering low prices in light of the looming deadline. Granada and Carlton believe the shares should not be sold at a huge discount.

Ward Thomas, the YTT chairman, yesterday added to the pressure on the companies, saying that the ITC ought not to accept arrangements that led to Granada and Carlton keeping extra shares: "The Government made it clear they wanted the companies to adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.''