Gus Macdonald, chairman of Scottish Television, has served notice that his station is likely to ditch ITN news bulletins if Labour's plans to establish a Scottish Parliament come to fruition. STV, he anticipates, will continue to take footage and edited film packages from ITV's network news service, but the pictures would probably be introduced by its own Scottish newscaster in the context of a comprehensive programme covering Scottish, UK and international affairs.
"It would be a big challenge and I rather quail at the cost, but I suspect we will have to do it," Mr Macdonald declared in an address to the Royal Television Society.
His statement, at a dinner hosted by the Royal Television Society, startled senior ITN executives in attendance. Richard Tait, ITN's editor-in-chief, was plainly agitated, pointing out afterwards that STV is contractually- bound by the terms of its current 10-year license (which doesn't expire until 2002) to transmit national and international bulletins on the traditional model.
But he declined to expand upon this brief factual point, stating simply: "If you or Gus Macdonald can tell me who is going to win the general election, I'll comment."
ITN is anxious to preserve its position as the sole producer of networked news for all of the ITV regional franchisees and has in the past sternly resisted suggestions that it should transform itself into an agency supplying national and international footage.
This form of televisual devolution - which has been made technically feasible by advances in satellite technology - was dubbed "Prebblism' when it was first mooted in 1990 by Stuart Prebble, a senior executive at Granada Television.
Gus Macdonald, a former editor of World in Action, worked for many years at this Manchester-based station. He has long campaigned against the London dominance of British broadcasting. But his statement to the RTS late on Wednesday night was the first time he has declared publicly that he is prepared to pull the plug on London-based news presenters.