ITV to explain plan to move 'News at Ten'

The ITV companies have promised a formal letter of "explanation" to the Independent Television Commission in the row over the rescheduling of News at Ten next Monday.

Roger Loughton, chairman of ITV's Broadcast Board, promised to explain the circumstances of the controversial plan to delay the evening bulletin by 15 minutes to make way for an extended episode of the hit series, Cracker, starring Robbie Coltrane.

ITV still hopes to make the change, saying yesterday the proposal had "nothing to do with a campaign to move News at Ten permanently."

The ITC is believed unlikely to grant its approval. "We don't say it can never be done," the ITC said. "But each circumstance must be viewed carefully." As a condition of their licences, ITV companies are required to show 30 minutes of news in peak viewing (6pm-10.30pm). The Cracker episode is scheduled to begin at 9pm, after the family watershed, and run 75 minutes until 10.15pm.

In the past, delays to news have been due to extended live sports transmissions, party political broadcasts or breaking current events. Last year, a two and a half hour documentary on Prince Charles delayed the news until 10.30pm. But in that instance, the ITC's prior approval was sought and granted.

If ITV goes ahead without permission, the ITC "will consider what action it might take in respect of all the channel weekday regional licences," a spokesman warned.

The ITC commissioners were said to be "livid" about the restructuring proposal, first revealed in newspaper reports over the weekend. "Having the [ITC] board members reading about this over their cornflakes is not a way to get them on your side," the spokesman said.

Adding to ITV's discomfort, the television listings published yesterday already showed the scheduling change and another listings publication is expected to come out today, also indicating the delayed start to News at Ten.

It was clear to the ITC that the ITV Network Centre had been planning to make the change for some time, and that the failure to notify the commission was an issue it takes "very seriously".

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