BBC races to launch own 'News at 10'

Greg Dyke has decided to bring his plans for the BBC to air a 10pm news broadcast ahead by six months in a move which could affect coverage of the next general election.

Greg Dyke has decided to bring his plans for the BBC to air a 10pm news broadcast ahead by six months in a move which could affect coverage of the next general election.

Previously, the director-general had intended to launch the service in September, but he is now looking at May, considered the most likely month for voters to return to the polls.

The move would clash with ITV's plan to revive News at Ten in January, after the outcry over its failed experiment with an 11pm bulletin.

Leading politicians are concerned that such a direct contest would lead to a drop in standards. Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, who is trying to dissuade Mr Dyke from his plans, is "worried," according to friends, that if the two news programmes are scheduled at the same time, "they will start competing against each other and going down market in the competition for ratings. There would be a danger of the BBC leading the news on Big Brother rather than Kosovo".

Mr Smith cannot order Mr Dyke to drop his plans - that power rests with the BBC governors. But his friends told the Independent on Sunday that he is "deeply concerned" that the BBC would deprive audiences of the choice of when they watch the late news, and he regards that as a "serious democratic loss".

Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Opposition Leader, William Hague, are said to agree. The cross-party criticism is the only co-ordinated political attack on a specific BBC policy in recent history and many believe Mr Dyke will be forced to back down.

Mr Smith has told friends that he is worried that Britain is becoming more like America, where news bulletins are broadcast simultaneously on different channels - and news audiences are in rapid decline.

He will raise the issue in a meeting with Mr Dyke in two weeks time. He is, say friends, very keen that there should be no direct political pressure on Mr Dyke - and is counting on the BBC governors to force the director-general to reverse his decision. The issue will come up at a governors meeting in three weeks' time.

But Mr Dyke showed no sign of changing his position, a BBC spokeswoman said. Research shows there would be no significant reduction in news audiences if the BBC news moved to 10pm, she said.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have attacked the BBC policy. Peter Ainsworth, the Tory culture spokesman, will meet Mr Dyke this week to try to persuade him to change his decision. "The BBC is clearly in the wrong," he said.

* The Government is to draw up plans to regulate new technologies - such as TiVo, launched last week - which allow viewers to create their own virtual television channels by taping programmes from all over the spectrum and putting them together into a package.

Ministers fear the development could lead to further "dumbing down" and the death of public service broadcasting. They intend to include proposals in the Communications White Paper, due out at the end of November.

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