BBC's Huw Edwards: 'We beat them before and we'll do it again'

Facing a head to head with the 'News at Ten', Huw Edwards, presenter of the BBC 'Ten O'Clock News', says his talented team is just too strong for the opposition
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The Independent Online

So News at Ten is back. Again. And my good friend Sir Trevor is back. Again. Our television news landscape is changing, but I am not one of those at the BBC (there are one or two) who think the return of News at Ten is nothing for us to worry about. I have far too much respect for the talents of ITN's journalists to think like that. Their competitive drive is as tough as any, and they have an enviable track-record in getting to the heart of a story. They respond nimbly and decisively to big events. They are formidable competitors in every sense. They have been badly hampered in recent years by much smaller budgets and hostile scheduling.

But people tend to forget that we have been here before, and the BBC emerged as the clear winner. News at Ten was originally axed in 1999, and then revived in 2001. ITV couldn't even guarantee a sharp 10pm start, nor could it commit to five nights a week. It did so badly against the BBC's Ten O'Clock News that it was killed off a second time in 2004. This time, ITV can't afford to fail.

We take that challenge very seriously. I expect they take us seriously, too. The BBC's Ten – already Britain's most popular television news programme – has added 320,000 viewers in the past year. This has been achieved at a time when news audiences are fracturing. No other news programme on any channel can begin to match that performance. We've had a terrific 12 months during which we've broken some big stories – such as John Simpson's reports from Sadr City or uncovering people being treated as slaves in UK. Robert Peston's golden scoop on Northern Rock's crisis left every other news organisation, including ITN, scrambling to catch up.

One of the very few regrets of my career is that I never had the opportunity to work for my fellow Welshman, Sir David Nicholas, the man who took ITN to its greatest heights. Under him, News at Ten set new standards of quality and style, and developed the sharpest journalism. It is very difficult to see a return to those glory days. ITN no longer has the resources to deliver a programme on that scale. Nor does it have the necessary strength in depth. We have 41 foreign bureaux and a superb network of teams throughout the United Kingdom.

The Ten showcases the very best of that talent. John Simpson, Nick Robinson, Robert Peston, Fergal Keane and Gavin Hewitt are just some of the stellar talent we can deploy. It was interesting to see David Mannion, ITN's current boss, declaring that News at Ten will be "scoop-driven", and will offer "more analysis". He knows that he is taking on a programme with an impressive record in both areas.

ITN's reputation now depends entirely on the success of its traditional television news bulletins. It is no longer a player in continuous news, and its website presence is low-key. So the minimum commitment to viewers is surely a regular presence at key times in the ITV schedule.

A serious lunchtime slot has already been abandoned. They perform well in the 6.30pm slot. But the vital question is: will the reborn News at Ten deliver this commitment? Surprisingly, it will not. It will be broadcast four nights a week only. Viewers will draw their own conclusions.

Contrast this with the BBC's absolutely rock-solid commitment to providing news at 10pm, six nights a week. Viewers notice these differences, and they are also aware of the breadth and tone of the coverage. The breadth of the Ten's coverage will be in evidence again this week, and viewers will enjoy some memorable stories. The gap between the Ten and the ITV Late News was so big that Michael Grade simply had to do something about it. He's gone for the obvious answer. So how is the battle likely to develop? In one sense, we share a common problem. Scheduling plays an absolutely crucial part in delivering an audience for us. If ITV produces lots of popular drama in the 9pm slot, and BBC1 fails to meet that challenge, the revived News at Ten will benefit handsomely. There is a solid core audience for the BBC's Ten O'Clock News, but the nightly challenge is to add viewers to that core. This can boost an audience of 4.5 million to 5.5 million or more.

We have one other distinct advantage. Our viewers like the mix of international, national, regional and local news which comes together at 10pm. The prominent contribution from the BBC's Nations and Regions is hugely popular, at a time when ITV's commitment to regional news coverage has never been weaker.

Bringing both programmes together at 10pm will inevitably affect the viewing figures. I'm not going to say that this isn't a serious issue for us. It is. But we are also clear that the 10pm slot is now recognisably ours, and we have made a big success of it. We are not in this for a few weeks of glib headlines.

For us, this battle is about the BBC's commitment to provide the highest quality news programme, at the best time. We're going to carry on doing just that.

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