Controller orders ITN to downgrade news

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The Independent Online

Showbusiness and human interest stories will form the core of ITV's bulletins in an overhaul of the channel's news coverage. Politics is to be downgraded.

Senior executives are ordering ITN, the channel's independent news supplier, to stop reporting the daily "trivia" of Westminster. Instead they want to emphasise the more light-hearted topics of the kind covered in the "and finally" items with which bulletins conclude.

The independent station has already been accused of downgrading its serious news coverage, and the move to an even more populist format is likely to provoke renewed protest. ITV faced criticism from broadcasters and MPs when it ditched News at Ten, which it was subsequently forced to re-instate.

The change in news values is part of a re-branding that will see ITV scrapping the much-respected ITN tag – associated with its coverage for 50 years – possibly before Christmas. The use of ITN logos is to disappear from the bulletins, while in future correspondents will sign off with phrases such as "John Sergeant, ITV News" rather than referring to the name of the news provider. There are also plans to drop the familiar introduction "From ITN, the ITV news".

The change will mean more Geri Halliwell and less Gerry Adams, more Liz Taylor and less Lord Taylor, and more novelty animal stories, like that of Sundance the escaped pig. Steve Anderson, ITV's controller of news, said the re-think was intended to reflect the choice of ordinary people. "We want to spend more of our time covering stories that are about people's lives. Too much attention has been paid to the trivia of Westminster. Showbusiness matters. It's a multi-million-pound industry, so if a good Madonna story comes along we will do it. I have no problem in saying that showbusiness will feature on our agenda."

Describing ITV as "the home of sport", he confirmed that the channel's revamped news slots would also place a greater emphasis on sports coverage.

"We hold the rights to show live Premiership and Champions League football matches, and many other major sporting events," he said. "We wouldn't be providing the service people wanted if we weren't covering these areas properly." He said there were no plans for ITV to exercise day-to-day editorial control over the content of its bulletins. But he said that ITN, which was chosen last month as the preferred bidder to continue supplying bulletins over Channel 3 News, a consortium headed by Rupert Murdoch's Sky, would be given clear guidelines stipulating the kinds of stories it was expected to provide.

In a swipe at former ITN political editor Michael Brunson, who recently dismissed ITV's newly revamped 10pm bulletin and described BBC1's Ten O'Clock News as the true inheritor of the old-style News at Ten mantle, Mr Anderson said: "In John Sergeant we've got the best political editor ITN's ever had." He said the re-branding of ITV news was long overdue.

Politicians and ITN insiders are disillusioned at what they perceive to be the dumbing down of the company's news. One recent example was its failure to cover the House of Commons row about Tony Blair's decision to remove the veteran Labour MPs Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson from their chairmanships of the Transport and Foreign Affairs Select Committees.

Responding to news of ITV's latest plans, one prominent critic, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "I don't regard the size of Geri Halliwell's tits as a story, but I suppose they do."

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