Minister opposes 10pm BBC news plan

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, told the BBC yesterday that its plans to move the evening news to 10pm do not make sense, and called on the corporation to reconsider.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, told the BBC yesterday that its plans to move the evening news to 10pm do not make sense, and called on the corporation to reconsider.

The remarks follow ITV's decision to bring back nightly news at 10pm for at least three nights a week.

Mr Smith was asked on BBC News 24 whether the BBC should now abandon its plans to move the 9pm bulletin. "I hope the BBC will now have a think about that," he said, "because I don't think havinga head-to-head conflict between the main news bulletins of the BBC and ITV would make sense."

He welcomed ITV's decision to schedule a news bulletin at 10pm for 20 minutes three times a week, but said he would have preferred it to be every day of the week.

Mr Smith's disapproval of the BBC move is a bitter, but not unexpected, blow for the corporation. It does not need formal sanctioning of the move, but cannot afford to alienate the Government which has control over the BBC's finances.

The BBC can also expect opposition to its plans from the Culture Select Committee of the House of Commons. Sir Christopher Bland, the corporation chairman, told the committee in July this year: "We would only move a news programme if we thought the audience for news would be greater rather than less as a result. I can give you the governors' absolute guarantee that we will not do that unless we think our audience for news will be improved as a result rather than lessened."

A BBC spokesman said on Thursday: "We announced our plans for the evening news in August and we don't see any reason to change those plans." Industry executives were surprised by the BBC's response to the ITV decision, which was made by its director general, Greg Dyke, just before he left for a holiday in Australia. A head-to-head clash with ITV would inevitably reduce rather than increase audiences.

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