Regulator urged to order return of 'News at Ten'

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A parliamentary committee of MPs last night called on the Independent Television Commission to order ITV to reinstate News at Ten. The group's chairman, Gerald Kaufman, put further pressure on the ITC by saying the issue would be a test of whether the regulator should survive.

If it failed the test, he suggested, the Government might consider abolishing it when it introduces a Communications Bill in the next parliament.

He said: "This is a test of the ITC [which] is there to regulate commercial television. It is not there to assist the ITV companies in maximising their commercial revenues... On the ITC's own criteria it ought to bring back News at Ten."

The report from the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, entitled Whatever Happened to News at Ten?, said there was "clear and compelling evidence that the evening news audience on ITV has fallen significantly in direct contradiction to the confident predictions made by ITV".

It rejects ITV's plea to be given a longer period to improve its performance on news programming, saying: "ITV argues that it is too early to judge the impact of its new schedule on evening news audiences. We find this contention wholly unconvincing and so does the ITC." The committee says that, in the absence of News at Ten, ITV is failing to comply with its public-service obligations.

The ITC is conducting a review of its decision to allow News at Ten to be scrapped, and will report its findings next month.

The regulator's chairman, Sir Robin Biggam, told the committee that ITV would be required to take "remedial action" if there was evidence of a "marked deterioration" in the size of news audiences.

ITV has already conceded that its news audiences have fallen by 12 per cent to 8.7 million. The ITC is now under considerable pressure. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has also indicated that he would like to see the bulletin reinstated, saying: "News at Ten has an important [position] in our national life and I fear the decision to move eroded that position and I very much hope that [ITV] will think again."