MPs say ITV is ignoring the poor

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The Independent Online
ITV BOSSES were accused yesterday of abandoning working-class audiences and chasing trendy middle-class viewers to boost their ratings and advertising revenue.

The attack came from Gerald Kaufman, Labour chairman of the Commons select committee on culture, who said ITV was more concerned with attracting viewers in New Labour's Islington heartlandthan "ordinary people".

The committee dealt a blow to ITV's plan to scrap its flagship News at Ten bulletin by recommending that the Independent Television Commission reject the move when it considers the matter later this month.

The all-party committee accused ITV chiefs of using the "patronising and offensive" argument that they wanted to switch their news programmes to "attract a younger, more metropolitan, more upmarket" viewer at 11pm. Mr Kaufman said: "What they seemed to be saying was, `We can't be bothered with those cloth-capped middle-aged people who have the impertinence not to watch News at Ten quite as much as we would like them to. We are going for cool people in Islington at 11 o'clock - that is the kind of person we really want."

He said ITV was targeting young people because they hadgreater spending power. "We are just ordinary folk who represent ordinary folk. We are not going to have ordinary folk put down," he said.

Mr Kaufman suggested the ITV companies would have received a more sympathetic hearing if they had argued that their obligations to provide news under the broadcasting laws were too restrictive. Butthey had based their case on their desire to stop the 10pm news bulletin interrupting feature films. He accused ITV of failing to face up to the challenges of the rapidly changing broadcasting world as well as the BBC had, and of blaming the timing of news programmes for its shrinking audience.

In a separate report yesterday, the committee turned its fire on the BBC for losing vital sporting rights. It said the poaching of England's home Test cricket matches by Channel 4 illustrated "complacency and lack of commitment at senior management level".

The MPs called for the BBC to do more to raise money by exploiting its name, and dismissed as "markedly unambitious" BBC Worldwide's target income of pounds 200m a year by 2006. Mr Kaufman dismissed fears that raising more cash from commercial activities would threaten the BBC's public service remit.