ITC chief backs Granada over franchise promises: Labour to raise queries in the commons (CORRECTED)

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THE Independent Television Commission defended Granada Television yesterday in response to charges by Ann Clwyd, Labour spokeswoman on national heritage, that the Manchester-based ITV company was not fulfilling the terms of its franchise. In a sharply worded letter to Ms Clwyd, Sir George Russell, the ITC chairman, refuted her 'unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations that the ITC is failing in its regulatory duties'.

Last month, Ms Clwyd sent the ITC a dossier claiming that boardroom changes and the closure of facilities meant that Granada was not giving the service promised in its franchise application. In an angry response to Sir George's letter yesterday, she accused him of putting the interests of the company above those of the public, and said she would raise the matter in the Commons on Monday.

The ITC letter said there was 'no evidence that the licence conditions will not be met'. It refuted nearly all of Ms Clwyd's charges as follows:

Boardroom changes and job losses: of the 17 senior personnel listed in the franchise application, 10 were still with the company. 'The changes that have undoubtedly taken place at board level do not amount to a change of control in the terms of the Broadcasting Act.' Overall staff numbers have been cut, partly because of the statutory requirement to put 25 per cent of programmes out to independent producers.

Films and documentaries: Ms Clwyd said that most of the films promised in the franchise application were not being made. The ITC replied that they were all put into development and will survive into production if they can be sold to the network - six have already been offered. Four of the promised feature films are in development. Four drama-documentaries have been offered to the network over the next two years.

News: the ITC said that the Liverpool news operation has not been closed. Nor has the company suggested it should close its news bases in Chester, Lancaster and Blackburn.

Regional programmes: 'We do not accept that there has been a decline in the quality or a reduction in the range of regional output.' Over the past 10 years the company had increased local programmes from seven hours a week to nine and a quarter.

Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, confessed yesterday that he, like the BBC Director-General John Birt, had been paid as a private company during most of his full-time employment at the corporation.

The arrangement lasted from 1984 to 1987, when he was made managing director designate of BBC Television and joined the staff at the Inland Revenue's suggestion. Mr Grade - who had criticised Mr Birt's salary arrangements - left the BBC months later and joined Channel 4, where he has always been on the payroll.


Michael Grade

We have been asked to point out that contrary to our report (Independent 20 March, page 4) Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, has made no public criticism of the previous payment arrangements of John Birt, the BBC Director-General.