ITV company chiefs will fight to move 'News at Ten': Heritage committee fails to win promise of reprieve for threatened flagship bulletin. David Lister reports

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THE ITV companies yesterday signalled they were prepared to mount a legal challenge to the Independent Television Commission's ruling that they could not move News At Ten.

In their first public justification for moving the flagship news, ITV chiefs clashed with MPs on the Heritage Select Committee, and were unmoved by MPs pointing out that an early news programme would miss votes in Parliament.

MPs accused the ITV representatives of backsliding on their commitment to screen the programme at 10pm in a scramble for increased profits. The committee chairman, Gerald Kaufman, put it to Greg Dyke, chairman of the ITV Association and head of London Weekend Television, that ITV wanted to move News At Ten in order to show 'violent films with foul language' to increase male viewers in line with advertisers' wishes.

Mr Dyke denied this and said the ITV companies did not accept that they had lost the battle to move News At Ten. ITV would do nothing illegal but they had been given 'a separate legal opinion' which would be put to the ITV council next Monday.

Asked whether the ITV companies had not made a commitment to show the news programme at 10pm, he replied: 'It was an indicative schedule. Therefore it was not binding.' He added that at least one ITV company had scheduled the news at 8pm in its application.

Mr Dyke said times had changed. TV was now more commercial and competitive with Channel 4 selling advertising time nationally, the advent of satellite TV and a mass of channels likely by 2000.

Mr Kaufman retorted: 'You say times change but some times don't change. The time of a vote in the House of Commons. The time of a general election. You couldn't get an exit poll at 6.30pm. Football matches take place after 6.30pm.'

Joe Ashton, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, added that a 6.30pm bulletin would get nothing that happened in the US after 2pm.

But this cut little ice with the ITV chiefs. Leslie Hill, chairman and chief executive of Central Television, said: 'Times change. News tends to come more from the East than from the West so the timing isn't as important as it was.'

And Andrew Quinn, chief executive of the ITV Association, added: 'I believe there's an important audience for news in the early evening. I believe that we can programme strongly till 11pm and we will hold those people from 11 to 11.15 for the late news bulletin.'

The ITV companies said that far more viewers complained about films being interrupted by News At Ten than complained about the prospect of the bulletin being moved.

A meeting of TV journalists from America's major CBS and ABC networks in central London yesterday joined the battle to save News at Ten and said that if the bulletin was moved to the 'periphery' it would lead to a drop in the quality of news.

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