ITV firms fear law change could allow mergers: Heritage Secretary to meet television chiefs amid angry claims that independence may be undermined

MEDIUM-SIZED independent television companies are mounting a rearguard action against a proposed change in the 1990 Broadcasting Act that could allow them to be swallowed up by larger neighbours.

Tempers are rising in what Simon Forrest, group controller of corporate affairs for HTV in Cardiff, yesterday called 'one of the biggest rifts that's ever happened in ITV'.

The dispute will come to a head in a fortnight in the Whitehall office of Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Mr Forrest is accusing some of the biggest companies of 'a campaign of disinformation'. Another executive said: 'I don't think Mr Brooke quite realises what a Tower of Babel will confront him' when he meets ITV chiefs.

The minister has called the meetings in response to complaints by some of the largest companies about the clause in the 1990 Broadcasting Act that forbids mergers between the nine largest companies. There will probably be two sessions, on 14 and 15 June, because getting all 15 chief executives together at the same time has proved tricky.

Some reports say that Mr Brooke is ready to remove the controversial clause from the Act. But a National Heritage spokesman said yesterday that he would not make up his mind until he hears the arguments.

The strongest pressure on the minister has come from two of the largest companies, Central and Carlton. They argue that the bar on companies coming together in larger and stronger groups will make them vulnerable to bids from European conglomerates when the moratorium on takeovers expires at the end of this year.

Peter Ibbotson, Carlton's director of corporate affairs, wrote this week: 'In the EC our elegant forest of bonsai broadcasters will be no match for bigger media companies.' He estimated that duplicated overheads, not connected with programming, cost the companies pounds 100m a year, which could be saved - and perhaps devoted to strengthening regional programmes - if they were allowed to form larger entities.

The chief opponents of this view are Anglia, Meridian and HTV, of which Anglia might be an especially attractive acquisition for a neighbouring company such as Central.

David McCall, Anglia's chief executive, said last week: 'If the ownership rules are changed in isolation the concept of sovereign regional companies would be greatly undermined. We could end up with just two ITV companies.'

Anglia, HTV and Meridian do not accept Mr Ibbotson's estimate of pounds 100m a year wasted on duplication. 'You could pick any figure out of a hat,' a spokesman for one of the companies said. 'Common savings don't necessarily need common ownership.' It is also argued that even merged companies would be small compared with European media empires and so would still not be takeover-proof.

In an article in the Independent in April, Clive Hollick, chairman of Meridian, suggested that the best way of thwarting European predators would be to extend the moratorium on takeovers beyond the end of this year to 1996.

This would also safeguard the small ITV companies - Border, Channel, Grampian, Ulster and Westcountry - that would otherwise lose their statutory protection.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?