ITV firms split over scheduling: 'News at Ten' move brought into question

SOME ITV companies are having second thoughts about moving News at Ten to an earlier time.

Meridian, the contractor for south and south-east England, said it was 'considering carefully' the unanimous recommendation of the change made at last week's ITV strategy conference. Anglia in the East and HTV in the West are also worried about the effect of the move on their schedules, especially regional programmes.

Because some of the most powerful companies favour it - such as Carlton and London Weekend, which share the London region - the chances are that News at Seven or News at 6.30 will still replace News at Ten in the near future, with a 15 or 20- minute bulletin at 11pm.

Last week's strategy meeting was attended by programming chiefs of the 15 companies. Their recommendation will come before a meeting of their chief executives next Monday. The doubts of some companies, combined with strong press and political reaction, could mean delaying a final decision until later in the summer.

'They're rattled,' said a director of one of the companies. 'It's opened a can of worms. A lot of us think it's a case of Carlton trying to dictate to the rest of the network.'

Michael Green, chairman of Carlton and of Independent Television News, visited ITN headquarters last night to watch News at Ten being transmitted. Staff planned to question him closely on the matter.

Yesterday Peter Mandelson, the Labour MP for Hartlepool, who has tabled a Commons motion attacking the proposed change, wrote to Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, asking him to 'save' News at Ten. However, neither the Government nor the Independent Television Commission have any authority over the ITV schedule.

The invitation to apply for the 15 regional franchises in 1991 stated that the schedule must include 20 minutes of news at lunchtime, 15 minutes at 'early evening' and 30 minutes between 6pm and 10.30pm. The ITC is blamed by some companies for the confusion. 'If they thought keeping the News at Ten was so important they could have made it a requirement of the licence,' one executive said.

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Money and ratings, page 19

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