MPs urge return of News at Ten

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ITV should be told to move its late-evening news programme back to the News at Ten slot it abandoned a year ago, an influential committee of MPs said today.

The move to 11pm has led to falling viewing figures, an apparent decline in regional commitment and a failure on ITV's part to fulfil its public service requirements, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee found.

In a report which will prompt anger at ITV, the committee recommended that the Independent Television Commission insist on the reinstatement of News at Ten.

It found "clear and compelling" evidence that the introduction of the Nightly News programme in March 1999 had led to a significant slump in viewing figures, and deemed "wholly unconvincing" ITV's argument that it was too soon to judge the programme's success.

The growing audiences for the BBC's Six O'Clock News proved that Nightly News's problems were not simply a reflection of a decline in the number of viewers wanting to watch news on terrestrial TV, the committee found.

The committee, chaired by Labour veteran Gerald Kaufman, stated that the ability of ITV's news supplier ITN to produce high-quality news programmes was not in doubt.

But it was concerned that the new late-night scheduling meant that many of the viewers who would otherwise have watched the ITV news have switched off and gone to bed before it starts.

ITV has a "particular public service obligation" to provide high-quality news programming to a mass audience because the terms of its licence give it an advantage over competitors - such as the cable and satellite channels - which have to persuade viewers to pay for their services.

The Government has said that it will review the regulations on the programme scheduling of public service broadcasters in the new multi-channel age.

But until that review is completed, the committee argued that News at Ten - which it described as "a corner-stone of the evening schedule" - should be restored.