TV companies hold out on signing new deal with ITN

ITV HAS yet to agree a new five year supply contract with ITN for its news programmes, including News at Ten. This has to be in place by tomorrow, the day the contracts start, and be signed by all 15 franchise holders. Without it, familiar news coverage and ITN's future are in danger.

Last night two companies, HTV and Meridian, who are taking over the contracts for the South and East from TVS, were still withholding their consent, sources involved in the talks confirmed. The brinkmanship underlines the tensions and mistrust stalking the new ITV system.

The negotiations are being handled by Nigel Walmsley, chief executive of Carlton Television, part of Carlton Communications, which is taking over from Thames in the London area.

Carlton, emerging as the major player in ITV even though it is a newcomer, is also heading a consortium with Central, London Weekend Television, Scottish, Anglia and Granada hoping to take over ITN. This will inject funds to remove ITN's deficit but eliminate the shareholdings of smaller ITV companies and exclude some newcomers who will become simply its customers. The stations pay for ITN's news according to their income.

Richard Dunn, chairman of ITN Television, said earlier yesterday: 'There was a noon deadline for signatures and this has come and gone.' He was clearly surprised that after 11 months of negotiations the issue had not been settled. At that point five companies had yet to sign: Westcountry, Yorkshire, HTV, Meridian and Tyne-Tees.

One key worry, HTV confirmed, was that the five year contract had a two year review clause, allowing the companies to renegotiate the price.

Those refusing to sign remain unhappy with the conditions triggering the clause. They want a wide-ranging review to be able to reduce the price ( pounds 53.6m a year) if ITN is making excessive profits, or they see ways of reducing the price.

HTV says the proposals are 'not in line with the original agreement'. Even if the deal is signed today it shows the problems ITV has in reaching collective decisions and augurs badly for future disputes over when programmes should be scheduled.