Watchdog warns ITV firms against earlier news

THE Independent Television Commission has told ITV companies that to move the main evening news from 10pm to 6.30pm would 'end any pretension that ITV was staying in the business of providing a comprehensive news service', writes Michael Leapman.

David Glencross, chief executive of the ITC, told the Broadcasting Press Guild yesterday that this was the message that he and Sir George Russell, the ITC chairman, gave executives of the 15 ITV companies when they met last week.

The ITC does not rule out any change in the timing of News at Ten but thinks it should not happen at least until next year, after firm proposals have been made by the companies. He would not specify what new time would be acceptable but left the impression that nothing earlier than 8pm would be approved.

Although the ITC has no specific power over the schedule, it does have the responsibility of ensuring a high-quality news service.

The ITC announced yesterday that it is prepared to listen to fresh ideas for Channel 5, the possible third ITV channel. In December, the commission decided not to issue the licence to the only applicant - a consortium headed by Thames Television - because of the financial implications of having to retune video recorders to prevent interference from the new channel.

It has issued a discussion document presenting three options - readvertising the channel on virtually the same conditions; making it a series of local stations; or abandoning the idea and making the wavelengths available to digital broadcasting technology, which will allow many more stations.