Leading Article: Can ITV be serious?

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The Independent Online
NEWS AT TEN is neither the best-loved nor most respected television programme in Britain. The lovability passed away with dear old Reggie Bosanquet. The respect diminished with a revamp that may have had the Daily Mail's news values as a model but on the screen had all the flair of yesterday's Daily Express. True, Trevor McDonald seems decent and dignified, but decency and dignity (alas) are no longer enough to make a popular television personality. Something else is required: some spurious authority; or wearing native head-dress when touring with the mujahedin; or simply being daft as a brush.

But News at Ten matters. It is Britain's most-watched television news programme. Night after night it attracts a larger audience than the BBC's Nine o'Clock News. For between six and seven million people, its bongs herald a nightly impression of what is happening in the world. For many, it is their only impression. They may not read newspapers or listen to radio; they may see dullness in the BBC's coverage. Now, however, the commercial television companies that buy News at Ten from ITN, which produces it, want to move the half-hour news slot forward to 6.30. Their argument is that the timing of News at Ten damages their ability to attract a larger audience because it breaks into the peak time for more popular entertainment. Bigger audience equals bigger advertising revenues equals bigger profits. This shift may make commercial sense (the case has yet to be proved), but it sends a depressing message about Britain's independent television companies and the small importance they attach to their only national news programme. As Sir David Nicholas, a former ITN chairman, wrote yesterday: 'I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that moving News at Ten means the end of serious commercial television.' Ask not for whom the bongs toll, they toll for an older, worthier ITV.