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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 11:48 GMT
Clash of Ten O'Clock News Titans
By Maggie Brown

ITV and BBC news titles
ITV won 3.8m viewers, while the BBC attracted an audience of 4.9m
My brief was to watch ITV's returning prodigal son, the News at Ten and the BBC's Ten O'Clock News, then pass judgement.

Since Monday was a very busy news day there was plenty of scope for the competing teams to stamp their brands on their programmes.

As you can't do justice to two news programmes properly at the same time, I watched Sir Trevor and Julie Etchingham live first.

News at Ten's glitzy opening sequence - the sprint from outer space to Canary Wharf, along the Thames and up to Big Ben and the infamous bongs - was invigorating.

And ITN's happy couple looked comfortable sitting at their circular desk.

Diana exclusive

Hasnat Khan
Khan said the Diana inquest should end speculation over her death
Their lead story was an interview with Hasnat Khan, Princess Diana's Mr Wonderful, who - it has to be said - was paunchy and no gift to the cameras.

But persuading him to speak was a coup, and it was ITN who triumphantly landed him on the day Paul Burrell was centre stage at the High Court inquest.

This was a popular, timely exclusive, worthy of its place at the top of the programme, and in keeping with ITN's long tradition of being, ahem, royalty mad.

The BBC's lead story was another kind of self-generated story - John Simpson reporting undercover in Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare.

There he found some evidence that within the ruling party, plans are afoot to topple Robert Mugabe.

It is hard to know what to make of this. If a coup occurs in the next few months the BBC will be vindicated, otherwise it was a funny sort of lead.

As with some Simpson reports this viewer was left worried about the man's personal safety.

Political split

Huw Edwards
Huw Edwards anchors the BBC show
The BBC then played the more popular Princess Diana inquest and Paul Burrell's evidence as its second story.

ITN, ever surprising, moved from Burrell to Tom Bradby, its political editor, reporting on splits between Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling over whether Northern Rock should be nationalised.

The BBC did not touch this. Their business story, lower down, was economics editor Evan Davis on the slide of sterling.

In general, while both programmes had nine proper stories, the BBC made more of the day's staple and set news: The murder trial of Steve Wright in Ipswich; Peter Hain; the judge who freed Garry Weddell, who apparently killed himself and his mother-in-law while on bail; the wrecked cargo ship and its saved crew off the Devon coast.

ITN cantered more quickly over these.

Instead it made more of a woman killed in the Hampshire village of Bambridge, and of four men from an adjacent offenders unit, who had been arrested. Penny Marshall went to the pub to speak to local people.

BBC's human interest story - item number seven - was an exclusive interview with Jenny Murat, mother of official Madeleine McCann suspect Robert Murat, who naturally said he was innocent.

This was an eight month old story, and rather old territory.

Far-flung reports

Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie Etchingham
Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie Etchingham co-host the ITV show
Both programmes then entered into the supreme battle for news from the Ends of the Earth.

The BBC went with Greenpeace, in a boat tracking a Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

ITN's Bill Neely went with the British Antarctic survey to a spot 600 miles from the South Pole to report on measuring global warming below a big glacier.

Much of the report was setting the scene. More will be revealed later in the week, no doubt, from both grim locations.

There were other points of difference. The BBC went to Gloucester, to a street of sandbagged houses not yet flooded.

ITN had an interview with Italian Fabio Cappelo, the new England football manager, who says he is expecting high standards from the players and has not yet had time to learn English.

Well, there's a surprise.

Greek cargo ship Ice Princess
ITV's "and finally" story was about the sea rescue of a ship's crew
It was a night of such relentlessly big stories that I'm not sure if there actually was an "and finally..." story on the News at Ten.

Sir Trevor McDonald did utter those words, but it was to introduce the wrecked ship story, which didn't really fit the bill in my view.

Final thought: News at Ten slipped back into its slot sleekly, like a round peg in a round hole, as if it had never been away.

I'd say the ITV bulletin was more interesting, and that Hasnat trumped Simpson.

But the Ten O'Clock News was its competent BBC self.

Being in the same time slot is not about being the same, but to give choice.

It's a matter of serving viewers, not scoring points.

Maggie Brown is one of Britain's most experienced media journalists and the author of the history of Channel 4, called A Licence to be Different - the Story of Channel 4, published November 2007.

SEE ALSO
BBC 'wins' battle of news bongs
15 Jan 08 |  Entertainment
ITV's 'bongs' make their comeback
14 Jan 08 |  Entertainment
Sir Trevor reads final bulletin
15 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
Newsworthy career of Sir Trevor
15 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
News at Ten 'will return to ITV1'
23 Oct 07 |  Entertainment
ITV1 shifts Sunday evening soaps
02 Jan 08 |  Entertainment

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