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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
News at Ten: Why the fuss?
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Gone but by no means forgotten
On Thursday, ITV squared up to the Independent Television Commission over the demise of News at Ten.

The ITC could have forced ITV to bring back the programme, which was axed 13 months ago. Instead it postponed a decision until mid-June.

Why did ITV drop News at Ten? The network says the change was designed to halt the long-term decline in its peaktime audience and increase the range and diversity of the evening schedule. There are now more documentaries, current affairs and sports programmes in peaktime, it says.

ITV newsreaders
ITV's main bulletin moved to the early evening

What are the ratings like? The number of people watching ITV news has plummeted by one million, 14% of the audience, since News at Ten was scrapped. Regional news programmes in particular have suffered.

But the network says the 1830 bulletin gets more viewers than News at Ten. It argues that its audience share for news programmes has increased - which would indicate that fewer people overall are catching up on the day's events.

Why did the ITC get involved? Free-to-air TV channels are required under the Broadcasting Act to screen high quality news programmes to mass audiences. The ITC, which oversees the regulations, had to give ITV permission to drop News at Ten and said it would review the situation after a year. That time is now.

News at Ten is the talisman of broadcasting excellence

Dr Jean Seaton

What does the review cover? Audience levels, the quality and range of the news, and the diversity of the programmes in the new schedule. Although the ITC has the power to force the return of News at Ten, it says it has not yet considered this option.

Who is complaining? The British Parliament, for one. A Commons select committee report published in March said News At Ten should be brought back because the network was not fulfilling its public service broadcasting requirements.

The host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Who wants a ratings goldmine? ITV quizshow host Chris Tarrant

Last week, four of television's most respected broadcasters waded into the fray. The former newsreader, Sir Alastair Burnet, and the three men who ran ITN from 1956 to 1991 - Sir David Nicholas, Sir Geoffrey Cox and Nigel Ryan - wrote to the ITC.

Their 39-point letter accused ITV of ruining the reputation of its news by replacing News at Ten with "weak series, entertainment trivia and mildly pornographic programmes".

Why has it become a cause celebre? When it first screened more than 30 years ago, News at Ten pioneered televised news as we know it, says Dr Jean Seaton, of the University of Westminster.

"News at Ten is the talisman of broadcasting excellence.

"The BBC was doing radio news on the telly, and News at Ten pioneered the televised political interview, pioneered using pictures to tell the story, pioneered reporting from on-the-spot.

"It made the news serious and popular, and it just wiped the floor with the BBC."

Dr Seaton says the review is also a test for the ITC, to prove that it is regulating broadcasting in the public interest.

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22 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Bring back News at Ten say MPs
10 May 00 | Entertainment
Programmes for the people
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