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Culture Secretary Chris Smith
"I want us to watch very carefully what the viewing figures are"
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Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 12:12 GMT
BBC warned over 10pm news slot
Michael Buerk fronts the new-look bulletin
The BBC's new bulletin began last month
The BBC will have to "rethink" its news scheduling if the move of the main evening bulletin to 10pm results in a fall in viewing figures and quality, the culture secretary insisted on Sunday.

What we need to see is what the head to head competition with the BBC actually reveals

Chris Smith
The corporation moved the news from its traditional 9pm slot last month, after ITV rescheduled its News at Ten to 11pm.

But a bulletin clash is looming as ITV has bowed to pressure to reverse the move in order to fulfil its public service role.

Chris Smith said that if fewer people watched the two bulletins once they went head to head, he would look to the BBC to consider switching its slot.

'Positive change'

"If we are seeing a diminution of news, in quality and audience of news, then I think the governors of the BBC have to think very seriously about what they are going to do," Mr Smith told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost.

Chris Smith appears on Breakfast With Frost
Chris Smith: Concerned about viewing figures
He said ITV's decision to move its news back to 10pm, at least three nights a week, was a "positive change", as that brought the programme back into peak time viewing.

ITV came under pressure from the Independent Television Commission to revert to the earlier time since making the change in March 1999.

The network had been criticised for losing 1.3m viewers when it moved to the later slot.

Mr Smith said he was "determined" that both bulletins being broadcast at 10pm should not result in a similar drop off.

"What we need to see is what the head to head competition with the BBC actually reveals," he said.

"I very much hope that what we are going to see is the governors looking seriously at the impact of that decision. And if that decision shows that they are losing viewers, they are losing quality, then they have to rethink," he insisted.

Mr Smith said the onus was on the BBC to make changes because the corporation had made "the major shift to 10pm, without warning or consultation".

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