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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 14:09 GMT
Digital switchover 'still secure'
Football match
Forest might be one of the clubs affected
The switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television is still on course for between 2006 and 2010 despite the collapse of ITV Digital, according to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

The broadcaster owes 180m to the Football League, which it says it cannot afford to pay.

"It was a venture that was over-ambitious and did not deliver enough."

Gerald Kaufman

But Ms Jowell insists that she retains her strong belief in the benefits that "digital television can provide to our society and the economy."

Both sides are said to be far apart despite a last-ditch compromise deal offered by the league.

Unstable finances

Ms Jowell said the government would not be throwing a lifeline at the clubs and argued that they had largely brought the problem on themselves.

"The finances of many football clubs have been unstable for a very long time," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It is also important to remember that the ITV Digital payment to the clubs in the nationwide league was not due to August, so for clubs facing problems now, these are problems that have been incurred by some, in most cases, paying more in wages than the clubs can afford."

We do expect to switch over between 2006 and 2010

Tessa Jowell
Culture Secretary

Asked by Today if the clubs had brought the situation on themselves, she replied: "To a certain extent, yes."

She told BBC News 24: "We do expect to switch over between 2006 and 2010 and we believe that the regulatory framework is right and the economic framework is right to invite investors."

The secretary of state said power will be turned up on digital output, giving a stronger signal as soon as broadcasters agree on its roll out.

'Sad day'

"This is a testing time for football. I urge the Football League to keep the negotiations going," she said.

"While everyone is still talking, there is hope this can be settled."

Tessa Jowell
Ms Jowell said hopes for digital television remained

Shadow culture secretary Tim Yeo said: "It is a very sad day for these clubs but the mistake that was made was in the deal originally between ITV and the football league a completely unrealistic price was agreed."

He warned: "If ITV Digital goes down, no-one else is going to come in and honour the prices that were originally agreed on."

Senior Labour backbencher Gerald Kaufman, who chairs the Commons Culture Media and Sport committee, said it had been "inevitable" that ITV Digital had been put in administration.

"It is very sad for ITV, for its subscribers and for football but the cost burden of the subscribers was so great I could never see how they could get into profit," he said.

"It was a venture that was over-ambitious and did not deliver enough."

Forest under fire?

Labour MP Alan Simpson warned that the news that ITV Digital had been put into administration had severe implications for many football clubs.

The Nottingham South member whose constituency includes Nottingham Forest said up to 40 clubs could "go to the wall" because they were dependent on money from the broadcaster.

Nottingham Forest would, he believed, be "seriously financially challenged" even though it has moved to reduce its wage bill earlier this season.

Fred Mason, joint chairman of Bury Football Club, which is deep in debt and was relying on a 200,000 lifeline from ITV Digital in September, said he believed the government should help.

"I would think we would immediately have to substitute the TV money that we have been promised just so that clubs have at least two to three years stability," he said.

"The government have been brought into question by them insisting that we will go digital by 2008."

But Graham Kelly, secretary of the Football League between 1980 and 1998 and a former chief executive of the Football Association, said Mr Mason was "whistling in the wind".

"The government are not going to help when Vauxhall have just closed down in Luton and Consignia are losing jobs," he said.

See also:

27 Mar 02 | Business
ITV Digital goes broke
13 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
Jowell explains digital decision
13 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
BBC's digital surprise
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