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WE'LL ITC YOU AT 10; TV watchdogs in legal move over news.

THE battle to bring back News At Ten is set to end up in court after ITV bosses yesterday defied televison watchdogs for the third time.

The Independent Television Commission responded by warning that it will issue a "legally binding direction" next week.

The formal letter will order a re- scheduling of the 11pm Nightly News - fronted by Dermot Murnaghan.

The watchdog body have given ITV bosses a few days to change their minds but it is understood they are so angry the network have rejected a 10.30pm compromise deal that they could order the return of News at Ten.

But bullish ITV chiefs are determined to tough it out and are ready for their day in court.

The watchdog said in a statement that because ITV licensees had "failed to satisfy the ITC's requirements" they would be sending out the legal direction.

The historic showdown is complicated by fall-outs within the ITV companies.

Carlton and Meridian, the south-east companies, favour moving the early evening 6.30pm bulletin with Sir Trevor McDonald to 8pm or 8.30pm.

Granada and the northern companies want the 10.30pm option.

Last night, one insider said: "This is the very last round of the poker game which has been going on since it emerged that ITV has lost two million news viewers.

"It now looks as if there is a good chance News At Ten could be brought back.

"The ITC feel they are on safe legal footing by ordering the ITV firms to return to the commitment to News At Ten they first made in 1992."

Meanwhile, sources close to the Government said Ministers were annoyed with ITV, believing the channel's attitude has been "extremely unhelpful".

Last night, an ITV statement said: "ITV is considering its position in the light of the statement, pending receipt of the full text of the direction."

But ITV executives have decided to stand firm to try and keep their news bulletins where they are - at 6.30 pm and 11 pm

Since News At Ten was axed, the channel's news audiences have fallen by 13.9 per cent - which has been deemed not acceptable.

ITV moved News at Ten in March 1999 to allow films and longer dramas to run after the 9pm watershed.

But the move also earns the channel up to pounds 100million extra in advertising revenue.

In May, the ITC told the companies they must make changes and said a proposal to spend an extra pounds 21million on programmes before the late news in a bid to boost ratings was rejected as inadequate.

Another ITV offer to bring back News at Ten for general election coverage was also viewed as "too little, too late".
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Author:Methven, Nichola
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 21, 2000
Words:451
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