Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996
Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (as amended by the 1996 Act) on the provision of news requires regional Channel 3 licensees and Channel 5 to broadcast high quality national and international news. These must be at intervals and in particular at peak viewing time. On Channel 3, bulletins should be presented live and broadcast simultaneously by all regional licensees. News must be provided by a single appointed news provider. From 1998, the appointed news provider must be selected collectively by the regional channel 3 licensees from amongst those news providers nominated by the ITC.
Section 32 (as amended) requires the ITC to nominate one or more news providers for Channel 3 for a period of 10 years. The ITC can review the qualification of all nominated news providers when the contract of the appointed news provider is due to expire, to be renewed or terminated and may, on specific grounds, terminate a nomination. In October 1996, the ITC held a consultation on guidance for the method of applying for nomination as a provider of national and international news for regional Channel 3 licensees.
Section 32(9) (as amended) limits any single shareholding of a nominated new provider to a maximum of 20%. The government is considering relaxing this limit.
Section 32(12) (as amended, effective from 1/1/98) requires the ITC to ensure that a nominated news provider is or, if appointed, would be effectively equipped and adequately financed.
Nomination: In January 1991 ITN was nominated by the ITC to be a news provider for a 10-year period from 1 January 1993. When it announced its intention to nominate ITN, the ITC stated that ITN’s performance as a nominated provider would be reviewed around the end of 1995. Following the review, the Commission concluded that ITN had provided ‘a well resourced, authoritative and attractive’ news service in its first three years. The Commission concluded that ITN had supplied a high quality service dealing with national and international matters, and that it remains effectively equipped and adequately financed to provide such a service, meeting the Act’s requirements for high quality. In May 2001, Channel 3 News Ltd (a consortium of Bloomberg L.P; BSkyB plc; CBS News; Chrysalis Group plc and Ulster Television plc) sought and gained nominated news provider status for a further 10 years.
Ownership: In May 1995 the Government announced its intention to maintain the 20% maximum single shareholding in ITN. The ITC expected those licensees not in conformity to sell down to this limit by 31 December 1995. Carlton and Granada (with 36% each) achieved this by creating two deadlocked companies to hold shares in ITN in excess of those allowed by the 1990 Act. Although not in breach of the Act, the ITC believed such a structure was contrary to the spirit of the Act.
In April 1996 DMGT (Daily Mail General Trust) acquired 20% of ITN from Granada and Carlton, and in July 1996 the final excess of 12% held by the two companies was sold to United News and Media. United already had a 5% share in ITN.
Currently ITN shareholders are Carlton Communications, Granada Group, DMGT, Reuters, and United Business Media (20% each)
Finance: ITN’s news service to regional Channel 3 services is provided under contract negotiated between the nominated news provider and the licensees. The ITC published an indicative figure in the Invitation to Apply for a regional Channel 3 licence that the cost in 1993 would be in the region of £55m-£60m (at 1991 prices). Press reports indicated that the contract between ITV and ITN was around £45m in 2001. A fresh contract between ITN and ITV came into force in January 2003, and runs until December 2009. This is reported to be around £36m a year.
ITC licence conditions: Applicants for regional Channel 3 licences were required to propose at least three daily national and international news programmes on weekdays. It was specified that these must be at least 20 minutes at
lunchtime, 15 minutes in the early evening, and 30 minutes in peak-time (i.e. 6pm - 10.30pm). The total amount of news required is incorporated in each licence. The news must be of high quality and be shown simultaneously in all areas. Proposals made by the winning applicants were incorporated as conditions in their licences.
News at Ten. Following press comment in June 1993 on the possibility that the regional Channel 3 licensees were considering a change in the timing of News at Ten, the ITC Chairman wrote to the licensees. He stressed that without the ITC’s approval the licensees would be in breach of their licence conditions and the present timing must be maintained. A majority of the licensees had committed, as part of the core proposals, to schedule the peak-time evening news programme at 10pm. The National Heritage Committee convened a special meeting and published a report on the News at Ten, urging the ITV Council to reject the proposal to reschedule News at Ten.
In September 1998, ITV formally applied to the ITC for changes to licences regarding the weekday evening schedule, moving their main news bulletin to 6.30pm, with an additional bulletin at 11pm, replacing the existing 5.40pm news and News At Ten. Following a public consultation and research, the Commission approved ITV’s proposals subject to conditions. The Commission also required a regular news headline service to be broadcast at, or as near to as possible, 10pm. The changes were reviewed by the ITC after 12 months’ service.
The number of viewers for the combined Early Evening and Nightly News fell and caused serious concern. The Commission required remedial action. But ITV’s proposals fell short of giving the ITC confidence that ITV would be able to restore its lost viewers. In July 2000, the ITC issued a formal Direction to move its Nightly News from 11pm to an earlier time. ITV sought a judicial review of the ITC’s Direction and its legality. Before the case came to court an agreement between the ITC and ITV was reached. In January 2001, ITV brought back a news programme at 10pm. This bulletin must be broadcast three times a week (averaged over a year) through Monday to Thursday. On one of these days, usually Wednesday, ITV is permitted to delay the Nightly News to make way for long-form programming such as live sports, dramas and films. Friday is treated as a weekend in terms of news transmission. The result is that for the first time, ITV broadcasts two bulletins in peak for the majority of weekdays. At the time of general elections, the Nightly News is broadcast at 10pm on weekdays. During the Iraq war, ITV moved its news bulletin to 9pm.
Channel 3 News: in its 2002 performance review, the ITC said ITV News had gone through “a difficult year”. The unpredictability of scheduling was cited one of the main problems contributing to declining audiences. Nevertheless, on the big stories, it still produced “comprehensive and high quality reports” while being tailored to a “mass audience”.
Channel 4 News: which is supplied by ITN, continued to produce a seven-day service of peak-time programmes in 2002. The ITC’s performance review for 2000 commented that it “continued to provide intelligent and analytical coverage, both of domestic and foreign news”.
Channel 5 News: Channel 5’s news is also supplied by ITN and has continued to maintain its style and format. The agenda is lighter and the presentation more lively than news on other channels, but of high quality. It has moved to producing two evening bulletins, one at 5.30pm and another at 7.30pm. The latter has experimented with discussion elements.
* ITC Library bibliographies: News programmes; Censorship and the media
ITC news release (60/90) on the News provider for Channel 3 (2 November 1990)
Instrument for nomination of news provider (January 1991)
Guidance note on application for nomination as news provider (January 2001.)
ITC news release (55/00) on New research into changing trends in Television News (10 July 2000)
ITC news release (33/00) on ITC calls for proposals from ITV to arrest decline of news audiences (25 April 2000)
ITC news release (41/00) on ITC rejects ITV proposals for Weekday schedule (18 May 2000)
ITC news release (105/98) on ITC gives qualified approval to new weekday schedule on ITV (19 November 1998)
Submission to the Department of National Heritage on Media ownership. News release (16/94) 2 March 1994
ITN Shareholding deadline extended. News release 74/94.
ITC statement on Government’s media ownership proposals. News release 41/95.
Media ownership: ITC response to the Government’s proposals. August 1995
ITC statement on ITN shareholdings by Carlton and Granada. News release 95/95.
ITC consults on proposal to move News At Ten. News release 79/98 & consultation leaflet.
ITC Chairman indicates concern about performance of ITV regional programmes following move of News At Ten. News release 67/99.
House of Commons: Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Ninth report. The Future of News at Ten.
(Session 1997-98; HC 1110) London: Stationery Office, 1998
Department of Trade & Industry and Department of Culture, Media and Sport A New Future for Communications, December 2000