The reputation of any public service broadcaster centres on its commitment to high quality news coverage.
News is at the heart of the BBC and provides the backbone of BBC One’s schedule.
Channel 4 News is one of the legacies of the Channel 4 of old and might be said to be part of the soul and conscience of the channel.
It was often highlighted by opponents of privatisation as a programme which could have been put at risk.
But yet again ITV 1’s scheduling of News at Ten is undermining what should be one of the channel’s flagships.
News at Ten was brought back in 2008 – initially from Mondays to Thursdays but soon afterwards the programme started to appear on Fridays too.
The move was instigated by Michael Grade who was well aware of the damage the initial decision to axe News at Ten in 1999 had done.
The revival never regained the audiences of old – and there is an argument that it isn’t helpful to have the news on both major channels simultaneously – but it was broadly welcomed by journalists and others who realise the vital role high quality broadcast journalism plays in a democratic society.
The scheduling was never fixed and ITV appeared to toy with ditching the programme in 2017 when it experimented with nightly chat shows at 10pm.
But in recent months there have been more occasions when News at When has returned. There has scarcely been a week for some time when the programme has been shown at 10pm each night.
Sometimes this has been because of football – though it should be noted that the BBC usually manages to get to the news on time unless the game goes to extra time.
Sometimes though this is because the 9pm programme is longer than usual. A deliberate decision was taken to commission or schedule a programme which wasn’t made for a 60-minute slot.
In exceptional circumstances this is not a problem but it seems to be becoming commonplace.
Friday night saw a good example of this.
A repeat of Midsomer Murders pushed News at Ten back to 10.50pm. The same thing will happen this Friday. As far as I can recall, it was the first time since 2004 when a routine scheduling decision pushed the news past 10.30pm.
Needless to say, the move seemed to boost the audience for the BBC News.
There would seem to be little commercial advantage in the move as ITV 1 currently runs few ads between 10pm and 11pm. The last breaks during Midsomer Murders were filled by promotions.
Yet it also meant excellent journalism – including a powerful piece on an upsurge of serous Covid cases in China – was seen by a relatively modest audience.
It really is time for this scheduling shenanigans to end.
Would ITV 1 be better off anchoring the bulletin at 10.30pm? That way those who wanted to could easily watch the flagship bulletins of both main channels?
Might it even be acceptable to move the programme to 11pm given that ITV now shows an hour of national news in the early evening? (Even it is cut back to 30 minutes not infrequently.)
What might happen if ITV 1 gets permission to run more ads in peak time with a full 12 minutes allocated to the 10pm hour? If ITV cannot commit to giving News at Ten a fixed berth, it is better to move it out of peak rather then see it move like a ship in a storm.
PICTURED: modified ITV News at Ten titles. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.