Paul Foot

Ambushing the news

(3 July 1993)

From Socialist Worker, 3 July 1993.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000, pp. 235–236.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

When Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Television bid successfully for the right to screen First Division football matches live, the chief executive of London Weekend Television, Greg Dyke, put on a grand display of righteous indignation. It was, he said, shocking that commercial interests should deprive people of the programmes they wanted to watch.

He was right, of course. But is he consistent?

Now he appears in secret conference with other TV bosses, in particular Paul Jackson, the managing director of Carlton TV, which purveys television programmes in London on weekdays. Jackson, Dyke and all the other commercial TV bosses met recently to discuss the future of the most successful and popular regular television shows ever – News at Ten.

News at Ten started in 1967. It lasted for half an hour. From the outset it proved just as popular as the BBC’s news. It has lasted for 26 years, has an enormous and loyal following, and the two minutes of advertising which split it in two bring in nearly £100 million – by far the most profitable regular two minutes for the ITV companies.

The success of television news on BBC and ITV gave the lie to all those who said that the masses were not interested in news.

While the tabloid press published less and less news – and gave more and more space to sport and nudes – the television news, presented on the whole without nudes and without even much sport, proved hugely popular.

Millions of people were gluttons for the news. When Channel 4 introduced its own extended 50 minute ITN news (called Channel 4 News) at 7 p.m., millions tuned in.

Together the two ITN programmes were watched by something like half the adult population. They established minimal standards of fairness and accuracy, which compared favourably with the bias and hysteria of the tabloid press. The only people who refuse to recognise the astonishing popularity and success of News at Ten are the television proprietors.

They don’t like news at any time, but they specially don’t like it at 10 o’clock at night when it interrupts much more juicy profit-making with cheap movies or rotten sitcom shows.

For years now the heads of the ITV companies have been plotting a coup on News at Ten. Last week they finally ambushed it and started to leak plans for putting on a new news programme at 6.30 p.m.

Everyone agrees that most of the standards of News at Ten would be lost in a 6.30 programme – it is too early to develop the day’s news it will compete absurdly with Channel 4 News. It will be seen as a demotion, a device to get the news out of the way before getting on with the trivia.

But years of ‘deregulation’, in television, as in everything else, have made it impossible for the ‘watchdogs’ to intervene. Profit-hungry bosses like Greg Dyke, who, with his fellow directors at LWT, has just helped himself to millions of pounds in a scandalous share scheme, are left free to plunder the networks.

Even though she had her own friends on the ITV companies, Thatcher grew to loathe them for their power and their lack of right wing bias. She waged war to the death with Thames Television over Death on the Rock, the expose of the Gibraltar murders by the SAS.

Her hatred spilled over into News at Ten.

The ideological imperative from the right to sweep away anything which can for a moment present the public with some of the facts about the world we live in has engulfed the creations even of the right’s own children.

Last updated on 30 June 2014