The Independent Television Commission flagged up the shortcomings of ITV, analytical strengths of Channel 4 and the promising performance of Five within news and current affairs output, in the watchdog’s final assessment of terrestrial television, as it prepares to be absorbed into super regulator Ofcom by the year end.
In its annual report, the watchdog said the role of television news had been a focal point of attention over the past year – in what was described as a volatile year for the commercial sector – “both inside and beyond the ITC”.
“ITV was worst hit by falls in ad revenues and gave a patchy performance; there was some popular excellence but also some less inspired output.”
The report singled out ITV News as having a difficult year losing audience share, but still producing comprehensive, high-quality reports. “There were changes to the tone and agenda and ITC is keeping these changes under review,” it said.
“Channel 4 continued to provide intelligent and analytical coverage of both domestic and foreign news. Five experimented with discussion elements in its 7.30pm programme, with some lively and informative results.”
In terms of current affairs, the report acknowledged that ITV exceeded the ITC requirement by airing two editions of Tonight with Trevor McDonald every week, in peaktime, “including genuinely newsworthy stories, though some did stretch the definition of current affairs”.
However, the report concluded that ITV’s overall current affairs output lacked sufficient analysis, international coverage and investigations.
It lauded “strong international coverage and a season on domestic issues” from Channel 4, and acknowledged Five’s current affairs coverage from The Wright Stuff, “with lively appeal”, as well as other investigative programmes.
On factual programmes, the ITC saw ITV’s output as “polarised between outstanding landmark programmes such as the drama-documentary Bloody Sunday and numerous series of the â€¦From Hell type”.
“Channel 4 delivered the most challenging material, with a strong international agenda and programmes focusing on key British institutions,” it continued.
“Five increased the quality of its documentaries, with particularly notable programmes on the anniversary of September 11, and reduced its dependence on crime and adult material”.
By Wale Azeez