ITN has been severely rebuked by the Public Record Office for breaking an embargo on information released under the 30-year rule, following complaints by rival news broadcasters and national newspapers.
A row blew up between ITN and the PRO after the News at Ten programme flouted a midnight embargo on 29 January to broadcast details of a secret love affair between Wallis Simpson, lover of the future King Edward VIII, and car salesman Guy Marcus Trundle.
The PRO wrote to ITV News managing editor Robin Elias after a heated exchange over the merits of a midnight embargo.
Elias said ITV News justified breaching the ban because it believed such embargos “are clearly designed for the benefit of newspapers, and put broadcasters at a clear disadvantage”.
In a letter to Robert Smith, the PRO’s head of press, Elias added: “In any event, national newspapers are published and available the previous evening and stories they carry are frequently ‘reviewed’ well before midnight by various radio and TV programmes.”
But the PRO rejected ITN’s justification, saying that the channel’s decision to ignore the embargo had angered PRO staff and “many other journalists”.
Smith warned: “Embargos are imposed because the documents remain closed under the Public Records Act until the day of release, and information in or about them must not be published until the day that they are made public. In deliberately choosing to ignore the embargo, you are flouting the law.”
The PRO also threatened to remove ITN from the government department’s accredited press list as the only broadcaster to break the embargo.
Should ITN be kicked off the list, it would have to resort to collecting a press pack at 9am on the day documents are released to the public.
Elias told Press Gazette that ITV News understood the PRO’s complaint, but was “robust in the position it took” to break the embargo.
“We understand where they are coming from. But it’s a fact that it is used at an advantage by newspapers and at a disadvantage by broadcasters.
“But we hope a dialogue can come out of this. They’ve been very helpful in the past. We need their co-operation, and hope they agree we are useful to them too.”
By Wale Azeez