The big switch-off - ITV news channel to close

By Caitlin Pike

More than 70 staff – the majority of them journalists – face the
threat of redundancy this Christmas after ITV finally said it will pull
the plug on its 24-hour ITV News Channel early in the New Year.

ITV bosses claim they are closing the channel to “increase the
network’s focus on developing new media solutions and strengthening
ITV1’s news offering”.

But staff were said to be outraged about
the decision, which comes a week after ITV splashed out £175m on
website Friends Reunited. NUJ national broadcasting organiser Paul
McLaughlin told Press Gazette the channel’s journalists would be
holding an emergency meeting on Monday to plan the fight to retain
their jobs.

“This is a hammer blow for members at the News
Channel which, while being starved of resources from the outset, has
been punching above its weight and has previously beaten news rivals on
the Freeview platform.”

He said the decision to close the News Channel made ITV’s commitment to quality news and public service broadcasting risible.

“The excuse given is a financial one.

Obviously
ITV is only concerned with the balance sheet. This not only impacts
their retreat from the 24-hour news market but, because of the way ITN
is structured, all of the contracts are dependent on a core
newsgathering facility which the 24-hour operation was a key part of.”

ITV
said it would invest £2m in news programming, specifically expanding
national and international newsgathering operations, introducing news
onto its digital channels ITV2 and ITV3, developing broadband and
mobile on-demand services, creating a new Beijing bureau and boosting
regional news. The role of the News Channel in covering breaking news
is to be covered by a new “breaking news team”

ready to broadcast open-ended news coverage if necessary.

Executive editor of Sky News John Ryley said: “We welcome competition and I believe in the plurality of news, so it’s a sad day.

“As
a former employee of ITN my condolences go to my former colleagues. 24-
hour news is a very fierce market – the ITV News Channel was up against
two very accomplished organisations, the BBC and ourselves. In recent
months it has lacked the wherewithal on screen to compete.”

Simon
Shaps, director of television for ITV, said: “The question we have
asked ourselves is: what does news look like in five or 10 years’ time?

“The
answer is that it looks very different from the traditional 24-hour
rolling news format that we are used to now. Increasingly viewers will
want news on demand, via a variety of different platforms, and we are
investing in the technology and expertise to deliver that.”

Clive
Jones, chief executive of ITV News and Regions, added: “News remains at
the heart of ITV’s public service commitment, which is why we need to
safeguard its future health. By reinvesting this money in the flagship
news shows and exploring new media opportunities we will guarantee that
the ITV News stays powerful and relevant in the digital age.”

ITN,
in a joint venture with NTL, launched the News Channel in 2000. ITV
assumed full control of the channel following its purchase of cable
television operator NTL Europe’s 35 per cent stake in the rolling news
service in April 2004. At that time Clive Jones said: “Gaining total
control of the ITV News Channel is a further demonstration of ITV’s
commitment to news.”

An ITN spokeswoman said the company was disappointed with the decision but welcomed the extra investment in news.

“We
are confident the extra funding will enable ITN to continue to provide
a news service to ITV which stands out for the quality of its coverage.
ITN has developed a strong 24-hour news culture and will retain this,
continuing to deliver 24-hour news on its radio, mobile and broadband
platforms.”

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