Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 106)


Ms Dorothy Byrne and Mr Jim Gray

  Q100  Baroness Eccles of Moulton: The next question really has been partly based on the commercial viability of news. In the Ofcom recent report, in relation to the fact that the independent PBS channels at the moment have a privileged access to the analogue spectrum, which, of course, will come to an end when all broadcasting becomes digital, it says that the statutory mechanisms to enforce the inclusion of news on television "may only work on BBC and probably Channel 4", and I am quoting from paragraph 1.25 in the report. What do you think of that? Do you think that this is an accurate summary?

  Ms Byrne: It is interesting. ITV is a very important news provider and particularly important to me because we make our news together. Will it be to ITV's advantage to have news after that date? Yes, because it would mark it out from the many other channels that are out there. You may all have a view on that but having really good news does make a statement about your channel that I think is very attractive to viewers, and I find it interesting that ITV, for example, in current affairs, keeps Tonight with Trevor McDonald and keeps it in prime time, because it obviously thinks it does a good job for it. Currently I think ITV News is a very good programme and it is doing pretty well. I would hope that ITV would continue in some way with news but—

  Q101  Baroness Eccles of Moulton: Do you think that Channel 4 News can survive in its present form?

  Ms Byrne: I go back to it. It has to survive. Channel 4 News is the key and most important purpose of Channel 4. We just have to all be clear about that. I do not walk about Channel 4 saying, "I am the most important person in Channel 4", but I do walk about saying, "What I do is the most important thing that Channel 4 does", and I have to say that everybody agrees.

  Q102  Chairman: You mean everybody in Channel 4 agrees?

  Ms Byrne: Everybody in Channel 4 agrees. The marketing and the promotion of news and current affairs at Channel 4 I think is a demonstration of its real commitment to it, and it is not just at the heart of what we do; it is us. I always say that Channel 4 News is the soul of Channel 4. It is what it is for.

  Q103  Chairman: The last time I heard anyone say, "It has to survive" several times it was the British Leyland Rover management in Birmingham, but I will not go down that road. You suggested that if ITV took over ITN Channel 4 would review the situation. Actually, there is nothing you could do about it, is there? I mean, the only thing you could do, I suppose, would be take another news provider if you felt that strongly.

  Ms Byrne: Yes. If we felt it was not right that would be what we would consider doing.

  Mr Gray: ITN, we obviously hope, would propose a model of the kind of news that would still meet all its responsibilities and obligations.

  Q104  Chairman: I may be wrong but I did not get an overwhelming sense that you were totally confident that ITV was going to continue in the news area.

  Ms Byrne: I hope that they do. I think there are very good reasons for them to do so.

  Q105  Chairman: Just to end where we began, the bottom line is that at the moment you are supported by roughly £10 million a year to keep your Channel 4 news programmes going and that money has got to come from somewhere in your view because it is not going to come from, if I can put it this way, the market place?

  Ms Byrne: Exactly.

  Q106  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. It has been a very interesting session. We have undoubtedly got more questions for you but perhaps we could put those on paper and send them to you.

  Mr Gray: Of course.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming.

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