Has Greg Dyke Goofed?

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MEDIA

IAN HARGREAVES sees merit in the BBC's decision to move its news to 10pm

It was certainly sporting of ITN's website to offer us a poll on the BBC's decision to move its Nine O'clock News to 10pm, especially as the electronic ballot paper had a cross in the pro-BBC box as its default position. Those responsible were no doubt delighted that, despite this self-imposed disadvantage, 59 per cent of those who voted on the day of the decision said Greg Dyke had goofed.

I mention this factoid only because I cannot think of any other reason why the crowd who run ITV should be pleased with themselves.

These are the people who got fat and complacent in their oligopoly, failed to notice the arrival of the internet, blew their entry into digital television and then campaigned for the right to demolish one of their most successful brands -- News at Ten. And finally, having got temporary permission to ban the bongs, they turned out not to have enough programmes to fill the gap, turning what was already a political disaster into a commercial fiasco.

Not that they stopped there. They then blustered against their regulator's unreasonable inclination to hold them to their contracts and bawled "see you in court", before caving in. The deal they got -- a shorter News at Ten to return next year, on some, but not all, weekday evenings -- will help no one.

Now the BBC has gatecrashedNews at Ten's welcome home party. Those who think that Greg Dyke has reacted with hasty opportunism have two arguments on their side. The first is that a head-to-head TV news battle between the BBC and ITV will reduce choice, and so the number of people who watch any TV news. The BBC, it is said, should not be collaborating in such a weakening of our most influential news mass medium.

The second argument is that it is undignified for the director general of the BBC to announce in August an orderly, year-long transition to the vacated 10pm slot-, all part of a careful strategy -- only to declare six weeks later that he will do it within a fortnight, in response to ITV's confusion.

The first of these arguments may turn out to be true, though it is not certain. We know that except when there are big stories, news cannot compete for ratings with entertainment, so if both the Nine and Ten O'clock News run against soap operas or James Bond films, they do badly. Running against each other, they may, in aggregate, do better. After all, who, apart from professors of journalism and Millbank tyrants, wants to watch both?

The second point is just wrong. Although I consider myself a paid-up member of that small, secret society which thinks that my one-time colleague John Birt made the right strategic judgments at the BBC, it cannot be denied that there's a thrill in seeing someone at the top able to move boldly on instinct. …