The Network’s News 

1 January 2004

ITV’s earliest programmes, it could be argued, were certainly distinctive, but could just as well have been done by the BBC, albeit in a somewhat different way. The same was not to be true of ITV’s news, says Richard Elen.

The fledgling Independent Television Authority looked at three possible methods of providing what the Television Act required – which was little more than requiring that “any news… is presented with due accuracy and impartiality”. The Act, however, left no clues as to how this was to be provided, or in what form.

The ITA discussed news with the initial contractors and came up with different approaches. News could be provided from existing press sources such as the Press Association and Reuters, or from a newsreel company such as Pathé; or it could be generated by a group formed by the contractors – perhaps including the Authority. Another suggestion was that the Authority should produce news programming itself – but that was not an option the ITA relished: it wanted to be the ‘unseen hand’ behind ITV, not an on-screen presence.

ITN control room in 1957g

ITN control room in 1957

The contractors in general liked the idea of a joint company created by them, with the Authority ensuring that its output remained impartial and objective. The Authority, however, preferred the idea of handing it all over to a third party. But concern about Conservative bias in the companies tended to lend weight to the idea of a contractor-owned federation.

By mid-January, 1955, it had been decided to create a news organisation along lines proposed by a subcommittee of contractor’s representatives. The four initial ITV companies would each have a quarter share in the new organisation, Independent Television News, with a governing board consisting of two representatives from each contractor. The head of ITN would be an Editor-in-Chief who would be appointed with the agreement of the ITA, which would have the right to appoint an adviser, and observe the operation of Independent Television’s news service to ensure that it met the Act’s provisions. New ITA contractors would join the organisation as they came into being. The contractors themselves would be responsible for regional news.

In addition, the news would be presented by “personality newsreaders,” in-vision. This was a dramatic new departure from accepted (ie BBC) practice, where newsreaders were never seen, let alone named; instead, traditional newsreel techniques were to the fore.

Independent Television News Limited came into being on May 4, 1955, with Associated-Rediffusion’s Captain Brownrigg, RN, in the chair. The first Editor-in-Chief was former Labour MP Aidan Crawley, an experienced broadcaster, well known to television viewers as a BBC current affairs presenter.

References: Bernard Sendall, Independent Television in Britain.

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