ITV axes UTV Live Tonight in network revamp
Exclusive: Latest move sparks claim quality journalism is suffering
UTV’S commitment to producing serious news and current affairs programmes has been questioned as it prepares to scrap yet another of its hard news shows.
The axe will fall on the award-winning UTV Live Tonight programme at the end of September and it will be replaced with a weekly hour-long politics show.
Hosted by Paul Clark and Marc Mallett, the current affairs programme is currently broadcast from Monday to Thursday at 10.30pm.
But the show has fallen victim to its new owner ITV’s attempts to revamp its listings.
The new schedule will see the late news, including the weather report, last for just 11 minutes, while the current affairs output will increase from 26 minutes per week to 33.
The increase was proposed by ITV plc as part of the takeover process which merged UTV and UTV Ireland’s 250 staff into ITV’s global television business.
And although ITV claims jobs will not be affected, critics of the change claim the network’s current affairs output has been diminishing for years.
An insider who has worked on the programme said: “This is a real blow to the production team and a big loss to the audience.
“UTV Live Tonight gave UTV a serious journalistic edge and was a consistently good performer in the ratings. The audience appreciates its quality journalism and the in-depth studio discussions on big stories.
“It was well regarded by politicians, who appreciated the coverage of events at Stormont. The programme suffered cuts to its resources over recent years and there were fears among the team that ITV would scrap it when it took over. It’s a shame that it’s ending and it does raise a question about the commitment of UTV and its ITV parent to quality broadcast journalism.”
A UTV spokesperson said: “We advised staff last week of some exciting new programming plans coming up this autumn to our evening news and current affairs schedule.
“UTV Live Tonight will return on August 22 and run until the end of September, when it will be replaced with a new UTV Live news and weather bulletin after News at Ten every week night.
“A new, one-hour political series, View from Stormont, presented by Paul Clark, will be introduced on Monday nights in October, further enhancing our current affairs offering for viewers. In addition, UTV Life has returned in its usual slot, but will move to a new peak-time slot in September.
“UTV Live Tonight has performed very well over the past seven years, but we believe the time is now right to refresh the schedule and look forward to announcing more details on our new programming for viewers in September.
“No jobs are affected as a result of these plans.”
The company’s TV division was sold in October in a £100m deal with ITV, first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph last August.
Speaking at the time, ITV chief executive Adam Crozier said the new owner was “committed to maintaining and strengthening the news service and UTV’s wider programming output”.
The show is one of many to be taken off UTV, after award-winning and hard news programmes such as Counterpoint, Insight and The Issue were also panned despite high audience figures.
Author and UTV historian Don Anderson said the cutback on UTV news was “inevitable”.
“Its new owners have to make a profit,” he said.
“It is accurate to say that UTV’s current news output is less now than it once was, but that is because news gathering is very expensive.
“ITV has spent a lot of money on its networks.
“It is an inevitable retreat away from the local programmes.”