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Jowell defends government's role in ITV Digital collapse

LONDON - Tessa Jowell, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has defended the governent's role in the collapse of ITV Digital, blaming it on the company and not the technology in a statement to the House of Commons this morning.

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Jowell's speech follows yesterday's news that ITV Digital is to be put up for sale and its licence re-tendered after no further funding was provided by its parents Carlton Communications and Granada.

The broadcaster will instead be kept going under agreement with its suppliers, some of which have agreed to provide it with various services, including channels free of charge, until a buyer is found.

Jowell's decision to defend digital terrestrial technology will likely be a controversial one, as the government has come under fire for not intervening to strengthen the broadcaster's signal when it was struggling to reach parts of the UK.

More recently, Jowell has been criticised for failing to get involved in ITV Digital's battle with the Football League over the £315m TV rights deal, of which ITV Digital still owes £178m.

Jowell said: "There is always a risk in such ventures, especially in relation to markets built on new technology. It is precisely for this reason that I would not intervene directly on what is essentially a private matter between a company and its creditors. The government's role is to protect the wider public interest."

She added that she has been in day-to-day contact with the Football League, the Football Association and commercial TV regulator, the Independent Television Commission.

She called the recent stand-off between ITV Digital and the Football League "a setback" and the collapse of ITV Digital a "collapse on route" to a new technology and to the government's target to switch off the analogue signal by 2010.

She said: "I have always made clear that the switchover process must be driven by consumer demand. In any new technology there are often bumps on route. This has been one. The most important thing now is to restore certainty and predictability for consumers so that they can make their own, informed choices."

Jowell concluded that digital terrestrial television "has an important role to play in the digital future". She said: "It is a natural migration path for analogue viewers who are accustomed to receiving their TV services through their aerials and it is potentially universally in its availability. This platform must continue, to ensure that all viewers have a full range of options, in a competitive and dynamic environment.

"The success of digital television should not be equated with the position of one commercial operator. The fact that ITV Digital has not succeeded will not deflect us and the broadcasting industry form making a reality of the digital future. Digital TV is more than ITV Digital."

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