A row has broken out between British commercial TV groups Carlton Communications and Granada Media following comments made by the latter’s chairman Charles Allen in correspondence leaked to a Sunday newspaper [WAMN: 25-Jun-01].

The duo – which jointly own terrestrial digital TV platform OnDigital – also own 90% of commercial network ITV between them, and their increasingly cosy relationship has prompted widespread speculation that they will merge in the near future.

However, Carlton chief executive Gerry Murphy described as “hysterical scaremongering” Allen’s claim that ITV would be vulnerable to foreign takeover should the government delay legislation to deregulate the media sector, adding that the comments were “really not helpful.”

Allen’s comments were contained in a letter to prime minister Tony Blair which mysteriously ended up in the hands of the Sunday Times. Both Granada and the government deny responsibility for the leak.

A “deeply unimpressed” Carlton announced it “fundamentally” disagreed that postponing deregulation would “unduly threaten ITV or its shareholders,” arguing that competition regulations and authorities would have more influence on the consolidation of ITV companies.

Carlton warned that a merger with Granada is neither “inevitable nor necessary,” adding that it remains “perfectly possible” for ITV to remain a partnership “provided both sides understand the meaning of the word partnership.”

News sources: The Times (London); Financial Times