Six hundred jobs are to go at ITV after the channel reported a massive 41 per cent drop in profits.

About 500 of the jobs will be lost in Leeds, where ITV is closing its Kirkstall Road studios, the home of under-threat shows Heartbeat and The Royal.

The news is a body blow to ITV’s new-look programming strategy – chairman Michael Grade had planned to revive the broadcaster’s flagging fortunes by pouring money into high quality documentaries and drama.

Now the programme budget is being slashed by £65m this year alone to save costs.

Website Friends Reunited will also be put up for sale to raise funds.

“Current conditions in the advertising market are the most challenging I have experienced in over 30 years in UK broadcasting,” said Grade, who has seen ad revenue plunge by 20 per cent in the first quarter of 2009.

“This is not a decision taken lightly,” he added. “The board’s judgement is that it represents a prudent course in present conditions.”

But union leaders have hit out at the decision to cut jobs and costs. Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of broadcasting union Bectu, said the axe was falling because of bad management, not the recession.

He told the BBC: “This is because of the mismanagement of ITV and has been going on for longer than the current credit crunch.”

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