The chairman of the Independent Television Commission (ITC), one of the UK's broadcast regulators, has called on the government to bring in urgent interim legislation that would allow the two largest commercial broadcasters to merge.

Sir Robin Biggam, said: "We are going through tough times and government needs to act quickly to use interim legislation, as necessary, to deal with the issues that need to be addressed now if we are to have a dynamic and prosperous communications sector in the UK."

Under current media ownership legislation Carlton Communications and Granada are prevented from teaming up in the free TV sector until at least 2003-2004.

However, the two companies, which already dominate the ITV network, are facing aggressive competition from satellite outfit BSkyB and a ratings-hungry BBC. The two are already partnered in the heavily loss-making digital terrestrial platform ONdigital.