OXFORDSHIRE viewers have bombarded ITV with complaints over its new local television news programme, which covers much of South East England.

Meridian Tonight merged together the former Thames Valley, ITV Meridian South and ITV Meridian South East bulletins into a single news programme nine days ago, covering Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Dorset, Surrey the Isle of Wight and parts of Sussex.

But broadcasters have been swamped with complaints left on an Internet blog site set up for the relaunched programme.

According to the comments, viewers have been turning off in their droves and instead looking to the BBC for their local TV news.

Last night, the number of comments left on the website had reached 380, the majority of them negative and many lamenting the loss of Wesley Smith, the face of ITV’s Oxfordshire news coverage for over 20 years.

Thames Valley Tonight anchors Mr Smith, Mary Green and Hannah Shelswell were replaced by 67-year-old Fred Dinenage and Sangeeta Bhabra, who are based in Southampton.

Mr Smith, 45, said he was deeply touched by the comments.

He added: “It’s going to take a bit of adjusting for people after all these years.

“It’s heart-warming how kind people have been — it makes you realise how valued our service was.”

A spokesman for ITV, said the viewing services department had received a ‘number of comments’ about the new show but would not say how many actual complaints had been received.

On the online blog, George Morgan commented: “The new Meridian Tonight, replacing scrapped Thames Valley Tonight, emerged as a dire and utterly depressing experience!

“Grim-faced Fred Dineage and Sangeeta Bahbra exuded their own discomfort.

“They seemed to lack the skill which has enabled Wesley, Mary, Hannah and the Thames Valley team to present even the gravest news whilst radiating the warmth we’ve come to expect from truly professional people.

“Sadly, we must look to BBC South for a solution.”

E Pascoe said: “Now that you’ve removed Wesley, Hannah and the Thames Valley team, we shall be going over to BBC South.

“There is the adage, if it ain’t broken don’t mend it.

“Bring back Wesley is the cry by many.”

Simon Walker said: “I am very sad that we in Oxfordshire have been moved in to the Meridien (sic) region after 40 years in the ATV/Central region.

“We have nothing in common with places like Southampton or Dover. I cannot believe that we would not be better served by Central Tonight.

“I can see more people turing to BBC Oxford News, which is a shame, because Central News South was such a good service.”

Claire said: “Well I have lived in Oxfordshire now 25 years and have been watching Central South since it started with Wesley and the teams he has worked with.

“I will certainly be watching the bbc now, especially after watching meridan (sic) this evening and seeing no local news to our area at all.

“What a poor decision made by itv that’s for sure.”

l An online group has been set up for people who want ITV to bring back a Thames Valley news programme.

The group, on social networking site Facebook, has attracted 1,140 members so far.