BBC under fire for viewers' charter

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The Independent Online
ITV and Channel 4 last night said the BBC should withdraw its Statement of Promises, published with great fanfare on Tuesday, until misrepresentations and inaccuracies were removed from the 50-page "viewers' charter".

The broadcasters are incensed by a list of programme genres included with the document, which appears to suggest that ITV transmits no peak- time factual programming and that Channel 4 offers no contemporary music, natural history or religious programming in the hours between 6.30pm and 10.30pm.

"The BBC promised to be accurate and impartial, but this is a highly partial piece of selectivity," said Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, last night. "I am very sorry that the people who compiled this do not watch television."

According to the list, which appears on page 7 of the BBC's Statement of Promises to Viewers and Listeners, only the BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 broadcast current affairs programming at peak times. Barry Cox, director of the ITV Association, said last night: "I find it mystifying that the BBC should have missed World in Action, which has been on since the 1960s, and the Big Story. He added that the ITV companies would be writing to the BBC to complain about the matter.

Mr Grade said he too would be writing to the BBC about the claims. "They say we have no religious programming in peak-time - but what about Witness, or the History of the Church of England?" And about suggestions that Channel 4 did not broadcast non-situation comedy in peak, Mr Grade said: "What about Rory Bremner? or Jo Brand?"

A BBC spokesman said last night that the list had been based on figures compiled by Barb, the industry standard. "We should have stated that broadcasters had to have 34 minutes a week, each week of the year, in order to qualify," the spokesman added.

"That is completely selective," Mr Grade responded. "But even so, they should have stated it. I think this whole document ought to be shredded, and they should start again," he said.

"They promised in this very document that if they made a mistake, they would admit it clearly and frankly, say how it happened, and say what they would do to correct it. I think they should stick to their promise."

The Independent Television Commission, which regulates the commercial TV sector, was also understood to be concerned about the document, believing it to be a misrepresentation of the breadth of commercial terrestrial services in the UK.

The Statement of Promises marked the BBC's most public attempt yet to convince licence-payers that it provided value for money, and its publication coincided with the present campaign for a higher licence fee. The corporation had said it would send out 10 million leaflets offering copies to interested viewers. Revising and reprinting the document would add to the already high cost - nearly pounds 500,000 - of preparationand publishing the statement.

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