Channel 4 forced to boost minority shows

The Independent Television Commission has told the Treasury it is prepared to put pressure on Channel 4 to ensure that the broadcaster uses millions of pounds gained from the planned abolition of the broadcaster's funding formula to invest in programmes of minority interest.

The confidential letter, seen by The Independent, said: "We believe it is important that Channel 4 should seize the opportunity of a significant increase in its resources by deploying these additional funds in a carefully considered set of programme priorities which would further develop its statutory remit."

The funding formula came into effect in January 1993 when Channel 4 became a public corporation. The broadcaster is obliged to hand over to ITV half of any terrestrial television advertising revenue it takes over a 14 per cent threshold. Channel 4 stands to gain in excess of pounds 70m from the removal of the levy.

Under the terms of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, Channel 4 is obliged to screen a "suitable proportion" of programming "not generally catered for by Channel 3". In the letter, the ITC says it will "modify" Channel 4's licence to "ensure that the increased resources are deployed in this way".

The ITV companies will welcome the ITC's admissions that it will use its powers to enforce Channel 4's commitment to minority programming. ITV operators have in the past argued for the rival broadcaster's remit to be tightened up, and repeated their plea only yesterday in a letter to Chris Smith, the National Heritage Secretary.