Four million 'to lose out' on Channel 5

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Channel 5 Broadcasting, the backers of Britain's fifth terrestrial channel, yesterday accused the Government of depriving up to 2 million British households, or 4 million viewers, of the ability to receive the Channel 5 signal.

According to David Elstein, the newly appointed chief executive of Channel 5 Broadcasting, a request to use an additional frequency to transmit the new service was being resisted by the Department of Trade & Industry and the Radio Communications Authority, which want to reserve it for mobile television and radio digital services on trains and buses.

The fifth terrestrial service, to be launched on 1 January 1997, has already been allocated Channel 37, used by many VCRs for their playback signal, necessitating a pounds 100m door-to-door retuning exercise. Earlier this year, Channel 5 requested that Channel 35, reserved for digital services, be released.

Mr Elstein claimed that Channel 5 would then reach 78 rather than 70 per cent of British households. The Independent Television Commission, which regulates commercial television in the UK, yesterday reiterated its support for Channel 5's request, saying: "We certainly believe that Channel 5 should get the maximum coverage. It would enhance the services to viewers, and those who can't receive will wonder why."

According to a source at Channel 5, several towns, including Worcester, will find themselves divided as to reception, with perhaps half of homes unable to watch the new service. Other towns, particularly in the East Midlands, would also be affected.

Channel 5 is asking for a meeting with the DTI to discuss the issue, while a select committee of the House of Commons is scheduled to debate the frequency question this autumn.

A spokesman for the DTI said yesterday: "We have stated our position. Looking to the future, we believe a better use of Channel 35 would be for mobile television services, which might be introduced in the next four or five years."

Mr Elstein said: "To deprive 4 million people of Channel 5 now for the sake of possibly bringing in mobile digital broadcasting services in four or five years seems a very curious set of priorities. Given the rate of the technological advance we are experiencing in broadcasting, surely another means will be found of delivering digital mobile services if they are relevant in five years."

It is understood that the disagreement between the DTI and the ITC, which is overseen by the Department of National Heritage, was part of a continuing jurisdictional battle, made more bitter in light of the convergence between telecommunications and broadcasting in the digital age.