View from City Road: Vote winner on Channel 5

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The Independent Online
Is someone twisting the arm of the President of the Board of Trade? Until recently the idea of re-offering the franchise to run Channel 5, a national TV channel to broadcast alongside ITV and Channel 4, had been winning support. But suddenly Michael Heseltine is arguing for a delay until the current review of cross-media ownership is complete. Supposedly, the Department of Trade and Industry is fretting that allocating broadcasting frequencies to C5 will limit access to the airwaves for digital television if and when it eventually arrives.

But the Independent Television Commission's own statistics show the impact would be minimal. As things stand, around 22 per cent of the country would be unable to receive digital television; with C5, around 24 per cent of the country would be out of reach.

So perhaps someone has been whispering another argument in Mr Heseltine's ear. C5 will upset the ITV apple cart. Companies with franchises in areas of the country covered by C5 would lose advertising to it. Yet the current media ownership rules would in effect disbar the likes of Carlton or Granada from joining in the bidding for the new channel.

Admittedly the cross-media rules are flawed. But we are at least 18 months away from such a change, even if it gets the governmental nod. C5 on the other hand could be up and running by the end of 1995, so long as a decision is taken within the next few months.

It may be unjust - but then so was the ITV rule revamp which benefited Granada et al at the expense of the smaller broadcasters. In such circumstances, the predominant consideration should be the virtually immediate expansion of choice when C5 is launched. And that would surely be a vote winner - just in time for the general election.