Channel 5 criticised for `tacky' sex shows heady x3 x3

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THE GOVERNMENT'S television watchdog has taken the highly unusual step of describing Channel 5 as "tacky" in its annual report, because of the broadcaster's use of sex to attract viewers.

ITV was also criticised for failing to broadcast more current affairs programmes and for having only "adequate" coverage of the Nato action in Yugoslavia during prime time this month.

The Independent Television Commission, which regulates commercial channels, singled out Channel 5's late-night "erotic dramas" and factual shows for criticism in its evaluation of how each channel performed during 1998.

Channel 5 was criticised for having a high number of breaches of the ITC programme code during the year and for "the tackiness associated with an increased use of low-budget erotic drama in the evening and of various factual programmes on sexual themes".

Factual programmes such as The Real Monty, Swindon Superbabes, Stags and Hens and On the Piste were described as "overly voyeuristic" while the explicitness of Sex and Shopping was "unsuitable for broadcast at any time".

This is the second serious criticism of the channel this year. The Broadcasting Standards Commission said its erotic series, Compromising Situations and Hotline, raised significant issues about whether programmes that include sex for sex's sake should be allowed on free-to-air channels in the UK.

At the time, Channel 5's chief executive, David Elstein, called the BSC "anachronistic and patronising" for imposing its taste on the public. However, the ITC can fine channels or even take away licences. The BSC has few powers.

While the ITC praised ITV for increasing its ratings and introducing new programmes, a detailed reading of the channel's performance showed it now airs the lowest amount of current affairs in its history. ITV produced just one hour and 25 minutes of current affairs per week in 1998. In 1997, the regulator had asked ITV to increase the amount of factual programming it broadcasts and last year it doubled its 1997 output. However, most of the new programmes were so-called docu-soaps, or observational documentaries, and the ITC wants ITV to return to more thoughtful documentaries.

The BBC has admitted it was wrong to allow a number of jokes about masturbation in the Christmas Day episode of Men Behaving Badly. The BBC admitted its mistake after the Broadcasting Standards Commission yesterday upheld complaints from 18 viewers about the content of the programme. The BBC said it misjudged the different nature of the Christmas night audience.