TV watchdog praises Channel 4 for 'freshness and innovation'

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The Independent Online

The Independent Television Commission praised Channel 4 yesterday for "freshness and innovation" and encouraged Channel 5 to continue reducing the number of "tacky" sex shows in schedules.

The commission's report, which looked at the performance of broadcasters in 1999, said the output of Channel 4 had been marked by "freshness and innovation" with the controversial drama Queer As Folk singled out, as well as the acclaimed series 1900 House. The use of Ali G, one of the channel's most high-profile performers, for an alternative Christmas message, had "chimed well with the channel's remit". But Chris Evans' TFI Friday show was "no longer the attraction it once was", according to the report. The channel's leisure and consumer shows "disappointingly" tended to concentrate on cookery, gardening, clothes and cars, the report said.

Channel 5's news, documentaries, films and religious programmes were all good, said the commission, but the channel "still suffers from the inclusion of a great deal of low-budget material of little distinction".

S The commission was particularly unhappy about a repeat series of Sex and Shopping on the three-year-old channel which it had criticised in its original form and only just met taste and decency requirements when shown again.

Peter Rogers, chief executive of the commission, said of Channel 5: "There is not the same quantity of tacky sex - with the exception of the wee small hours where there is a heavy diet of sexual portrayal."

Launching the report, Mr Rogers warned the planned "switch-over" to digital television will not happen for 10 years unless the Government persuades viewers to change.

He said viewers did not know the technology would soon alter. Part of the problem had been caused by giving away free "set-top boxes", which encouraged customers to buy traditional televisions. Of 4.5 million sets sold annually, only 10,000 were digital, he said, quoting the latest figures. Mr Rogers said: "We've got to get the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry on board or it isn't going to happen."

The transition from analogue to digital will be "abrupt", because new and old services cannot run concurrently. Last year, Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who wants a switch-over within 10 years, said coverage must first be "universal". The commission admits there is also a potential problem in video recorders, which will need a digital box to be retuned for the new channels. There are no digital recorders available.

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