Channel 4 'breaching its remit to win viewers'

CHANNEL 4 has been accused of breaching its remit and becoming too populist. Instead of offering a distinctive range of minority programmes it is trying to drive up audiences with imported programmes and films, mainly from the United States, according to an analysis of its output by ITV.

Scottish Television, concerned at Channel 4's rise in viewing since January, tracked its rival's schedule for the first week of February, ending Sunday 7 February.

It found that during the whole week the total of imported programmes represented 41 per cent of the schedule, compared with 22 per cent on the ITV company's airwaves. On Sunday 7 February, Channel 4 used imports for 67 per cent of output between midday and midnight.

Channel 4's programming remit, which was technically left untouched by the 1990 Broadcasting Act, says its programmes must 'contain a suitable proportion of matter calculated to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by Channel 3' and that 'innovation and experiment in the form and content of those programmes are encouraged'. It has to be distinctive, and it must ensure that more than half its output is of European origin.

ITV managers, in competition with Channel 4 for advertising revenue for the first time, are incensed at the way the scheduling has developed in the hands of Michael Grade, the chief executive. Channel 4 has become keenly commercial since the change in its funding. It is now in charge of selling its own advertising. Instead of catering for minority interests, Channel 4 has been running mainstream films such as The Abyss, screened on 24 January, which attracted seven 7 million viewers on a Sunday evening. American imports, such as Cheers, The Golden Girls, Nurses and Little House on the Prairie have become an established part of the schedules. Mr Grade has also dramatically improved ratings with The Big Breakfast and Italian football.

But the final straw for ITV came on Sunday 14 February, when Channel 4 started running the best of Benny Hill in order to build up audiences for the first episode of Lipstick on Your Collar, the pounds 6.8m Dennis Potter series, which follows on.

Dr Geoff Brownlee, of Yorkshire Television, a spokesman for ITV's competition committee, said yesterday that Gus MacDonald, managing director of Scottish Television, would raise the matter with members of Channel 4's board.

Since 1 January Channel 4 has been pushing up its ratings, which averaged a steady 10 per cent during 1992, to between 11 and 12 per cent a week so far.

Channel 4 said yesterday that its most popular 11 programmes in the week ending 7 February had all been commissioned especially for the channel. The proportion of acquired programming was boosted on February 7, he said, because it showed Bertolucci's The Last Emperor.

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