Channel 4 to challenge watchdog's decision

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CHANNEL 4 was yesterday granted leave to seek judicial review against a decision by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission to consider criticisms of one of its programmes.

The review, a fillip to the channel's long-running campaign against the commission, is likely to be conducted in the High Court before the end of the year and is expected to set important guidelines for the role of the broadcasting watchdog.

At issue is a report from Channel 4's legal series The Brief, which last March alleged that an Asian family had experienced racial abuse in their home village of Creswell, Derbyshire. Elmton-with-Creswell parish council complained to the commission that the report was an unfair portrayal of the local community.

The station rejected the charge and argued that under the terms of the 1990 Broadcasting Act the commission was overstepping its powers in accepting a complaint from an organisation which was not directly involved in or affected by the programme.

John Willis, Channel 4's director of programmes, said: 'The outcome (of the judicial review) will help clarify the role and jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, clarification that is in the interests of both broadcasters and potential complainants.'

Yesterday's ruling will provide some encouragement to the BBC, which is also currently locked in dispute with the commission. Following complaints from the National Council for One-Parent Families, the BCC last month condemned a Panorama documentary on single mothers as 'unjust and unfair'.

The corporation applied to seek leave for judicial review on similar grounds, before taking the unprecedented step of broadcasting a repudiation of the commission's findings.

Under the terms of the 1990 Act, complaints 'shall not be entertained by the BCC unless made by the person affected'. It adds that the BCC may also refuse to consider a complaint 'if the person named as the person affected was not himself the subject of the treatment complained of and it appears to the BCC that he did not have a sufficiently direct interest in the subject matter of that treatment to justify the making of a complaint with him as the person affected'.

In line with the Government's White Paper on broadcasting, Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, has argued that the commission should be abolished along with the Broadcasting Standards Council and replaced with a single body, possibly the Independent Television Commission.