Edinburge Television Festival: Channel 4 chief demands single standards monitor: Grade calls for abolition of two 'narrow-minded, middle-class' quangos

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THE GOVERNMENT should abolish both the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and let the Independent Television Commission rule on programme standards, Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, said.

He attacked the 'clumsy patchwork of regulators stitched together in the past few years, in response to the Mary Whitehouse tendency', in an Edinburgh Television Festival session on Broadcasting Act reforms.

'The three overlapping quangos are tripping over each other, touting for business and the broadcasters face double or even triple jeopardy. Let's put the BSC and the BCC out of their misery. TV programmes are not defective toasters.'

He said the recent BBC White Paper published by the Government, which proposes a merger of the BSC, which rules on taste and decency matters, and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which handles privacy and inaccuracy allegations, was wrong in logic. 'A marriage of Lady Howe (chairman of the BSC) and Canon Pilkington (chairman of the BCC) is a most unsuitable one.'

Mr Grade said the people who sat on the BSC and BCC were made up of 'goody two-shoes, the great and the good, middle class, with middlebrow taste, narrow- minded. What does Lady Howe think of Terry Christian's The Word and who cares?'

The ITC was best placed to rule over breaches in programme standards since it was a regulator, not a broadcaster, with no powers of preview but had the statutory teeth to impose fines and remove franchises. Because it was detached it was also better placed to rule on BBC programme complaints, he said.

Mr Grade conceded that one body applying standards might be too powerful, but he said that there was confusion because the BBC governors had not sorted out their powers.

Colin Shaw, director of the BSC, said he was opposed to a single regulator and that while the BBC was still funded by a licence fee it should not be placed under a commercial regulator.

David Elstein, the director of programmes at BSkyB, assured delegates that Sky had no plans to buy up exclusive rights to any of the top-listed sporting events for broadcast on pay television. Currently, there are discussions over the future rights to Wimbledon.

David Mellor, former Secretary of State for National Heritage, who guided the current Broadcasting Act through parliament, said the legislation had correctly set down that the key listed events could not go on to pay-per-view channels. 'I never envisaged a serious challenge to national sporting events. I assumed an expansion of choice. Sky can enhance viewers' choice but if it moves too far and takes away freely available national events, it knows only too well that people in Parliament are prepared to take up the cudgels.'

However, delegates in the audience questioned whether it was right for the government to rely on what amounts to a voluntary agreement with Sky.

(Photograph omitted)

Demands for change, page 13