Fifth TV channel now due by 1996

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THE GOVERNMENT has given the green light to another attempt to get Channel 5, a new national television channel supported by advertising, off the ground. It has also set out its proposed framework for the eventual arrival of digital broadcasting.

But although the regulator, the Independent Television Commission, has been pressing to readvertise C5, after a failed attempt two years ago, it will not decide until September whether to proceed. The ITC has been irritated by the Government's decision to limit the broadcasting frequencies available to C5 so that only 50 to 60 per cent of the population would be able to receive it. That compares with about three- quarters of the population the last time C5 was advertised.

The ITC is worried that restricting C5's coverage makes it less attractive to advertisers. It intends to spend the next few weeks talking to possible bidders about whether they form a workable basis for a franchise. C5 could be on the air by Christmas 1995. The Government's decision is a compromise between those who wanted C5 readvertised and those who wanted to save the frequencies involved, channels 35 and 37, for digital broadcasting.

Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, has decided C5 will use only channel 37, which reaches about half of the population, mostly in big cities, although he will also try to make available additional frequencies to boost coverage by a further 10 per cent, and to include places such as Manchester and Nottingham.

Channel 35 is to be saved for digital broadcasting. The Government plans to make room for up to 12 digital services, four of which could reach more than 95 per cent of the population, four with 90 to 95 per cent coverage, and four more with 80 per cent. A digital service would also be made available to C5 to enable it to extend its coverage up to 95 per cent.