Letter: The views of those who watch

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The Independent Online
Sir: In justifying the Independent Television Commission's choice of winner for the Channel 5 licence - on quality, not "highest bidder", grounds - Sir George Russell, its chairman, said that "exercising discretion on programme quality was slap bang in the middle of our job". The worry, however, is that the ITC appears to believe it may conduct its assessment of licence bids according to its own definition of the word "quality".

British Standard BS4778 defines quality as the:

totality of features and characteristics of a product or service which bear on its ability to satisfy a given need.

Quality is thus not simply some private, unstated view of perfection. It is, by the relevant standards to which the ITC, like everyone else, is obliged to adhere, "fitness for purpose". Best practice in management and delivery of quality dictates that this purpose, and need, must be carefully formulated by those for whom the service is intended, and, once agreed by them, explicitly and unambiguously written down.

None of this was done for the Channel 5 bid evaluation process. No attempt has been made by the ITC to seek from those for whom the service is intended, its viewers, what their need is and what they wish the purpose of the new service to be; nor, therefore, has this statement of requirement been clearly agreed and written out.

The lack of an adequate response from the ITC when we put this rather fundamental point to them was one reason why we did not proceed with a bid for the Channel 5 licence. For the good of the (as yet undefined) future of British digital terrestrial television, it is clear that the Government must set more transparent processes for achieving its "quality". These must properly reflect the wishes of all customers, and not simply those of a clique of broadcasting establishment suppliers. And if the ITC is to maintain a role in this "digital information superskyway" future, it needs to sharpen its adherence to best practice in quality management.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Castell


Channel 5 Digital Television



28 October