UK Government Takes Tougher Line Over Channel Five

29 January 2003

The Blair administration, although adamant it will not back down from the controversial clause in its draft Communications Bill that allows non-EU broadcasters to gain control of Britain's commercial TV companies, has conceded a handful of palliative amendments.

The bill is currently at standing committee stage, where it is examined clause by clause both by the civil service and ministers. The changes in question have been jointly introduced by ecommerce and competitiveness minister Stephen Timms and Kim Howells, under-secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

The duo hope their tweaking will still the volley of criticism directed at the bill in its present form and ease it through its first reading in the House of Lords.

Critics’ main concern is the possible acquisition of terrestrial channel Five by a US-headquartered operator [no-one is crass enough to mention N*ws C*rp*r*tion or Vi*c*m by name] which would then swamp the channel with cheap imports.

Legislation is already in place to prevent this happening at ITV; while Channel Four, all of whose shares are held by the state, is invulnerable to takeover.

The amendments confer on new broadcast and telecoms supra-regulator Ofcom, powers to examine any non-EU bid for Five, which is currently controlled by European broadcast group RTL and – if it sees fit – introduce legally enforceable requirements as to the proportion of UK-produced content.

Two further amendments give Ofcom the muscle to impose other conditions on any new owner, including a requirement to commission a given proportion of Five’s programming from production companies outside London and across the UK’s regions. Ofcom will also be able to increase this quota as it sees fit.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff