Fears that a US takeover of British TV channel Five will lead to a ‘dumping’ of stateside shows on the station have been heightened after details emerged of a secret deal between the channel and regulators.

Under the Communications Bill currently passing through parliament, Britain’s smallest terrestrial station could be purchased by non-European Union firms and also by firms with newspaper interests. No prizes for guessing which Rupert Murdoch-controlled media giant fits both criteria.

Critics of the Bill fear that News Corporation or any other American owner would try to cut costs at Five by filling the schedules with cheap programming from the US.

Their chances of doing so have been increased by a hitherto unknown agreement between Five and the Independent Television Commission to allow more foreign shows onto the channel than previously thought.

Under the channel’s original licence, the proportion of British programming Five must broadcast was due to rise from 53% to 71% this year. However, the limit has gone up to only 55%, and will rise a percentage point a year to 60% in 2008, when the deal will be renegotiated. The ITC believes this will allow Five to spend its small programming budget more effectively.

The government refuted suggestions that the move could lead to a flood of stateside shows on Five, insisting the minimum percentage of UK programming would be raised if a non-EU company acquires the station.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff