Net predicts $180 mil shortfall by 2009

LONDON — The chances of Channel 4, the U.K.’s commercially funded broadcaster, getting a public subsidy appeared to be dashed Tuesday by Blighty’s communications regulator Ofcom.

Its report, the culmination of more than a year’s work examining how to preserve public service television in the digital age, concluded, “There is no immediate case for the direct public funding of Channel 4.”

Under CEO Andy Duncan, C4, faced with a declining audience share in digital homes and the prospect of digital switchover in 2012, has argued it faces a $180 million deficit by 2009 unless it gets a Treasury handout.

But Ofcom, whose report also paved the way for dominant commercial web ITV to slash its non-news regional coverage by 50%, said C4’s business was in good shape in the short term.

“Our judgment — and I think it is pretty robust — is that there is not a funding crisis in the near time,” said Ofcom CEO Stephen Carter. “Channel 4 has a cash surplus, so the question is what do they do with it?”

Ofcom will monitor C4’s performance and finances before a full review in 2006-07.

Duncan put a brave face on Ofcom’s findings. “The report explicitly recognizes that increased competitive pressures will mean that Channel 4 is likely to face a funding problem in the mid to long term,” he said, “and gives a clear commitment to help us address our forecast funding gap.”

Meanwhile, C4 has launched a season of four programs examining the use of torture in the war against terrorism.

First up, one-off reality show “The Guantanamo Guidebook,” re-creates the conditions and methods used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Over 48 hours in a London warehouse, seven male volunteers, three of them Muslims, submit to torture techniques inspired by declassified U.S. government documents.

The 20/20-produced show is presented by news anchor Jon Snow.

C4 also has commissioned a film by Clive Stafford Smith, the first British lawyer permitted to visit Guantanamo, and asked investigative journalist Andrew Gilligan to examine “the secret worldwide network of torture being used to extort information from alleged al Qaeda suspects.”

The last program is a film looking at alleged use of torture in the U.S.’ own prison system.

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