Ofcom to exert tighter control

LONDON — The British media regulator Ofcom has signaled that Channel 4 must come under tighter control if it is to receive any public subsidy.

In a carefully worded statement Ofcom, which has unique power over the controversial state-owned but commercially funded U.K. web, said it accepted Channel 4’s argument that new competition is likely to lead to a funding crisis for the web in its present shape after 2010.

But it said that in the immediate future Channel 4’s finances and its ability to deliver its public service remit were safe.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: “We are concerned that Channel 4 may not be able to fulfil its public service purpose in future.

“The next phase of our work will be to ask what Channel 4’s purpose should be in the longer term, and what the best way is to achieve it.

“Ahead of this we need to significantly improve our ability to monitor and to assess its remit and ensure it is delivered effectively across a full range of programs.”

Channel 4’s critics, who claim the edgy broadcaster has become too addicted to sensational shows and too reliant on “Big Brother” for ad coin, will no doubt interpret Ofcom’s move as a slur on the web’s editorial strategy.

But Richards declined to talk about specific programs stressing that in future Channel 4’s output needed to be monitored to ensure it was delivering its public service remit.

In the long term, this could involve changing the way Channel 4 is run, he added.

Ofcom noted that recently Channel 4 was spending less on current affairs, news and religious programs, but more on U.S. shows.

It was also, suggested Ofcom, doing less to support the British production industry in recent years.

“Until 2006, spend on original programs had fallen in real terms every year since 2001,” said the regulator.

Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan welcomed Ofcom’s statement.

He said: “Today’s statement ends the debate about whether or not Channel 4 is going to face future funding problems and we can now begin focusing on how to address them.

“Ofcom acknowledges that if Channel 4 is going to continue providing vital public service competition to the BBC then it is likely to require new forms of public support.”

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