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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Viewers consulted about TV quality

The ITC will consult via its web site
Public service broadcasting, one of the cornerstones of British television, could be redefined after a nationwide consultation launching on Wednesday.

The Independent Television Commission (ITC), which regulates commercial channels, is to ask the public for its views on quality.

It wants to know whether its requirements for "high quality" in areas such as news, arts, religion and children's programmes should be altered, now that 30% of homes have multi-channel television.

Public meetings, people's juries and internet discussions will be used to gauge opinion on the role of public service broadcasting with the findings being forwarded to the government.

It has long been accepted in Britain that broadcasting is too important to be left to market forces, says BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas.

Peaktime programming

Alongside the publicly-funded BBC, the major commercial channels - ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - have to meet public service requirements, enforced by the ITC.

They must provide high quality programmes, some in peaktime, across a range of genres, including news and current affairs, arts, religion, regional and children's programmes.

But that is proving hard to sustain with the fierce competition from commercial cable, satellite and digital channels, which have no such requirements.

Only this week, the ITC suggested the explosion of new channels could let it relax many of the rules on TV advertising.

But it has also ordered ITV to end the decline in its news audiences after the dropping of News at Ten.

'Stimulate debate'

Peter Rogers, ITC chief executive, said: "Since its inception the commercial sector has played its part in maintaining overall broadcasting standards and the ITC has helped enrich the output through the application of positive programme requirements.

"The object of this exercise will be to consult widely, and stimulate debate about public service broadcasting in the digital age."

Reacting to the ITC consultation, a BBC spokesman said: "The BBC welcomes this initiative which will contribute to the understanding of public service broadcasting - particularly at a time of such change in the communications industry.

"The ITC consultation will make a valued contribution to the broader national debate."

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