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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Channel 5's naked ambition
Keith Chegwin
What's going on at Channel 5? Keith Chegwin fronting a nude gameshow, soft porn in the evenings. It seems to be finding a winning formula. By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

Watching a portly and naked Keith Chegwin leap around a mocked-up jungle might not be your idea of a quiet night in, but it was for some.

Unofficial figures show two million people tuned into Channel 5 last week to see Cheggers and his gameshow guests bare all on the Naked Jungle.

But not everyone who watched was a fan. The Daily Mail this week raged at what it called a "new low in bad taste" and branded the station "Channel Filth".

Kirsty Young
News anchor: Channel 5's Kirsty Young joined ITV

On Monday, Culture Secretary Chris Smith became an unlikely ally of the right-leaning Mail, when he issued his own rebuke for C5. Mr Smith said broadcasters had a commercial and moral duty to take account of the views of the public over television programming.

"We have noticed in recent days very considerable concern about some of the content on television, particularly in relation to Channel 5," said Mr Smith.

In the three years since it launched, Britain's fifth free-to-air channel has been no stranger to controversy.

Last year the Independent Television Commission, which regulates commercial channels, called the broadcaster "tacky".

They have brought nothing innovative to TV but they were never asked to

Peter Keighron

Sex and Shopping, billed as a "frank look at the global pornography business", was condemned as "unacceptably explicit". A clutch of other documentaries, including The Real Monty, Swindon Superbabes, and Stags and Hens were branded "overly voyeuristic".

The channel has broken another British broadcasting taboo, by regularly showing late-evening soft porn films.

Channel 5's controller of programmes, Dawn Airey, has been bullish about the sexual content. "We aren't afraid to put it at the heart of the schedule," she once said.

But recently she pointed out "adult material" comprised less than 2% of the C5 schedule.

Media journalist Peter Keighron says there is little incentive for the channel to change its ways. Financially, it is on a roll. It is about to break even, has seen advertising revenues rise 18% last year and a 30m profit is predicted for next year.

It's a Knockout
Ratings run: Channel 5 resurrected It's a Knockout

"Advertisers might prefer something a bit more upmarket that might challenge the BBC, because that kind of viewer is hard to reach," says Mr Keighron.

"But with Channel 5's budget they can't really expect upmarket programmes."

Something the channel does suffer from is the lack of a "must see" programme, such as Channel 4's Friends or The Simpsons on Sky One and BBC Two, that viewers immediately associate with the station, says Mr Keighron.

But its success in snatching the Australian soap Home and Away from ITV, and speculation it might take Neighbours from BBC One, shows it is trying to move in this direction.

The bare truth
By 5pm Tuesday, the ITC had received nine complaints about Naked Jungle
Not all were offended by nudity
The last Brit awards prompted 27 complaints

There are some parallels with the situation Channel 4 found itself in after its launch in 1982. Initially the station struggled to win a loyal audience and when it succeeded its content was condemned by the newspapers.

And before the Daily Mail christened Channel 5 head David Elstein with the dubious title of "pornographer in chief", it had been applied to Channel 4 bosses Michael Grade and Michael Jackson.

But while Channel 4 had an explicit remit to be alternative, that was never the case with the Channel 5.

If anyone is to blame for the quality of material currently broadcast, it is the regulator, says Mr Keighron.

Dawn Airey
Dawn Airey: Unapologetic about sexual content

"They have brought nothing innovative and new to TV but they were never asked to. They do have an obligation to make more serious programming, but by whose quality standards is it judged?"

And despite the ITC's strong words, there is little it can do to bring Channel 5 to heel.

"Whatever commitments [Channel 5] have, they also have to be profitable. [The ITC] could take away its franchise but that would be such a drastic step. It's difficult to imagine what Channel 5 would have to do to warrant this."

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See also:

08 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Naked Chegwin show sparks debate
13 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Channel 5 criticised in Commons
28 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Channel 5 cleans up its act
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