Broadcasting decision set for challenge

The planned 1997 launch of the UK's new fifth TV channel faces a hold-up following a High Court ruling which has paved the way for a legal challenge to the way in which the Independent Television Commission's (ITC) awarded the operating licence.

Richard Branson's Virgin claims the commission's decision on the bidding was flawed and unlawful.

In granting leave for Virgin to seek judicial review of the commission's decision, Mr Justice Judge said he is satisfied there is an "arguable case" that decisions leading to the award of the licence for the fifth terrestrial channel to Channel 5 Broadcasting were flawed on the basis of illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety.

In allowing Virgin to go ahead he ordered that the hearing should take place as soon as possible in the new year.

He said he was aware his order was likely to delay the plans of Channel 5 Broadcasting, which was awarded the licence to run the new channel on 27 October following acceptance of its bid of £22,002,000, to launch the new channel on 1 January 1997.

Virgin claimed the commission had been wrong in its approach towards its proposed staffing levels, news coverage and programme proposals.

It was also argued that the commission wrongly took the view that pressure would be placed on Virgin's chief executive because proposed staffing levels would have an adverse effect on the service Virgin could provide.

And the commission faces complaints that it breached the rules applying to tender situations, by wrongly allowing Channel 5 to "enhance their bid" after the applications for the licence to run the channel had been closed.

The Virgin TV consortium comprises the Virgin, Associated Newspapers, Paramount, Philips and Electra.