11 DECEMBER 1993, Page 30

Choice on the box

LEFT TO themselves, our broadcasters and their regulators would have spent 60 years getting as far as a choice of four tele- vision channels. (In New York, you get a choice of 37, but Americans, as is well known, so admire our programmes that they cannot think why we buy theirs.) A fifth would be somewhere in the same time frame as the rail link to the Channel Tun- nel. There would also be an all-British satellite, somewhere up there in an English heaven, but tied by invisible strings to the Brompton Road, home of the commission which had licensed it. These cosy arrange- ments have not turned out to be water- proof. Choice is creeping in. Satellites from places like Luxembourg have invaded our air-space. Foreigners like Rupert Murdoch have taken advantage of them. Customers have been found willing to pay cash for choice — quite apart from the poll tax they pay for the BBC's services, whether they want them or not. Cables, now that choice can come with them, are tunnelling under our streets like power-assisted rattlesnakes. Good heavens, we may even get subversive material such as appears on City pages invading the privacy of our own homes. (Our television does not now offer that choice.) Meanwhile the franchise compa- nies are losing their share of advertising revenue. Hence their rush to merge, as soon as Peter Brooke has read the banns. What will an envious world say to that, if it notices? Its response might not be suitable for family viewing.