Boris, Dorries and their motley crew are here to take public broadcasting away from you
By Tom Grant
The government announced the news that many in the media industry had been dreading: the plan to privatise Channel 4 before the next planned election in 2024.
Now, there’s one thing you need to understand about Channel 4 before knowing what is to come next, and that is its current structure. Many of the conversations I’ve had with people over the last couple of days have consisted of things like “but Channel 4 has adverts” and “we don’t pay for Channel 4”.
Yes, that’s true. But that’s what makes Channel 4 so great. No taxpayer money goes towards the network, but the channel is in public ownership. This means that the channel has a remit set by Ofcom which it must adhere to, but is then funded commercially.
If only Nadine Dorries (Seretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) had known this before stating in the House of Commons that the channel was “in receipt of public money”. Then, she may have had a better answer than “and… so… although it’s… yeah, and…”. A painstaking 10 seconds none of us will ever get back.
But that’s a key thing. Taxpayer’s money does not go to Channel 4, despite the claims of many.
Another thing about Channel 4 you should know is that it does not create any of its programming in house. Not a single programme you see on Channel 4 is created by the Channel Four Television Corporation.
This is what gives Channel 4 something different, something new. Channel 4 gives those well sought after and forever required opportunities to the little people in the room. Those independent production companies up and down the nation. The people just starting out or the people who want to have a chance. Channel 4 is the place those people go.
Some may say this comes down to politics, and probably it does. Channel 4’s news contract is with ITN, and has been since its launch in 1982. Channel 4 News was the programme which the current Prime Minister refused to appear on before the 2019 General Election. In return, they replaced him with a giant ice sculpture of the Conservative Party logo, to emphasise the current climate crisis.
Channel 4’s Dispatches programmes have uncovered stories on austerity and the poverty of families up and down the nation, something that has unfortunately come to light again in the last few weeks.
This is one thing those who are pro-privatisation seem to continue mentioning. Programming for lifestyle, comedy, drama and entertainment all seem to be ‘bettered’ with privatisation, according to those behind the idea. That, and its journalistic integrity.
Many for privatisation keep arguing that the ‘leftiness’ and ‘wokeness’ of Channel 4 News needs to be replaced. The news that comes from the channel aptly named Independent Television News.
Channel 4 took on programmes like Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin, cult-classic Skins, followed university students in Fresh Meat, and coughed up the cash to poach The Great British Bake Off from the BBC. From Grand Designs to Derry Girls, The Big Breakfast to Gogglebox, Channel 4 has consistently stuck to its remit.
Being the fourth channel.
Producing programming neither the BBC nor ITV would air. Naked Attraction on BBC Two? 8 Out of 10 Cats on Channel 5? It just doesn’t work.
What the government is now doing is not only narrowing down the creative industry, it’s narrowing down opinions.
As for the creative industry. What of it? Channel 4’s Youth Schemes in the North have provided those without contacts in the industry countless opportunities to achieve their goals and dreams. As someone who wants to work in media, I can only hear a unified cry of despair through what I read from friends and contacts.
You may think that through privatisation some things will get better. They may. Mine is just an opinion shared amongst one group of people. Of course there are people on the other side who believe the channel should go into private hands; the government is one of them.
But will we still see the same creative output? Probably not. Without a remit to actually invest in stories of those who are underrepresented, what’s the point? Channel 4’s newly opened office in Leeds aspires to give those in the North an opportunity, and is the only network with a main headquarters in the city. Why would a multi-media conglomerate who operate elsewhere care about an office in Leeds? Straight back to London we go, I imagine.
Which begs the question; why?
Why would privatisation work? There is no taxpayer money going to the network, it’s not in debt, and it certainly doesn’t need to compete with the likes of Netflix, as Nadine Dorries would have you believe.
We can sign petitions, and make a fuss, but the truth is, more MPs are bothered about the privatisation of the channel than some laws that deserve more attention in our country today.
I saw a certain idea when reading the unfortunate news of the government’s fatal decisions, and it is what I leave you with today:
I wonder whose friend fancied a share in Channel 4?