So the threat of privatising Channel 4 was a real one after all. More details of the government’s plans are expected in the Queen’s Speech next month.
Channel 4 itself is very disappointed – it had attempted to map out a future role in the public sector. Its plans would have included some training for 100,000 young people over a decade.
All very commendable but like so much of the good work done by Channel 4 it is not immediately obvious to the viewing public. Rather a problem for a TV station.
The same is true of its good work with small and new independent production companies. It is entirely understandable that many in the independent production sector should be worried and angry.
A privatised Channel 4 might not support small companies and invest in training or could even start making programmes in-house.
But these arguments will cut little ice outside the industry. What matters to viewers is what they see on screen.
It is hard to disagree strongly with John Mair’s assessment of much of Channel 4’s recent output in yesterday’s Daily Mail.
Some may deny that Channel 4 News is “social worker TV” but can anyone really pretend today’s schedule looks or feels remotely like the channel of old?
Naked Attraction isn’t an art house film or an intelligent examination of nudity. Where are the equivalents of Rory Bremner or Drop the Dead Donkey offering intelligent entertainment?
Where is Right to Reply to allow viewers and producers to debate as equals? Where are all the British films, intelligent documentaries and well-argued debates?
And – so you don’t think I’m some humourless old so and so – where are all the silly, inventive, crazy, off-the-wall things Channel 4 used to do? Bring back Eurotrash!
Actually some are still there. The problem is that there are now fewer of them and they are often overshadowed by the schlock.
It’s a Sin was amazing. But you can only quote one programme so often. Channel 4 News, Dispatches and Unreported World are important contributions to public life but can be protected by proper regulation.
It is hard to see how the viewer will really lose out from privatisation as long as the new owner respects Channel 4 and there are proper regulations in place.
These can include measures to protect the terms of trade with indies and spending in different parts of the UK.
What is perhaps harder to understand is what positive benefits, if any, privatisation could bring for the government.
They will need to give more details of just how the concerns of some MPs will be addressed and how the proceeds of the sale will be used. Expect reassurances to MPs worried about jobs in Leeds.
But it is still tragic that this situation has arisen. It would not have been hard to argue 20 or 30 years ago that privatisation would fundamentally alter Channel 4’s schedules.
Some people have spoken movingly about Channel 4 programmes which meant so much to them. That’s especially understandable amongst some LGBT people – Channel 4’s portrayal of them in the 80s contrasted with those of some newspapers and the government of the day.
Ironically back then, one of Channel 4’s fiercest critics was The Sun newspaper. It mocked programmes aimed at minorities which got low ratings. Yesterday The Sun ran a very positive piece about Channel 4’s achievements headlined “Thanks 4 the Memories”.
Channel 4 was once a Beautiful Thing – like the film it commissioned. Bits of it still are. But too many people no longer see it that way.
How tragic that it should have come to this. But the warning signs have been evident for years.
PICTURED: Channel 4 sting. COPYRIGHT: Channel 4 Television Corporation.