The debate about Channel 4’s impending privatisation continues. While claims Channel 4 News could be under threat seem highly dubious, a more heartfelt warning comes from one of the stars of Derry Girls.
Saoirse-Monica Jackson told BBC News online that a private Channel 4 would not make Derry Girls. It is hard to knock back her argument. The programme involved a high degree of creative risk involving new talent. This is exactly the kind of thing Channel 4 has always done well.
While the production company Hat Trick is well established, would it have existed without Channel 4 in the 80s? Everything about the programme screams out Channel 4 at its best – even someone who does not enjoy it can see that.
There is an authenticity in the script, it takes creative risks and it probably wouldn’t fit on any other major channel.
It is easy enough to regulate to spend a certain amount of money outside London or to insist on spending specifically in Northern Ireland or other nations and regions. It is harder to regulate on just how that money should be spent. Could it be spent on a quiz show with little sense of place?
The problem though is that Derry Girls – like It’s a Sin and the news and current affairs output – are the exceptions.
They might be the highlight of Channel 4’s achievements but are they typical of the output? A glance at the schedules quickly leads one to the conclusion that they are not.
The argument that the nakedly commercial output supports them is true but the jewels in recent years have really shone amongst the schlock.
It is rather like the old argument concerning ITV. Critics of Crossroads, mindless game shows and Benny Hill were reminded that these programmes paid for ITN and The South Bank Show.
Perhaps this is the reason so few opinion-formers came to ITV’s defence when the franchises were auctioned in 1991? Even the many sincere critics of a misguided policy found it hard to explain convincingly how a typical evening’s viewing on the third channel might change – at least once the ITC was allowed to use a quality threshold to weed out unsuitable applicants or apply exceptional circumstances.
That’s why it is heartbreaking that similar arguments now apply to Channel 4.
It is possible to question whether privatisation will actually benefit anyone but the Treasury but still struggle to say how the viewing public will lose out regularly.
If Channel 4 schedules in recent years had included a bit more like Derry Girls and a bit less of what Is essentially Nude Blind Date would things be different now?
If the privatisation does not go ahead it will be a major political u-turn. We have already discussed how a lack of regulation rather than privatisation is the threat to Channel 4 News.
Outright opponents need to be prepared to accept the inevitable. They should now try to engage on ways of stopping their worst fears being realised. In other words a responsible owner and proper regulation.
But as I have said before, how tragic that we have ended up in this place.
In hindsight it seems that this was the inevitable consequence of making Channel 4 financially independent in the 1990s.
Now here’s a question. Instead of spending some TV licence money on local TV or newspaper council coverage, could some have been given to Channel 4 to help it stay true to its original purpose? We will never know though:
PICTURED: Channel 4 sting. COPYRIGHT: Channel 4 Television Corporation.