ITV Loses its Place 

7 October 2003 tbs.pm/813

It is hard to imagine that the Granada/Carlton merger, mooted for so long, could do anything other than steepen ITV1’s slide into mediocrity.

In the best (or worst) Thatcherite tradition of eschewing small, human-sized enterprises in favour of enormous trans-national corporations, an ITV that is little more than one enormous company is not only going to become ripe for takeover by any one of a number of possible buyers, none of whom are noted for their respect of anything but maximising profitability when it comes to television. It is also inevitably moving away from the original intentions of the ITV network – that of regional companies, in touch with their audiences, producing locally-targeted material as well as programming that could be shown over the entire country.

But, it must be asked, is that original ITV model still of value in a multichannel, satellite age? I would suggest not only that it is, but that it is of even more value than in the days when there were only two, or three, or four television channels available to British viewers.

Today’s multichannel television supermarket is not quite “hundreds of channels with nothing on”, thanks largely to the BBC’s sterling efforts in many, though not all, areas of its activity. But what it tends to lack – again apart from BBC1’s local coverage – is a local, or at least a regional, face. National broadcasters – along with the increasing number of international channels, generally sourced from the US – are not in touch with, and seldom do they even recognise, the local and regional character of different areas of the United Kingdom, which even today represent a vast and fascinating patchwork of society and subculture.

Today, much, though not all (there’s the BBC again) of British broadcasting fails either to inform us of, or nurture, any sense of local distinctiveness. The siren song of the pound and of the dollar calls for bigger, more expansive operations, companies that straddle a country and increasingly the globe. This is true in British broadcasting as it is in any aspect of post-Thatcher British society. The evils of the past are yet to be undone, and this potential undoing seems, today, more unlikely than ever.

But a return to the original intent of British Independent Television in today’s multichannel world would not create an anachronism. Instead, it could help to turn the tide of sameness in just one area of our everyday lives, replacing it with an awareness not only of our own local distinctiveness, but of everyone else’s. The British landscape is, as much as anything, a cultural landscape, an invisible web that links the multicultural patchwork, old and new, that constitutes modern Britain.

It is already sad enough that you can stand in almost any High Street in the land and see the same supermarkets, the same fast food joints, the same chains, from John O’Groats to Land’s End. The same process on the airwaves has long been in progress too. Less and less often are our dialects and inflections heard in the land, being replaced instead by the standard pronunciation of the bean-counters.

The Carlton/Granada merger is simply the latest step in the homogenization of British television – a process that has already gone too far. But what is to be done? If the battle is not already lost, perhaps the only force that can oppose the negative side of this kind of globalisation is the force of public opinion.

As G K Chesterton put it, in “The Secret People”,

“…They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,

Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.

They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;

They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.

And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,

Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

“We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,

Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.

It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,

Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.

It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest

God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.

But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.

Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.”

Independent Television had already lost its place. What about the rest of us?

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Richard G Elen Contact More by me