Saving Thatcher’s child 

7 January 2009

Let Channel 4 make its own shows, says shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt

Bearing in mind that the Conservative Party occasionally seems to change certain policies depending on whatever consensus happens to be in vogue at the time, it’s perhaps wise not to read too much into policy statements made by anyone with the word ‘Shadow’ in the title.

However there is a point of interest buried within the notion that Channel 4 should be allowed to freely make its own programmes, and this relates to the terms of trade established between broadcasters and the independent production companies that have flourished in recent years.

If Channel 4 is to be self-supporting in the current climate as well as maintaining a form of public service remit, then it needs a form of revenue above and beyond the commercials and sponsorship packages that it sells to advertisers. However if additional money isn’t readily available then some very tough choices will have to be made.

The brutal truth is that if there isn’t enough money to go round within the media industry, then either broadcasters or independent production companies will suffer badly as a result since there just isn’t the income to support both groups as they currently stand.

And since the terms of trade are currently tilted towards the indies, the messy end result threatens to damage considerably more than Channel 4’s public service remit.

Current rumours suggest that the hitherto unconsidered privatisation option for Channel 4 is now being seriously considered by government ministers, and it’s this that is the likely basis for Jeremy Hunt’s current stance in relation to a private future for the channel. (Also bear in mind that Channel 4 itself was very much a Thatcherite child.)

If the likes of Channel 4 were to be privatised then that process in itself would most likely kill off many small independent producers as programme commissioning would inevitably shift towards mass market crowd-pleasers, and although Ofcom makes lots of noises about public service plurality it would have no final say on this issue whatsoever.

So it’s now easy to conclude that current Conservative policy in relation to Channel 4 is primarily designed to service the smaller independent producers that was the original intention for the channel, and in one sense you can see the logic behind this especially in relation to protecting the original intention that was behind “Thatcher’s child”.

Until they change their mind of course.