Peter Kosminsky on the “cultural vandalism” of the privatization of Channel 4
In the pre-show room of the Hotel Charlotte, before the press screening of the new Channel 4 series The undeclared warI found myself talking to the MP for Bristol East Kerry McCarthy. And the subject of the future of Channel 4 was broached. Recently, the culture secretary of the Conservative government, Nadine Dorries The MP announced a new government policy to privatize Channel 4, the commercial but state-owned television channel, along with its offshoots, the streaming service All 4 and the film production company Film 4. And in a question and answer session following the screening, MP Kerry McCarthy asked about this issue.
Pierre Kosminskyauthor and director of The undeclared waras well as writer/director of The state, the promise and The government inspectorand director of Wolf Hall, the project and Warriors, spoke first and condemned the action. While acknowledging “the wind blowing through our industry”, he said the government is not preparing any appropriate solution given that Channel 4, as a station, creates British programming for Britons, without having to worry about a foreign public and a commercial sale. off would change this focus. “Instead, this proposal, which to me is nothing short of cultural vandalism, is being proposed in my view for narrow political reasons and to appease a particular base or lobby. There is no real support for this, even among most conservatives. There certainly isn’t a financial case for this, and there will be catastrophic creative impact if it comes to fruition. That’s my personal view, I don’t speak on behalf of Channel 4 or NBC, I’m independent, I’m not an employee of either.This is my personal view based on 40 years in broadcasting.
Producer Sir Colin Nigel Callender followed. He also has an impressive resume, founding Primetime Television, Channel Four’s first independent producer with The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nicklebyproducer of The last resort, an executive producer of HBO in the United States, as he transitioned to original programming with HBO Showcase, president of HBO Films and theatrical producer, including stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. He had a lot to say and spoke more broadly about the UK and US television landscape, including what happened the last time the government intervened in this way with ITV.
“To this day, British television programming remains the benchmark by which the global television industry judges itself. Today, it remains the best programming made in the world and which stems from an eccentric set of circumstances that have protected the producers their best work The BBC is the premier subscription television network, that’s what it is, and when I was at HBO we were sort of inventing HBO as we went along measure, we looked at the BBC and understood that the license, the subscription, allowed the BBC to take creative risks that were not a function of “will a show make money, a show will it hit the ratings. They were able to take creative risks through the slate.”
“The idea of a commercial network of 15 individual stations, that each had an advertising monopoly in its own area, that each had guaranteed access to prime time for a certain number of slots, was an extraordinarily delicate undertaking which created some of the best British television. And when Maggie Thatcher decided to restructure that and reconfigure it in the Broadcasting Act, it took years for ITV to find its footing again and create the type of programming that had been done before the Broadcasting Act. Channel 4 is another wonderfully odd unique company, as Peter just described. A government-owned, ad-supported broadcaster, and he makes a lot of money, but the biggest thing about Channel 4 was that he had two very specific memoirs at the very start. One was to stimulate a British independent production sector, and two, to speak to audiences the BBC and ITV did not cater to. And what Channel 4 understood early on is that if you want to appeal to different audiences, you have to find different types of program creators to create programs that will appeal to those audiences.”
“It created the British Independence production sector in the UK, and I was one of the very first beneficiaries of that in 1979, or whatever year it was, with Nicholas Nickelby. It was Jeremy Isaacs and a man called Paul Bonner and they had an office at the IBA on Brompton Road and a secretary. Nobody then would have commissioned me, I who am a perfect beginner producer… I had put on shows, I had been in the business, but I had never produced anything… the idea of producing a nine-hour adaptation of a show and starring in a TV series, no one else in the UK would have done that. I’m not even sure they would do it now, but certainly if it wasn’t for Channel Four it would never be done.”
“And there’s a slew of really brilliantly talented writers, directors, producers, production designers – I can run through the list, actors who owe their careers to Channel 4.” That much, Simon Pegg raised his hand. “Faces and experiences that, but for Channel 4, would never have seen or had access to mainstream TV. So the idea of sorting this out, for reasons that seem spurious at best, and I’m not not even sure frankly, other than the people of Downing Street, who the voters, who is this done for, I don’t know who I don’t know what the political game is in the country at large to deconstruct the model of Channel 4. But there’s no doubt, it’s not even a debate, if Channel 4 is privatized it will have a desperate and devastating attack impact on the independent production sector in the UK, the kind of choice that Caroline (Caroline Hollicktheater director) and Gwawr (Gwawr Martha Lloyd, Drama Commissioning Editor) can make now, editorially, will not be choices that will be made by their successors, if and when the channel is privatized, because the imperatives and things that will drive the channel will be fundamentally different. Just look at the utter mess the American TV industry finds itself in right now, with the mess Netflix finds itself in and the ripple effect that has had on the entire industry in United States. One only has to look at this to understand the danger of turning Channel 4 into a privatized commercial enterprise that is driven by shareholder value and bottom line.”
“It’s just tragic to see this happen and it doesn’t seem like logic is in play. It seems to be emotion in play and I think we need to focus on those other Conservative politicians in the party who can kind of see past the kind of short-term political gain, as it is, because I don’t quite understand what political gain is and recognize that it’s a wrecking ball that’s about to hit UK television and have a devastating impact on the industry.”
There was, as expected, applause from the whole room. Channel 4 was created by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcherin 1982, as Britain’s fourth national broadcaster with a public service commitment to nurture minority and unserved voices and audiences, and to break the creative stranglehold the BBC and ITV had on their own productions. It has remained a profitable business for the country while launching all sorts of cultural milestones over the past four decades. Simon Pegg, co-star of The undeclared warhad his big break with Space on Channel 4 at the time. Shows such as Comic Presents, The Tube, The Snowman, Flowers, The Word, Saturday Live, Shameless, Whose Is It Anyway, Vic Reeves Big Night Out, Desmonds, Bremner Bird And Fortune, Brass Eye, Nightingales, Peep Show, Absolutely, The Inbetweeners, Green Wing, The Eleven O’Clock Show, Ali G, Misfits, Black Mirror, This Is England, Derry Girls, Gogglebox, Teachers, Phoenix Nights, Friday Night Dinner, Nathan Barley, Offal TV, PhoneShop, The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year, Father Ted, Black Books, Utopia, Drop The Dead Donkey, Armstrong And Miller, Top Boy, Humans, Trigger Happy TV, Queer As Folk, Sugar Rush, Lock Stock, Ultraviolet, No Offence, The Armando Iamnnucci Shows, The Awful Truth, Fonejacker, Lipstick On Your Collar, GBH, The Mark Thomas Comedy Product, Eurotrash, Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace, We Are Lady Parts, It’s a Sin are monumentally huge in my own cultural psyche and in the nation as a whole, damn it, I even got to write for Hit the pony. Of The big breakfast at Big brother – and yes even Naked attraction – Channel 4 changed the way we see ourselves and helped redefine the nation, always pushing the edges until they became mainstream. Channel 4 doesn’t seem to be down, I’m very suspicious of such attempts to “fix” it.