Channel 4 is not funded by taxpayers’ money, but Nadine Dorries’ salary is. Has she taken a moment to think about what the audience really wants? Last year the government tried to do this by launching a public consultation on the change in ownership of Channel 4. The official results are hard to find on the government website (again: funny, that). But according to The thickness of it and Veep designer Armando Iannuci, “90 percent of submissions in this debate said it was a bad idea.”
Considering that alongside 78% of UK residents tuning in to Channel 4 every month, Dorries might consider putting his interests first.
Putting politics aside, if we may, for a minute, it’s hard to imagine what contemporary British culture would be like without Channel 4.
Over the years since its launch in 1982, it has aired hundreds of shows and movies that have spawned Oscar and BAFTA-winning stars: Skins, peep show, Black Mirror, Top Boy, The Inbetweeners, BrassEye, This is England, Fresh Meat, to name a literal handful. And because the broadcaster is publicly owned and therefore freer to take creative risks, many of these shows were groundbreaking. Innovative ‘80s music show A tube – one of the flagships of the new channel and broadcast live weekly (and chaotically) from Newcastle – gave artists like Madonna and Frankie Goes To Hollywood their first TV breaks in the UK. In 1989, Desmond’s became Britain’s first predominantly black sitcom. Russell T. Davies’ heartbreaking 2021 AIDS drama It’s a sin was turned down by the BBC and ITV before being picked up by 4. Last week it received 11 BAFTA nominations.
A culture secretary who genuinely cares about culture would want to protect this rich programming heritage. Instead, Dorries wants to whip him.
A private Channel 4 would likely put profits above continuing its history of commissioning bold and diverse stories. And it’s not even guaranteed to be lucrative: Netflix currently has $15.5 billion in debt. As noted by Channel 4 programming director Ian Katz, the shows it airs “emerge because everyone on the channel is imbued with the spirit of public service, and that’s the kind of television they try to do every day, and I think there’s a real risk if you lose that, that you lose a lot of that kind of programming”.
When you look at the talent that Channel 4 has cultivated over the years, from Skins‘Daniel Kaluuya to peep show‘s Olivia Colman via virtually every British comedian who’s gotten a head start on 8 out of 10 cats, it’s just not a risk worth taking, regardless of your political affiliations. And if, like a good curator, you believe in “Great” in Britain, protecting our broadcasters from tech companies and deep-pocketed American streamers, isn’t that fundamentally a good thing?
Of course, it’s not unreasonable to think of ways for public broadcasters to stay competitive in our ever-changing media landscape. But it’s obvious that Nadine Dorries doesn’t have the best interests of the broadcaster or the audience in mind with this decision. The British public is not stupid.
If only the same could be said for our politicians in power.