In an interesting twist to the cultural diversity on the screen debate, as UK-commissioned productions sector face a perfect storm that could threaten the UK’s long-established ability to produce TV content, written by UK writers, featuring UK actors and locations, shot by UK production companies and make primarily for UK audiences….
… John Whittingdale says that the way to deal with this is to place a legal obligation on broadcasters to make ‘distinctively British’ programmes like the lovely jubbly Only Fools and Horses, Derry Girls (!) and Fleabag.
Trigger warning: I’m going to bend my rule on not using this blog for speculation or partisan commentary now…
The concerns that privatisation could make the UK a ‘cultural colony of the US’ is exaggerated, but real to some extent (why do so many people insist on wrecking good arguments with hyperbole though?).
No amount of rules and regulations will stop the best talent, the best crews, and the best writers writing for the highest bidders. They can only force declining broadcasters to commission tokenistic, formulaic, uncompetitive low-budget shows for a declining, aging audience while big investors produce more and more globally-focused content.
King Canute could teach John Whittingdale a thing or two. As Sanjay Singhal (TV producer and chief executive of Voltage TV) put it…
“John Whittingdale says Channel 4 is not sustainable but 25 years ago, John, you put your hand up and said that because Channel 4 was making so much money that was the reason it should be privatised.
“If it’s really successful, privatise it, if it’s not, privatise it. You have an answer and you’re retro-fitting the problem you’re trying to solve. You have an agenda and an end point, and you’ve had it for 25 years, and it’s a punishment beating for the creative industry in this country.
“I don’t have confidence that this is a government that believes fundamentally in public service broadcasting. These are all things that are hard to write into a remit. These things are very hard to replace once they have been broken apart. They’ve taken years to build, and you take a wrecking ball to it reluctantly.”
In other news, Whittingdale has just been sacked as Minister for Media and Data the day after floating this idea, following Oliver Dowden out of the door (who was replaced by Nadine Dorries).
Whittingdale has had a long obsession with privatising Channel Four. In 1996, at the tail-end of John Major’s premiership, he wanted to do it because C4 had shown that it could be commercially sustainable. Now his reason for doing it is because he is worried that it won’t be commercially sustainable.
So is it going ahead? Speculation is rife…
Having said that, privatisation of Channel 4 has been Whittingdale’s crusade from before you were born and I never detected much enthusiasm for it elsewhere even in Tory circles. Long grass, anyone?
— Matt Wells (@MatthewWells) September 16, 2021
And then there’s this:
The Great British bake off
The Great British Menu
The Great British Sewing Bee
Great British Railway Journeys
Great British Road Trips
Great British Gardens
Great British Ships
Britain's Great Rivers
Britain's Greatest Bridges
A Very British Hotel
A Very English Scandal pic.twitter.com/EUy1WW4PB8
— Mark Cooper-Jones (@markcooperjones) September 16, 2021