Does Channel 4 have a right to exist?

Does it? A god given right? I’m not sure it does. Channel 4 needs to accept facts, embrace the future, and realise with few options left its future lies with Five.

Looking at Channel 4 what’s clear is that you can watch a lot of what it broadcasts on any channel. Think about it: ‘Big Brother’, ‘How to look good naked’, ‘Property Ladder’, ‘Location, Location, Location’, ‘A place in the sun’, ‘Half ton son’, ‘Grand Designs’, ‘Celebrity Wife Swap’, ‘ Come dine with me’ and the various food shows headed by prize plonker Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Oh not to mention the free advertising segments for Sainsbury Oliver. Sorry, maybe it’s Jamie Sainsbury I get confused. A lot of this as Sir Jeremy Isaacs, Channel 4’s chief executive from 1980 to 1987, said at the weekend is “dross”.

Okay, granted I know that many people like these shows and for their type they are well made and, apparently, entertaining, but none of them can even remotely be described as public service. And yet this is the Channel 4 line-up every night of the week (other than the mostly laudable Channel 4 News).

But as Sir Jeremy pointed out, it is because of said dross that the station has left itself open to claims it should be merged with Five. This is not music to C4’s chairman Luke Johnson and chief executive Andy Duncan who don’t like the idea one bit. They should be so lucky. The duo seems to be under the impression that the station has a god given right to exist and that it should be bailed out by the government. I’m not sure that assumption any longer has any validity if it ever did.

Channel 4 does exist, but there is no reason it MUST exist in the future. The station is a state-owned anomaly. The government has no place in owning the station anymore and has not done so for a long time. Blame it on the last Conservative government (that’s my top tip). It sold off everything else (trains, gas, water, electricity – useful stuff), but somehow it hung onto Channel 4 (stuff we don’t need). Was John Major a ‘Brookside’ fan? Who knows.

Okay, so maybe New Labour should have taken its chance five years ago when the station was still worth something rather than the millstone it is now. Sadly it did not.

So where does that leave us? Ideally, Johnson and Duncan want more government money or a bit of the BBC. They should get neither – the BBC has built BBC Worldwide into a thriving business. Channel 4 has dug itself into a financial hole that no amount of celebrity pap will get it out of.

It seems to many that the best (if not the only) way out is a merger with Five. A merger with Five makes perfect sense. They are in the same market (unless I’m mistaken reality shows and American imports are their bread and butter?). Channel 4 might consider Five to be the less attractive sister in this duo, but I’m sure they will come to appreciate each other.

Sir Jeremy is right when he says that “shocking has become a remit in itself” for Channel 4.

Seriously, what else was the justification for the broadcaster inviting Israel hating Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to give its alternative Christmas message?

Sure there might be some good stuff in there somewhere, but it is lost amongst the dross. I mean come on aren’t we bored already of year after year of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’?

None of this contributes to public-service broadcasting, which is apparently the reason we are trying to ensure its future.

I’m hoping that when Lord Carter, the communications minister, publishes his report on January 26 including proposals on its future he is brave and bold and takes this opportunity to get shot of Channel 4. Maybe the government will hang onto a stake and when the markets pick up it will be able to realise a better return for the tax payer, but it should definitely go.

Unlike Johnson I don’t think many will see a merger with Five as being “a tragedy for Channel 4”. It is more like a match made in heaven.


  • CF

    I agree that some of the stuff on C4 is slebby and a bit rubbish. But they do make some good docs, really good history shows, powerful drama and – correct me if I’m wrong – don’t they still do lots of TV for schools? Not that a merger with 5 would be a bad thing, necessarily. But it isn’t all CBB and property p0rn…some of it’s pretty good…