SPOTLIGHT ON: CHANNEL 4: Future of Channel 4 could be in multicultural mainstream - Popular minority shows at peak times on 4? Alasdair Reid asks if it could work

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 January 1998 12:00AM

They usually turn up on Right to Reply-type programmes. Wide eyed, fired by a mixture of idealism and righteous anger, they think that because Channel 4 runs things like Friends and Frazier it has become a complete sell-out, has betrayed its birthright, has destroyed a beautiful dream.

They usually turn up on Right to Reply-type programmes. Wide eyed,

fired by a mixture of idealism and righteous anger, they think that

because Channel 4 runs things like Friends and Frazier it has become a

complete sell-out, has betrayed its birthright, has destroyed a

beautiful dream.



Last week it was the Independent Television Commission’s turn to

listen.



As the deadline for submissions on the future of the Channel 4 licence

arrived, the militantly disappointed tendency was out in force. A

campaign to make Channel 4 more ’multicultural’ was supported by

luminaries such as Ben Okri, Lenny Henry and Michael Palin.



Should the ITC listen? Channel 4 has come a long way since the mid-80s

when it ploughed a quirky and sometimes very lonely furrow. The purists

may not have liked what Michael Grade, who resigned as the station’s

chief executive last year, did for the channel during his reign; but

Channel 4 is now one of television’s most successful brands - it is

still distinctive and diverse, targeting a wide spectrum of special

interests, yet it manages to capture a healthy audience share and the

advertising revenue that goes with that.



Channel 4 is already heavily regulated. Surely the last thing that

advertisers want is new restrictions that might endanger the progress

made over recent years?



The multicultural campaign is being coordinated by Baroness Valerie

Amos, a former chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission,

who was enobled last year. She acknowledges that Channel 4’s track

record in this area is by no means all bad. And she’s not arguing for

the dull but worthy.



A good example of what she envisages is BBC 2’s Asian comedy show,

Goodness Gracious Me. ’Asian viewers have been saying for ages that

there is not enough humour for them on television. Now there is - and it

is very successful.



Young white people have also become interested. What we are saying to

the ITC is all about a recognition that society has changed and that

diversity is now the reality. Multicultural programmes should be

mainstream.’ She would like to see three hours peak-time programming a

week: ’It can involve anything from soap opera and light entertainment

to comedy. I see no evidence that audience levels would necessarily

suffer because of it.’



Perhaps. It will certainly give Channel 4 less room to manoeuvre. And,

of course, it’s not the only submission the ITC has received. ITV is

believed to have proposed restrictions on Channel 4’s ability to

schedule aggressively and develop overtly commercial programme

strands.



Nice for ITV if it can get it, but perhaps not so good for commercial

television’s total audience share. There has been much talk in recent

weeks of lobbying for a regulatory body that would ensure a level

playing field across the BBC and the commercial sector. It would be an

irony if, against this background, Channel 4 was handed a tougher

remit.



The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers also submitted proposals

to the ITC. Don’t these provide a necessary counterbalance to the

multicultural lobby?



Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media services, says it’s not that

simple.



’I’m the voice of mammon here, right? Well, maybe. I think we’re all

agreed that ITV has to be the most blatantly commercial channel around.

We also have to recognise that Channel 4 is different. Its success has

been based on the way that it offers complementary scheduling. It’s

important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. So I

don’t think we should be pressing for a blatantly commercial Channel 4.

Our message to the ITC is essentially that if it ain’t broke ...’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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