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
Last week it was the Independent Television Commission’s turn to
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
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
The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers also submitted proposals
to the ITC. Don’t these provide a necessary counterbalance to the
Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media services, says it’s not that
’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 ...’