Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 412 - 419)



  Chairman: Gentlemen, welcome to the Committee.

Mr Fearn

  412. The White Paper proposes to review Channel 4's remit. What changes do you wish or expect to see within that remit?
  (Mr Jackson) By and large, the current remit works well and provides a framework that has supported an innovative and distinctive service for almost 20 years but has also allowed us to change as the culture and broadcasting environment have changed. The two things that we want to see changed in that remit as we move forward are: the negative comparison between Channel 4 and ITV which is not sensible in a fully mature multi-channel world, and additional support to the remit, cultural diversity being an example. But the strength of the remit has always been the touchstones of innovation, distinctiveness and originality which have served us very well over the past 20 years.

  413. Can you explain your use of the term "negative"?
  (Mr Jackson) At the moment, under the Broadcasting Act we are in essence compared with ITV and asked to be distinctive in comparison with it. That seems like a phrase from television of 20 years ago when there were simply four television channels, not the world that Tony Ball described earlier in which there are 250 channels.

  414. You regret the failure of the White Paper to set quantifiable targets for training investment. How enforceable should such targets be in a diverse sector which relies increasingly on freelance employment as you do?
  (Mr Jackson) One of the major changes in television over the past period has been the growth of the freelance sector and the diminution of the great studio systems which were very good training academies for all broadcasters. The fact is that many more programmes are made by independents scattered around the country. Basically, that has been good for the health of television in this country, but the ability to give structure to training and grow new generations of talent in that way has perhaps diminished. Channel 4 is required to spend 0.5 per cent of its qualifying revenue every year on training.

  415. How much is that?
  (Mr Scott) It is about £3 million.
  (Mr Jackson) We should like to see that carried over to the BBC, ITV companies and all broadcasters. Ultimately, that investment will promote not only the creative health of British television but also make us more competitive in international markets. It is an investment in the future. It is a shame that the Communications White Paper has not gone the whole hog and transferred the requirement on Channel 4 to the other broadcasters.
  (Mr Gardam) The Communications White Paper makes special reference to Channel 4's role in encouraging production outside London. We will not be able to maximise that without ensuring at the same time that there is training for new producers working out of London in small companies throughout the country. We need that if we are to reflect the diversity of the country back to itself by the single network.

  416. You produce in various regions, do you not?
  (Mr Gardam) Yes. We have a new scheme whereby we place training producers in small companies which are not in London. We have grown that scheme by 50 per cent in the past two years.

  417. Have you started that scheme in just the past two years, or did you do it before?
  (Mr Gardam) Two years ago we set up a specific nations and regions office and research centre in Glasgow, and something called the regional development programme, whereby we placed producers for training in 12 small out-of-London production companies. Most of them have stayed with those companies. We have expanded that scheme in such a way as to encourage more ethnic minority training and recruitment in those companies.


  418. We are very grateful for what you have said about the ethnic minority aspect. As you know, I sent you a detailed document from one of my constituents who is an Asian film-maker. Thank you very much for your response. In your memorandum to us you talk about your public service and statutory remit which has existed ever since Mr Whitelaw as Home Secretary created Channel 4. I take it from the way that you phrase it in your memorandum that you are perfectly happy with that remit, and would be perfectly happy for it to be entrenched in a new broadcasting Act?
  (Mr Jackson) That is correct.

  419. What about your new ventures? You have just created E4 and, in addition, we read in the press that you are to create a new wholly-owned company to hive off that and certain other activities. Justifiably, or perhaps unjustifiably, that has aroused a certain amount of comment. Can you use this occasion to explain on what you are doing?
  (Mr Jackson) Basically, Channel 4 is a very precious national asset which sits on valuable spectrum. It would be a diminution of our duty, as it were, for us not to sweat that public asset and ensure that we made the most of it for the public good. The fact is that as a broadcaster which reaches almost 80 per cent of the UK population every week we have a golden opportunity to drive our remit and purpose, and the relationship that we have built up with viewers over 20 years, into new platforms. We can take the Channel 4 audience, which tends to be younger and more upmarket than the general television audience, on a journey into the new platforms, the world of interactivity and multi-channel television in our own distinctive way. For example, E4 doubles our opportunity to grow new talent. We can work with independent production companies around the country on the new interactive and pay television services that we are launching. I believe that it would be bizarre for us to fail to engage in the new world of television and interactivity. What if the BBC in the 1930s had said, "Well, we are a first-class radio broadcaster and that is where we stop"? However, the BBC recognised that the future lay with television and radio and it would be in both. Any modern and forward-looking broadcaster must now invest in the future. We are doing that prudently and entrepreneurially—much more so than some of our supposedly more commercial competitors—and building valuable national assets which are publicly owned.

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Prepared 23 February 2001