Examination of Witnesses (Questions 412
THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2001
Chairman: Gentlemen, welcome to the Committee.
412. The White Paper proposes to review Channel
4's remit. What changes do you wish or expect to see within that
(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
(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 entrepreneuriallymuch
more so than some of our supposedly more commercial competitorsand
building valuable national assets which are publicly owned.