Written evidence submitted by Channel
1. Channel 4 was launched in 1982 with
a clear mission to provide an alternative public service offering
to the BBC and to fulfil a specific remit largely focused on innovation,
creativity and diversity.
2. Channel 4 has traditionally been
a network broadcaster with no opt-out functions, and is therefore
dedicated to producing high-quality programming for the UK as
a whole through its daily nationwide news provision. Furthermore,
given its key role as a major investor in the UK's independent
production community and as a public service broadcaster committed
to reflecting the UK's cultural diversity, Channel 4 has
a significant role to play in supporting production across the
nations and regions of the UK and in reflecting the diversity
of the UK's culture across its output.
3. As discussions around how to secure Channel
4's role as a strong sustainable PSB alternative to the BBC continue,
traditional funding models for regional media decline and digital
technologies provide new ways of engaging with audiences, Channel
4 is exploring ways that it can enhance this representation
of UK life through traditional TV programmes as well as harnessing
the opportunities of digital media to provide more localised content
4. It is clear that audiences value a plurality
of regional and local media, both for news and ''non-news'' provision.
Users recognise its value in providing content that is relevant
to their communities, promoting a sense of cultural identity,
and providing a vital democratic function by informing local people
about decisions being made in their area.
5. In addition, local media organisations
have been a valuable training ground for new talent across the
country looking to break into television production, journalism
and radio. This vocational experience gives entrants the skills
and experience necessary to break into a highly competitive field,
and has often led to careers within the mainstream mediabuilding
a greater diversity of voices and backgrounds.
6. However, the impact of the digital revolution
combined with the current economic downturn is having a dramatic
affect across the media sectorwith fragmentation of audiences
putting severe pressure on the traditional model of advertising-funded
media. This is restricting the provision of public service media
across the boardaffecting the ability of commercially funded
broadcasters such as Channel 4 to maintain investment in
high quality public service content, as well as threatening the
sustainability of local press, radio and television institutions.
7. Digital media has led to a rapid shift
in consumer habits, with increasing numbers of people now getting
information about where they live from the internet rather than
their local newspaper, and classified advertising moving online.
This decline is likely to be exacerbated by the current economic
downturn, which is having a significant impact on the key advertising
markets of the regional press, such as property, cars and jobs,
with estimates putting the regional advertising slump between
10% and 40%.
Within this context, many local papers are being forced to closefor
example, 60 regional newspapers shut in 2008.
8. Similar challenges are also being faced
by regional television. Like Channel 4, ITV is having to adjust
to the structural and cyclical changes in the commercial broadcasting
market and is seeking to deal with these pressures by cutting
costs in its business. It has stated that its current regional
provision is no longer financially sustainable, and has cut the
number of flagship services from 17 to 9.
The BBC's proposals to assist ITV by sharing newsrooms, technical
facilities and video pictures have been welcomed, but both Ofcom
and ITV have stated that this agreement does not offer sufficient
scale to sustain ITV's regional news provision by itself.
9. These changes are likely to have an impact
across the sector, including on Channel 4for example, ITN
delivers news to both ITV and Channel 4, and we have a series
of reciprocal agreements with ITV through ITN that provides us
with access to their regional media resources, such as regional
news feeds and facilities. Therefore any significant changes to
ITV's regional news structure could affect this provision, leading
to additional costs for Channel 4 and potentially impacting
upon our own ability to fully represent the UK.
10. It is in within this context that Ofcom's
CEO Ed Richards recently said that "unless we act soon, a
diverse supply of high quality news provision will slip away".
Ofcom concluded in their final PSB2 statement that securing
plurality of provision of regional news should be a key priority
for future regulation, and outlined a proposal for Independently
Funded News Consortia (IFNC) to support the provision of regional
and local media. This would allow third parties to pitch for funding
to supply regional news, which would be broadcast on existing
Channel 3 news slots. ITV has endorsed this proposal, and
the Government's interim Digital Britain report suggested that
there may be an opportunity for Wales, in partnership with S4C,
to act as a pilot study for how the consortia might work.
CHANNEL 4 AND
11. As a network broadcaster, it is vital
that Channel 4 reflects the diversity of the UK across its
output. This portrayal is maintained throughout our distinctive
Channel 4 News offering and through a range of key
programming genreswith programmes as diverse as Red
Riding and Shameless to Dispatches, The Secret
Millionaire and Big Art telling different stories about
life in Britain.
12. Channel 4 also does more than
any other broadcaster to support independent television production
across the nations and regions of the UKinvesting more
than £1 billion since 1998 in programmes from companies
based outside London.
Recognising that more can be done to reflect the devolved nations
at a network level, Channel 4 has recently outlined a number
of initiatives aimed at increasing network commissioning from
Scotland, Northern Ireland and Walesincluding appointing
a new commissioner dedicated to working with companies from those
nations, and ring-fencing slots in key strands such as Dispatches
and Cutting Edge for those companies.
News and representing the UK
13. Providing pan-UK news coverage is core
to Channel 4's ability to reflect and bring together communities
across the UKconnecting audiences across the country to
important national stories.
14. Channel 4 remains committed to
plurality in news provision and will play its part in maintaining
a sustainable news alternative to the BBC. While other media organisations
reduce their provision of high-quality news, Channel 4 remains
committed to its comprehensive Channel 4 News peak-time
UK-wide bulletinwhich was found by recent audience research
of regular TV news viewers to be the most trusted and the most
independent news bulletin.
15. In addition to the important role of
national news provision, Channel 4 also recognises the vital
democratic contributions made by regional news, and the very real
challenges the sector faces. It is in the interests of democracy
that there is a strong alternative to the BBC's news provision
at a regional as well as national level, and Ofcom research found
that the most important priority for audiences in the devolved
nations and English regions is to ensure provision of regional
news beyond the BBC.
16. Therefore we support a settlement that
enables the continuation of regional news provision on ITV, and
particularly supports ITN in their efforts to continue as a strong
alternative independent news organisation to the BBC. In addition,
while Channel 4's future news focus will remain primarily at a
network level, given it does not have the resources or infrastructure
to provide news at a regional or local level, we believe we can
potentially play a role in delivering some additional new forms
of regional content going forward.
17. For example, we recognise the threat
highlighted by Ofcom to both news and ''non-news'' programming
in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in particular recognise
there may remain particular outstanding issues surrounding news
provision in the devolved Nations. In the absence of ITV and external
parties securing a settlement around News for the nations, Channel
4 would be willing, in partnership with ITN, to explore our
role in helping to address this issue, in the context of adequate
support being made available. Channel 4 is already exploring
the contribution it could make to local media and new forms of
journalism through harnessing the opportunities of digital media,
as outlined below.
Digital opportunities for hyper-local media
18. While the digital age has led to some
considerable challenges, it is also important to note that it
is also presenting particular opportunities for hyper-local mediacontent
that is tailored to small, specific communities. The costly infrastructure
of spectrum, television stations and printing presses means that
they have never been best placed to provide this kind of truly
localised content, but the lower costs of digital media, combined
with its participative nature, means that there is now considerable
potential to develop hyper-local community-based online content.
19. Exploring this potential is a major
theme for Channel 4's new digital media fund, 4iP. Its first slate
of projects will explore ways in which the more participative
nature of digital media can be used to hold power more directly
accountable, as well as seeking to address some of the current
concerns around digital media's ability to deliver local journalismsuch
as the lack of investigative journalism and concerns around accessibility.
It will explore these themes in partnership with other organisations
and community groups to ensure that existing networks are enhanced
and supported rather than new destinations created.
20. For example:
Yoosk is a platform that gives
the public an opportunity to ask direct questions, and receive
answers, from those in powerfrom the Prime Minister to
local authorities. 4iP will be working with Yoosk to develop
its service and provide engaging ways of connecting the public
with local councils and the local press.
Help Me Investigate is an interactive
tool which aims to demystify and promote investigative journalism.
Based in Birmingham, the project will enable citizens to ask questions
about local issues (for example, where budgets for council projects
have been spent) with the rest of the community encouraged to
pool their knowledge and resources to provide the answers. This
crowd-sourced, user-generated site will provide ordinary citizens
with the tools to organise, manage and pursue an investigation,
developing knowledge about those in power and the structures around
them as they go.
For digital media to become a truly democratic
force it is essential that it does not ignore groups, such as
the elderly and disadvantaged, who may not yet have online accessbut
to whom community information is vital. 4iP is therefore working
with UK Online Centres to develop Talk About Locala
project which works with disadvantaged groups to develop their
own locally-based websites. Talk About Local will provide
digitally excluded groups with the skills and confidence to engage
with digital media, producing hundreds of independent community
sites owned, maintained and updated by local volunteers, and providing
a forum for people to hold their local authorities and organisations
21. While Channel 4 does not previously
have a tradition of developing this kind of local content, the
potential of digital media to engage communities more directly
means that these projects are enabling Channel 4 to meet
its public purposes, such as championing alternative voices and
inspiring new ways of looking at the world, in ways that may not
have previously been possible through broadcast media. Through
4iP Channel 4 will use its brand potential, creative knowledge
and partnership experience to bring scale, expertise and impact
to new kinds of publicly valuable digital media projects.
22. However, Channel 4 is facing severe
structural challenges that are restricting its long-term ability
to invest in innovative public service content of this kind. The
Government's Digital Britain review is currently considering ways
of securing plural public service provision of news, current affairs,
large scale UK content, investment in independent and regional
production and serious factual programming across linear and digital
platforms. Channel 4 believes it can play a vital role in
delivering these objectives and is pressing the Government in
the Digital Britain process for a long-term funding solution that
can underpin its ability to do so.
4 AND BBC
23. Channel 4 believes that it can
play an important role going forward in reflecting the lives of
citizens across the UKthrough representation at a network
level, maintaining significant investment in the creative economy
of the nations and regions and exploring the role of digital media
to engage communities and develop new forms of journalism. However,
this role should be performed within a broader ecology of strong
media organisations that can provide a plurality of high-quality
public service content at national, regional and local levels,
beyond the BBC.
24. Securing this provision requires separate
solutions to Channel 4's own challenges. We therefore believe
that other providers should have the opportunity to bid for funds
to make content in some of the under-served areas identified by
the Government. C4 recognises the challenges facing regional
news, ITV and ITN, and believes that it is vital to democracy
that there is a viable, independent alternative to the BBC at
national and regional levels. Channel 4 therefore believes
that a contestable fund which is open to bids from a wider range
of content providers, would potentially help to secure plurality,
alongside the BBC and Channel 4, in specific areas such as regional
25. The fund would need to be of sufficient
scale to ensure that it can sustain content that achieves reach
and impact: a key consideration if funding was not won by an established
institution. It should also not be exclusively restricted to the
production and delivery of linear content but should support innovation
in multi media and digital content.
26. Channel 4 has traditionally been
and will continue to be a primarily network broadcaster. However,
as discussions continue about how best to sustain a second public
service broadcaster of scale to compete with the BBC, it will
explore the role it can play in representing the UK more effectively
by enhancing its commissioning from the nations and regions of
the UK and delivering new kinds of regional content through digital
27. While digital media is opening up new
opportunities to deliver some content more effectively, the profile
and accessibility of press and broadcast media and its investment
in original newsgathering and creative skills means that the sector
is still important as a democratic force and continues to be highly
valued by users.
28. As the Government concludes its Digital
Britain review, Channel 4 therefore recommends that support
should be given that provides a plurality of high-quality public
service content across national, regional and local levels. This
should include support to secure Channel 4's long-term role as
a UK-wide public service broadcaster investing in original innovative
British contentincluding impartial news, current affairs,
factual programming, and independent and regional productionas
well as additional competitive funding to sustain a sufficient
range of regional and local news.
36 Ofcom "Putting Viewers First" 2009. Back
MediaGuardian "Stop Press" 3.4.09. Back
MediaGuardian "Stop Press" 3.4.09. Back
Ofcom "Putting Viewers First" 21.01.09. Back
Ed Richards speech on "Independently Funded News Consortia",
Ed Richards speech on "Independently Funded News Consortia",
Digital Britain interim report, 20.01. 2009. Back
"Channel 4's contribution to the nations and regions"
EKOS, 2007. Back
Channel 4 commissioned survey from YouGov, January 2009. Back
Ofcom "Putting Viewers First" 21.01.09. Back