Reasons to be cheerful Podcast: 5 takeaways from the latest episode

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A Summary of Reasons to Be Cheerful Podcast

In the latest installment of our Reasons to be Cheerful podcast roundup, I take a look at five takeaways from the last episode on ‘DON’T CHANGE THE CHANNEL: The Case Against C4 Privatization’. We look at why the government has decided now is the time to push for privatisation, what it would mean for Channel 4 viewers and independent production companies.

1. Why promote privatization now?

Despite opposition from some Conservative MPs, the government has decided to go ahead and push for privatisation. Why now ask some? The Guardian’s media editor, Jim Waterson, believes part of the reasoning behind this is because the government doesn’t mind fighting the media to make a political point, especially against a channel whose coverage has not been as favorable to the tories.

The government’s push to privatize Channel 4 should be seen as part of its broader attempt to shed some red meat to shift focus away from Partygate and the cost of living, and back into culture war territory, where it feels more comfortable.

2. What would privatization mean for viewers?

Waterson says much of this will depend on how the debates between MPs play out as the legislation is discussed. What clauses need to be included to protect a privatized Channel 4 is a consideration we will have to think about, but if they remove all the obligations that currently underpin Channel 4, then it really isn’t the same channel that might be more attractive to a potential buyer.

“Nobody in the world believes that if and when Channel 4 goes private, they will keep 1 hour of expensive investigative international news at the heart of prime time,” says Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge President Dorothy Byrne .

Those could be pretty profound changes as the new buyer is chasing profits and shareholder returns rather than documentaries and public interest shows.

3. What effect will the privatization of Canal 4 have on the independent production sector?

As Brian Woods, founder of production company True Vision, points out, “there is no question that in private hands the commitment to the regions that is embodied in everything Channel 4 does at the moment, a commercial owner simply won’t go after it.”

Many independent production companies depend on Channel 4 programmes, while for a commercial organization interested in maximizing shareholder returns, it is cheaper to make programs in-house, and small companies are far less likely to survive.

Some 60 British television production companies could be forced to close if Channel 4 is privatized.

Woods added that Channel 4 had a distinctive mission and that one of the reasons Britain leads the world in documentary production is “that we produce so many and we have such a grand ladder that documentary producers can climb, we practice and we make mistakes.” ‘ That ladder could no longer exist if Channel 4 were privatized.

4. Will a privatized Channel 4 increase or reduce the power of broadcast services?

Woods says the government’s thinking on this issue has been muddled and confused. “Streaming services are in a completely different space,” says Woods, adding that while Netflix does well in producing documentaries and expensive shows for international audiences, what Channel 4 does is completely different.

It’s a point Byrne agrees with, saying it’s completely irrelevant to make the comparison between Channel 4 and streaming services.

“Netflix does one thing, they make very expensive shows and long documentaries for an international audience, Channel 4 is about making shows for national audiences to help democracy.”

5. Citizens oppose the privatization of Channel 4

Most people oppose the government’s plans to privatize the channel. As Dorothy Byrne put it, a government consultation found that “only 2% of people in Britain wanted it to go private with 96% against it, those are figures a politician should look at,” she said.

91% of the 55,737 organizations and individuals who participated in the Government consultation also said they did not believe it would be more sustainable under private ownership.

According to a government report, many also argued that privatization would have “an overall negative impact” on audiences, as it “could reduce the scope and diversity of Channel 4’s program output.”

base Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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