If it ain’t broke

Jim thinks there is no need to privatise Channel Four which has become a force for good for the northern media industry. He also look back on this week thirty and forty years ago which brought turning points for the Conservative Party.

Jim Hancock

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The government’s decision to privatise Channel Four is driven by ideology and could damage the media economy in the North.

With the BBC’s reputation soaring for its coverage of the Ukraine conflict, the Culture Secretary has had to tone down her war of words with the Corporation. So, to throw some red meat to her right-wing backbenchers, Nadine Dorries has opened another front with Channel Four privatisation.

The claim is that the publicly owned channel is constrained in its borrowing powers by public ownership and put at a disadvantage against the new streaming giants.

The government is expected to pledge the sale’s proceeds will be put into a creative pot to train young creative talent. This is completely unnecessary. Channel Four is already doing this. Last year two thirds of its programmes were commissioned outside London from a range of independent companies. It has established its new national headquarters in Leeds with the result that there is a strong media industry presence on both sides of the Pennines.

The future is now uncertain as private companies eye up the billion-pound prize. Will commitments to independent production and public service broadcasting be maintained by managers interested in profits?

Will Channel Four news survive? It has certainly been a thorn in the government’s side, and on occasions has lacked balance in my opinion. If this is the real motivation for privatization it is a disgrace, and a big parliamentary battle awaits.

TORY TURNING POINTS

40 years ago, the Falklands War transformed the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher. After three years of her efforts to effect major change in industrial policy, she was very unpopular. Some even feared defeat at the polls in 1983/84. It would have maintained the pattern of one term governments that had prevailed since the mid-sixties.

But the reconquest of a remote group of islands in the South Atlantic had an almost irrational impact on the morale of the country.

Mrs Thatcher had an anxious wait for victory. I remember, as a reporter, being summoned to Downing Street for an important announcement at the end of April. An even more obscure British possession, South Georgia, had been liberated. When I pointed out to the PM that the Falklands were the real target, I was abruptly told to “Rejoice at that news!”

By mid-June there was widespread rejoicing at the Argentinian surrender and Mrs Thatcher was able to go the polls the next year, embedding the Conservatives in power.

However, by this time of year, thirty years ago the picture looked rather different. By April 1992, Mrs Thatcher was gone and her replacement, John Major, was being run close by Labour leader Neil Kinnock in the General Election. But not close enough, the Conservatives won a fourth term but with a much-reduced majority.

If ever there was an election a party should have lost, it was the Tories in 1992. Within months of them winning, their reputation for sound economic management was shredded on Black Wednesday with our forced withdrawal from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. The rest of the parliament was dominated by splits over Europe and sleaze and New Labour won a landslide in 1997.

Two turning points in the history of the Conservative Party. Does another one loom?

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