Let’s hope Jackson shows a bit of Channel 4 sight

There is a certain neatness in the way two key media appointments were announced last week, within hours of each other. First, Michael Jackson was finally confirmed as the new chief executive of Channel 4. Then Tony Blair made the able Chris Smith Heritage Secretary, in charge of broadcasting, arts, sport and the lottery.

There is a certain neatness in the way two key media appointments

were announced last week, within hours of each other. First, Michael

Jackson was finally confirmed as the new chief executive of Channel 4.

Then Tony Blair made the able Chris Smith Heritage Secretary, in charge

of broadcasting, arts, sport and the lottery.



He is a far better choice for the ’Ministry of Fun’ (as David Mellor

once dubbed it) than previous shadow, Jack Cunningham. A Government that

believes in ’education, education, education’ must place great emphasis

on encouraging culture, in its broadest sense. And Jackson is a more

than worthy successor to Michael Grade. The two men have much to discuss

in the months ahead, for although New Labour doesn’t plan immediate

broadcasting legislation, it has to settle on an enlightened policy for

Channel 4 to see it into the next century.



Even if privatisation is ruled out, a new formula and timetable has to

be agreed by the end of this year for phasing out the huge ’safety net’

payments it makes to ITV. Not an easy nettle to grasp, but it is a great

test of how Labour values public service TV.



Jackson must seize the moment to redefine Channel 4’s role - to explain

why it is a living treasure instead of simply asserting its right to a

privileged place in the broadcasting mix. And, if it is to win the

argument to retain more of its surplus cash, then he must revamp its

programming and commissioning structure, and demand higher

standards.



It is an uncomfortable fact that Channel 4’s recent commercial success

has not been matched creatively across the range of output. The

statutory remit to innovate and experiment has been technically

fulfilled, but it is not firing on all cylinders. Watching the repeat of

Gulliver’s Travels last weekend only served to remind one how good

Channel 4 can be. It has become staid in parts, relying too heavily on

imports such as Friends, ER and the melodrama of Brookside.



Study last month’s Programme Performance Review by the Independent

Television Commission and you find alarm bells ringing. The Big

Breakfast, now in its fifth year, has lost its way and about half of its

audience: the children have departed to BBC2, leaving it stranded.

Educational programmes have veered towards softer leisure topics:

Equinox, its flagship science programme, can be shallow. Comedy and

entertainment have mixed reviews while drama lacked range. Its arts

programming, after Without Walls was scrapped, begs for

re-invention.



Jackson knows only too well that Channel 4 can do better - talented

British writers and producers flock to work for it as they flee the

bureaucratic BBC. I hope Chris Smith strikes a hard but fair bargain on

behalf of viewers.



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