Channel 4 production switch is bad news for Scotland’s screen sector - Angus Robertson

​Scotland’s screen sector has recently been heading in the right direction, but sadly the UK media regulator Ofcom and Channel Four are trying to set back the momentum.
Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes.Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes.
Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes.

​For decades TV production has been over-concentrated in London and the South-East of England. Things were so bad that in 2009 Ofcom ruled that the BBC had to accept production targets that reflect the UK’s population in the four nations.

Now, however, Ofcom is recommending 91 per cent of Channel Four’s annual production budget should be allocated to England, with the remaining 9 per cent allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland rather than their 16 per cent. This would amount to a 44 per cent short-changing of the sector over the next decade. Frankly, it is an outrage and cannot be allowed to go ahead.

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Concern about the plans by Ofcom and Channel Four has led to unprecedented opposition from the Screen Agencies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, as well as the independent production sector and the trades unions. In a meeting with Ofcom Chief Executive Melanie Dawes I have made the position of the Scottish Government absolutely clear: the plans are totally unacceptable.

In a public intervention by Screen Scotland, Northern Ireland Screen and Creative Wales they say that Channel 4 “should fulfil its remit and licence obligations as a Public Service Broadcaster equitably across the entire UK delivering content promoting new and diverse voices and perspectives and playing its part as a broadcaster owned by the UK public in supporting the creative economy outside London”.

In a joint statement they say “It is essential that Channel 4 operate in a manner that ensures no individual nation experiences undue advantages or disadvantages. All three screen agencies agreed that a 91 per cent quota in favour of England is indefensible in the UK in 2024”.

All three agencies also said they disagree with Ofcom’s proposal to maintain the ‘out of London’ production quota for Channel 4 at 35 per cent, pointing to the fact that Channel 4 has had no difficulty exceeding its current 50 per cent target for production outside London for three years now.

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Meanwhile the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) has called for Ofcom quotas for Channel 4 that match those given to the BBC at the very least, and fully enshrining its 50 per cent outside of London spend into the licence formally. They have also called on Ofcom and Channel 4 to focus on ensuring that regional productions do not use loopholes to circumvent commitments to providing opportunities for regionally-based workers.

An open-letter has now been signed by more than 30 independent Scottish production companies who are calling on Ofcom to reverse its recommendation that 91 per cent of Channel 4's production budget should be allocated to England.

Since the BBC was obliged to better support screen production outside London and the South-East of England there has been a significant boost to the screen sector and its the supply base in Scotland, enabling the creation of hundreds of high value jobs, as well as programmes that reflect Scotland, its people and their priorities.

Channel Four has done much in recent years to commission programming from outside the M25 and the UK media regulator Ofcom has played a positive part in that general trend with the BBC. They must think again about their flawed plans for Channel Four which we would be stuck with for the next decade.

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