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Screenwriters Kosminsky, Grisoni champion Channel 4 amid privitisation fears

Two leading screenwriters have criticised the “vicious” plan to privatise UK pubcaster Channel 4 (C4), just as the government’s sale was left in disarray following the resignation of prime minister Boris Johnson.

Peter Kosminsky

Johnson today announced his intention to stand down following a spate of government resignations this week, while legislation concerning the privatisation of C4 was expected to be published in the coming weeks.

C4 is currently airing The Undeclared War, a topical six-part drama from writer and director Peter Kosminsky imagining a future cyber war and the team at government communications centre GCHQ deployed to prevent an impending UK election falling into chaos.

Kosminsky previously made The State for C4, as well as TV film The Government Inspector and The Promise, and called the broadcaster “brave, receptive, ambitious and very programme-maker friendly.”

“And they’re brave for the audience,” he told C21. “They’re not always saying, ‘Well, the audience won’t get that,’ which in my experience is rubbish. If what you’re doing makes sense and is part of a compelling story, you don’t patronise your audience – and Channel 4 takes a very similar view. But it’s the very things that make Channel 4 such a brilliant and unusual place to work which are directly being put at threat by this vicious proposal.

“If Channel 4 is bought by an international conglomerate, it will secure its financial future, no doubt, because it wouldn’t be purchased to fail. But it won’t have any kind of continuing obligation to make the uniquely British types of programmes for which it is rightly well known.”

The fact that C4 is overseen by UK media regulator Ofcom also means it has an obligation to make distinctly British programmes – a consideration not applicable to the raft of global streamers at work in the international arena.

“Many of the things I’ve made in the relatively recent past are primarily UK stories with UK characters at their centre,” continued Kosminsky, who is currently developing a drama about the Grenfell Tower tragedy for the BBC.

“I don’t know how much interest in it there would be in Wisconsin. C4 and the other public service broadcasters have the regulatory obligation to make programmes for us, for the UK audience, and my theory is that the great work they’ve done will disappear [if privatisation happens].

Tony Grisoni

“What’s truly frightening to me is that there is no constituency for this change. It wasn’t in the Tory manifesto. Polls consistently suggest that there’s no majority for it amongst the Parliamentary Conservative Party. There’s no real financial case for it because C4’s actually doing quite well at the moment. The only reason for it is narrow political dogma. Because this branch of this Conservative Party has an ideological objection to public ownership of any kind. And their instinct is just to sell everything, irrespective of the cultural damage it may do. And that’s why I called it vicious, because vicious it is. And the British viewing public will be the worse for it.”

Similarly, Tony Grisoni has a history of making drama for C4, not least the acclaimed Red Riding trilogy, Southcliffe and an episode of Philip K Dick anthology Electric Dreams.

“So much is under threat and C4’s part of that. It would be a major loss,” he told C21 at French television conference Série Series.

“C4 isn’t quite what it was when it started but it’s still there. It’s still a strong voice. It would be a big mistake to lose it, and there isn’t anyone else for it [the privatisation], it is only this government. And this government is also out to punish the BBC. But this government isn’t known for their interest in culture. They’re just a bunch of philistines.”


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