BIRMINGHAM OR LEEDS FOR CHANNEL 4 ?

FOUR US OR AGAINST US ?

Colin McKeown, the excellent straight speaking boss of LA Productions (Broken, Moving On, Common) summed it up well. “It is their loss not ours”. He was referring to Channel 4’s decision not to shortlist Liverpool for its new National headquarters.

It is a slap in the face for a city that would have been a perfect fit for Channel 4. Liverpool has creativity and attitude oozing from every brick. I’ve always found people in Liverpool far more media savvy than in other places. In terms of creativity, where do you start? The Tate? The Everyman? The rich popular music heritage from the Beatles to The Farm. Not forgetting that it has been the go-to location for hundreds of films and TV shows.

Colin McKeown struck the right note. Mayor Joe Anderson called the decision “hypocritical” pointing out that the move was meant to add jobs, opportunities and growth to places where the BBC and ITV aren’t already installed. Liverpool’s leaders must always guard against the “whingeing Scousers” label that its critics are all too ready to pin on them, but Joe has a point.

Which brings me to the shortlist, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Manchester may well not be chosen because of the proximity of Salford’s Media City. It is now home to a major chunk of BBC and ITV production along with a growing cluster of media related industries. A decision by Channel 4 to move to this part of the North West would hardly be compatible with spreading media growth across the country.

Leeds should get it but probably won’t. Media production east of the Pennines is thin and Channel 4 could build on the heritage of Yorkshire Television, now a distant memory.

Birmingham is now favourite. It has been a dark time for media in the West Midlands since the closure of the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios. There is also a political factor to consider, although Channel 4 bosses would deny such influences. The Midlands Engine has become the focus of government largesse under Theresa May, especially since the election of Conservative Andy Street as mayor of the city region. Birmingham has been awarded the Commonwealth Games (another disappointment for Liverpool) and we could well see Channel 4’s national headquarters there.

The North isn’t in the running at all to be Channel 4’s Creative Hub. Newcastle and Sheffield have not made it on to the shortlist. It is a disappointment for Newcastle, another city of great creativity and identity. It is currently hosting the Great Exhibition of the North which is a fine expression of the culture of the North East. Apparently not good enough for Channel 4 bosses who have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make this move out of London. Although it is welcome, less than half their staff will leave London and the channel will retain its base in Horseferry Road.

With media devolution you always must ask the question where the people are located that make the big decisions and sign the cheques. For the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, if the answer isn’t right here in the North then there is always the danger of London clawing it all back.

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CHANNEL 4 NATIONAL BASE IN LIVERPOOL?

 

MERSEY CHANNEL.

Channel 4’s new “national base” should be in Liverpool. The city has a great cultural tradition and potential location sites that would surely be attractive to staff currently working in their cramped Horseferry Road headquarters.

It would have the full support of the Liverpool City Region mayor, Steve Rotheram, who has recently launched a major cultural initiative. It would also help to balance the growth of media related industries in the North West following the huge investment that has followed the BBC’s move to MediaCity in Salford.

The chance for Liverpool to welcome Channel 4 comes after a major wrangle between the TV company and the government. Ministers are determined to end the hugely disproportionate location of media jobs and editorial decision making in London. Channel 4 did not want to move hence a messy compromise whereby they will have a national headquarters outside London but will still retain their base on Horseferry Road. Although they are pledged to locate executives in their out of town “national” base, constant vigilance will be required to stop them slipping back.

I remember the era when the BBC was located in Oxford Road Manchester when departments that were formally located in the city and executives fleeing back to London on Friday afternoons.

Liverpool will face competition from the likes of Birmingham. We have already seen from the choice of the Midlands for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, over Liverpool’s bid that the presence of a Conservative mayor there is doing them no harm.

OTHER MEDIA MATTERS.

The media is increasingly important providing hi tech and creative jobs in the northern economy. It is also at the centre of the current debate around fake news and data mining.

To keep up to date with developments I recently attended a major media conference in Oxford where the first subject on the agenda was a very old one; the future of the BBC. I think we can put that on the backburner following remarks by the Culture Secretary Matt Hancock. He pointed out that licence fee funding had just been agreed for the new charter and what’s more there is overwhelming public support for it. Nevertheless, in the longer term one fears for that method of funding one of our great institutions.

Fake news inevitably came up and in a way that horrified me. Apparently on the night of the Manchester Arena terrorist outrage, a fake story was put out that Oldham hospital had also been targeted. The more sensational the story, the more clicks it gets. That’s the pernicious economic cycle that must be broken as Google and Facebook hopefully move from adolescence to maturity.

200 local papers have closed in recent years and there was a session on the issue of who is now reporting our courts and councils? Some good community sites have sprung up, but they are no substitute for professional and regular coverage by journalists. And into the vacuum come the angry, the ill informed and people with agendas.

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A DISMAL TIME FOR POLITICS

 

THE RESHUFFLE.

I would have backed Preston North MP and Security Minister Ben Wallace to be the new Defence Secretary. He was in impressive form at a terrorism seminar I attended during the Tory Party conference in Manchester. He probably lost out to Gavin Williamson because he was a staunch supporter of Boris Johnson in last year’s Tory leadership election.

But at least we have seen the promotion of another North West MP. Esther McVey was reflecting recently at a Downtown event about the fluctuating fortunes of a political life. Defeated in Wirral West in 2015, she was back representing Tatton after this year’s General Election. Now she is promoted to Deputy Chief Whip, a key post in a hung parliament where the government is trying to drive through our exit from the European Union.

THE SCANDAL.

The reshuffle was made necessary by the resignation of Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon as the crisis over MPs sexual behaviour began to unravel.

The reputation of our MPs has never recovered from the 2009 expenses scandal. The disillusionment, which partly explains the Brexit vote, was still with us as the latest revelations about sexual misbehaviour and misogyny broke. It affects all political parties so hopefully we can be spared party point scoring. The solution will require MPs to loosen further their adherence to the view that, as independent legislators, they must be free of outside regulation.

But the damage is done. It remains true that most MPs enter public life to make society a better place, but the cynics who have always claimed that they are in it for what they can get out of it feel vindicated. The critics who say MPs adopt a high moral tone in debates which is not matched by their private behaviour, have been proved right in some cases.

BEYOND PARODY.

The toxic chemistry of people with power being near young employees desperate for jobs is also present in the media.

So, it jarred with me that Radio Five Live’s Pienaar’s Politics recently had the presenter discussing MPs inappropriate behaviour one minute and following it immediately with a feature where a female MP was invited to say whether she would “snog, marry or avoid “a series of male politicians.

While I’m at it here’s another “beyond parody” moment from my week’s radio listening. Footballer Joey Barton, banned from football after betting on games he was playing in, was giving expert analysis on a talkSPORT commentary of Leicester v Everton where his fellow commentator was giving frequent plugs for betfair.

THE ROSCOE LECTURES.

Sticking to the media theme, I attended a lecture by the BBC Director General Tony Hall this week in Liverpool. He was the latest speaker in the Roscoe Lecture series promoted by Liverpool John Moores University. All credit to them for the events they mount in the impressive St George’s Hall.

The DG was worrying about the growing spending power of Netflix and Amazon. The bigger danger to the BBC comes from the constant sniping of the Murdoch press trying to bring down one of our few remaining assets that is the envy of a world where trash programmes peppered with advertising are the norm.

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FLAGS: A LEGACY OF THE BNP

FLAGS.

Emily Thornbury has increased the impression that Labour is tightly run by a middle class bunch from North London out of touch with working people and immune to advice from all but a tight circle of inexperienced advisers. 

She had to go. That said, the now almost non existent British National Party, is a factor in this row. I remember when houses in Burnley were draped in Union Jacks or English flags as a definite statement of support for the BNP. They appropriated the symbols of our patriotism. The very sad result is that there can be doubts about why flags are being displayed and ordinary patriots can be misunderstood.

On the by election itself, it wasn’t the landslide UKIP hoped for. Let’s hope that ,”I make it up as I go along” Farage, continues to be questioned on all the policies a party needs to be convincing on, if it wants to hold the balance of power

 

 

KEEP PUNISHING THE BANKERS.

 

 

That household name Niilo Jaaskinen has spoken for the millions of people across Europe and the UK still suffering the consequences of the reckless banking practices that nearly wrecked western economies six years ago.

 

The Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice has rejected Britain’s challenge to its cap on bankers’ bonuses. Not that it was very draconian. These bankers get paid a fortune in salaries in the first place. The cap is only to restrict bonuses to 100% of banker’s pay or 200% with shareholder approval.

 

Yet George Osborne indulges in the old shroud waving about bankers taking their business away from Britain. They won’t do that George. They love the London lifestyle, the overheated property market that they can speculate in and a British government that still has some way to go in curbing the reckless behaviour that still continues. As this week’s fines indicate these people have learnt very little.

 

The indictment list is long and disgraceful. Reckless lending followed by unjustified refusals to lend to small business, mis-selling of payment protection, currency and lending rate manipulation and at a local level the closure of branches, attempts to scrap the cheque and force people into on line banking.

 

 

BBC LICENCE FEE.

 

I chaired a good debate on the future of the BBC licence fee this week at the Nations and Regions Media conference in Salford. It is going to become a hot topic right after the election when the BBC’s charter is up for renewal.

 

I think we would be crazy to put in jeopardy one of our finest institutions, admired the world over. We export British culture and values all over the world via BBC programmes, and earn a lot of revenue. The creative flow is dependent on a well resourced BBC in this country and that is what is under threat.

 

The BBC has many media enemies who envy the £3.7bn of public money. They see the BBC as a threat to their commercial interests and take every opportunity to pour bile on the BBC. £3.7bn is a lot of money and the corporation has given its opponents plenty of opportunities to criticise in recent years.

 

Massive pay-offs to executives and the Savile scandal have tarnished the brand but set against that are excellent programmes like Sherlock, The Fall, Strictly Come Dancing, Radio 4 comedy and any British State occasion. All this for 40p a day. Compare that to your sky high Sky package cost.

 

The licence fee negotiations will be fraught, particularly if the Conservatives are the majority party. Some Tory backbenchers still regard it as the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation and are backing a bill to decriminalise non payment of the fee which lands people with a criminal record. Then there is the issue of technology. You can now access recorded BBC programmes on I Player without a licence. Will decriminalisation and the growth in new media access undermine the principal of paying to watch the BBC?

 

Harriet Harman, the Shadow Media minister spoke in Salford and said nobody had come up with a better model for funding the BBC that had convinced her. Of course there are other models including sponsorship and subscription, but how much would you be prepared to pay? Then, God forbid, there is advertising. My enjoyment of ITV drama is considerably reduced by the quarter of an hour per hour of adverts. Let that not come to the BBC.