Channel 4 risks setting itself up for a battle with the BBC if it does not clarify how it would like to receive the public service funding it claims it needs to survive in a digital age, according to MPs.
Channel 4 unveiled its vision for its public service content post 2012 – when all TV will be digital – at a presentation to politicians, regulators and the press.
Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, told Channel 4 executives that it needed to specify how it would find the £100m-£150m a year it claims is needed to retain its public service broadcasting remit after 2012.
He said: ‘You are a public service broadcaster, but you are also competing with others. The money you want can only come from two places. It either comes from the taxpayer or the BBC licence fee, which is the tax payer.”
Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord McNally, said Channel 4 risked getting involved in a wrangle over the licence fee. He said: ‘You have presented an inspirational relaunch which should give you support across the parties, but the danger is that you get moved into a squalid squabble with the BBC about the future of the licence fee.
‘The sooner you can make positive suggestions about how much you want, when you need it and how it can be provided without getting into that squabble with the BBC, the sooner your many friends in both Houses can get behind you.’
Channel 4 has declined to say how it would prefer to receive the potential funding. It is looking for 15 per cent of its total income to come from some form of public subsidy.
Broadcasting regulator Ofcom is looking at various options.
These are thought to include top slicing the BBC licence fee, or giving Channel 4 a stake in the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. Other possibilities include money from direct taxation, similar to the Foreign Office grant which funds the BBC World Service.
Any potential drain on BBC funds would open Channel 4 up to more public scrutiny and accountability.
It was ‘vital’to keep the BBC out of the equation if possible, said Dorothy Hobson, author of Channel 4: The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy. She suggested that the big independent production companies could provide funding to nurture new talent.
‘The big indies are very rich and powerful,’she said. ‘The funding question always goes back to the licence fee but we need to think of another way of doing it.”
The unveiled ‘Next on 4’blueprint is based on what the broadcaster called its most exhaustive review since it launched in 1982. It comes ahead of an Ofcom review into public service broadcasting, which is due to announce its first proposals next month.
The Channel 4 plans include increased spending on news, a commitment to a documentary each weekday peak time and targeting a youth audience through link-ups like an online news partnership with social networking site bebo.