625 - Andrew Wiseman's Television Room Editorial:
Goodbye, Right to Reply

Created  We 18-Jul-01
Links updated  We 1-Sep-21

According to the Chairman of Channel 4 when announcing the group's annual report in April 2001, "Last year was, by any measure, the most successful in C4's history." Chief Executive Michael Jackson, hoping to stave off any future government's attempt to privatise the station, claims "The benefits of Channel 4's not-for-profit structure have never been clearer." But is he right? David Elstein, former CEO of Channel 5, thinks not. Speaking at the Royal Television Society, he says C4 has more money than it needs. "Basically it's a runaway train where the non-executive directors seem to have lost the plot. Channel 4 executives piously tell us privatisation would cut off innovation and risk investment." But, reckons Mr Elstein, every private company in the creative sector takes risks all the time.

In theory, C4's corporation status should mean it is more accountable to its viewers, having no shareholders to please. I would have to disagree. Only a week earlier the Channel quietly axed its viewer feedback show, Right to Reply.

On the same day that viewers were told they were watching the last in the current series, staff were told the show would not be returning in September after all.

R2R RIP (15K)

Like Brookside, Channel 4 News and Countdown, Right to Reply has had a place in the Channel 4's schedules since it began broadcasting back in November 1982.

In an article for The Guardian, presenter Roger Bolton writes that Jeremy Isaacs, C4's Chief Executive back then, regarded Right to Reply as the quintessential Channel 4 programme.

For 18 years, this unique programme, one of a very few actually made in-house at Channel 4, has been giving viewers a chance to tackle programme makers in away that Points of View and other read-your-letters-out type shows could never do. It introduced the Video Box to television, where members of the viewing public could sit down in a kiosk resembling a photo booth and record their comments. It also gave viewers a chance to go eyeball to eyeball with the broadcasters and programme makers and demand answers to their questions.

So why has Channel 4 axed a programme that regularly attracted a million viewers, despite being up against Friday's Coronation Street? Does it now feel it answers not to its viewers but instead to its balance sheet?

Francesca O'Brien, Deputy Commissioning Editor for News & Current Affairs at C4, the department lately responsible for the programme, says that in a world with hundreds of channels, Right to Reply has become redundant. Defending the decision to axe the programme on The Message on BBC Radio 4, she said: "We are increasingly discussing programmes viewers never saw. And if people don't like something they see, they can either complain to the regulator or switch over."

C4 sees the future to involve feedback through the Internet. But ask anyone whose questions have been ignored in the forums at the C4 web site and they will tell you it's not the same as being able to vent your spleen across a table, knowing that the person representing the broadcaster sitting opposite has to answer not only to you but also to everyone watching.

Presenter Roger Bolton (5K)

"A black day for viewers"
- Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton says it is a black day for viewers. I agree - I regard the end of Right to Reply as further proof that broadcasters today regard their audience as morons, who are happy to lap up whatever swill is fed to them.

Channel 4 won't be the same channel without Right to Reply, just as The Times wouldn't be the same without its letters page.

 

Related Links

I was very happy to experience Right to Reply first hand, appearing in a handful of programmes. It became almost a hobby of mine! You can what I had to say for myself in the Right to Reply pages at this site.

Right to Reply presenter, Roger Bolton (4K)

>> Read the original announcement on-line in The Guardian's media section.
Channel 4 takes away Right to Reply - The Guardian, Fr 20-Apr-01.

>> This was followed up by a more in-depth look at the decision and the programme's history.
Ground-breaking show ditched - The Guardian, Fr 20-Apr-01.

>> They then had Roger Bolton write an article with his thoughts on the show's demise.
Answering Back - The Guardian, Mo 23-Apr-01

>> This was followed up with further reaction.
Channel 4 drops Right to Reply - The Guardian, Tu 24-Apr-01

BBC News Online, which I had previously regarded as a comprehensive Internet news site hasn't covered this story at all. When I asked why they responded that they didn't consider it to be newsworthy!

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