Published on: 22 March 2024 in Industry

Directors UK letter to Ofcom on Nations and Regions

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Dear Ofcom,

Directors UK is the professional association for TV and film directors in the UK.

In recent weeks we have seen the growing call for an increase in Channel 4’s ‘Made out of England’ quotas to address the very real concerns about the future sustainability of production in the Nations. Speaking with colleagues in the industry, and hearing from our members in the Nations, we share their concerns.

Directors in the Nations and regions rely on the opportunities and investment that Public Service Broadcasters, and Channel 4 in particular, make outside of London. Crucially, this not only enables them to embark on and build meaningful careers, it enables them to reflect the people and places around them. This reflection of society is also a requirement in the proposed Media Bill.

It is vital that we have this diversity of creative voices making programmes across the country which reflect the rich cultural differences of the communities we live in.  Channel 4 has a crucial part to play in making this happen. Without significant commitment to spend in the Nations we risk shutting down the lifeblood that allows those diverse creative voices to thrive. 

This is why we agree that publicly owned broadcasters should deliver their remit, and spend their creative capital, fairly across the whole of the UK. This would allow for greater creative economic growth and representation in the Nations, and the development and diversity of talent, skills and businesses across the UK. 

We therefore support the calls from Screen Scotland, Creative Wales and Northern Ireland Screen, STUC, Pact and production companies from within the Nations asking Ofcom to increase Channel 4’s quota obligations in the Nations to 16%, and ensure that C4C plays its part in investing in the creative economy of all four UK Nations. 

Without proper investment in the Nations, production companies based there will not survive, and talent will leave the sector, or once again be forced to migrate to London where there is a greater chance of a career. 

As outlined in our submission to the consultation on the proposals for the new Channel 4 Licence, if Ofcom and the PSBs are to create sustainable production centres in the Nations they need to plan their investment across a broad range of genres that reflect their commissioning plans, including higher budget productions. We are concerned that the proposed cuts in daytime programme hours will also have a particular impact in the Nations and the regions, and on freelance directors across the UK who are already experiencing a significant reduction in work.  

This is why Directors UK is supporting calls for more than just retention of the current minimum quota in the Nations. We want Channel 4, as the other significant Public Service Broadcaster in the UK, to strive to meet production targets that reflect the share of the UK population across the Nations - as the BBC does. This would be transformational for the UK’s production ecology, the careers of creative people across the UK, and ultimately for our audiences.

We urge Ofcom to listen to the industry. The BBC alone cannot deliver a sustainable production ecology across the UK. Despite the commercial concerns set out in the consultation, Ofcom should be pushing Channel 4 to commit to more production in the Nations and the regions - as it committed to in its alternative proposal to privatisation - and consider how to make any increase in quotas achievable for Channel 4. We encourage Ofcom to engage further with the industry as part of its review.  

We ask that this letter be added to the submitted response from Directors UK to the Consultation on the Proposals for the New Channel 4 Licence to reflect our support for an increase in the quota for production in the Nations.  

Some of our members who live and work in the Nations have shared below their insights on the significant role Channel 4 plays.

Yours sincerely

Andy Harrower, CEO, Directors UK           Karen Kelly, Chair, Directors UK


Insights from Directors UK members on the role of Channel 4 in the Nations:

DOUGLAS MACKINNON

Douglas Mackinnon is a hugely experienced television drama Executive Producer, showrunner, and director based in Scotland. He’s made a raft of Emmy and BAFTA-winning original and distinctive content to global audiences like Good Omens, Anansi Boys for Amazon, Sherlock, Doctor Who and Line of Duty.

“We could not have brought High-end productions like Good Omens and Anansi Boys to Scotland without the hard work of those that came before us. Outlander stands out as proof of concept that world class High-end television can be made in Scotland, but the writers, directors, producers and crews who are the backbone of our industry mostly emerged with the help of public service broadcasters like Channel 4. 

The reason quotas exist in public service television is surely for two main reasons, i.e. to try and improve economic and cultural imbalances, which are usually weighted in favour of London and against the nations and regions of the UK. In making their quota unjust in this way, Channel 4 surely go against that aim and therefore go against the public service remit that they fought so hard to retain. 

Since its inception, Channel 4 has gloriously promoted programmes and programme makers in Scotland, and has helped build the chain of shows and experience that anyone working in Scotland exists on today. In this perfect storm of change in television, please Channel 4, do not pull the London drawbridge in, instead throw your arms out to the programme makers all around the UK to make more of the amazing shows you are rightly famous for, and let us all help you survive and thrive?”

MATT PINDER

Matt Pinder is a 9 times BAFTA Scotland award-winning filmmaker with over 100 hours of factual television to his credit. He is recognised as an accomplished director, cameraman and editor having worked for most of the major UK networks on a diverse range of projects; from Dispatches to Daytime, including feature length docs for Channel 4 and a long running series for the BBC.

“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to make a film for Channel 4. The likes of Cutting Edge, Dispatches and Unreported World were a huge inspiration when I was coming up. So when I finally did get the chance to direct a series going out at 9pm on Channel 4 it felt like such a massive deal. It’s difficult to state how much that helped my career. Not only in terms of what I learnt through the process of making the series with Channel 4 but also just the credit itself. Almost overnight I was being considered for bigger gigs. That was 10 years ago and it was a pretty unusual opportunity for a Scottish-based director back then. To think that it will now be even harder for new talent up here to get those kind of breaks is pretty devastating. And indeed, selfishly, that I might not get another shot simply down to my postcode seems really unfair.”

LINDA SANDS

Linda Sands is director, documentary maker and Series Producer who is a BAFTA winner and RTS nominated. Her films focus on creating social change like Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and Menopause for Channel 4 which pushed the Royal Collage of GPs to train doctors on the menopause, as well as Imagine: Douglas Stuart: Love Hope and Grit which calls for more literature about working class lives. 

“In Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause, Davina was brutally honest about her own menopause experience which made our contributors feel more confident in telling their own story. The film broke through and was watched by over 2 million people. As a mother of three who is about to hit that time in her life, it was a story I was passionate about telling and was ably assisted by co-producer (and fellow Scot) Kate Muir, whose cause it was.

This doc was made with a Glasgow company (Finestripe) with a commissioner from the North of England. Having the opportunity to make documentaries likes this in Scotland has enabled me to build and grow a successful career without having to leave my children for long periods of time. If I had only been able to work out of London, I would have had to take a step back from an industry I love and an industry that talks about the importance of keeping female directors.”

MICHAEL BARRETT

Michael Barrett is a popular factual director on much loved property shows like Location Location Location, Fill Your House for Free, Big House Little House and Sarah Beeny's Little House Big Plans and series directed The Great House Giveaway which won a BAFTA, Broadcast Award and RTS for Channel 4.

“As a PD working in the north of England as well as Scotland, all my employment comes from regional commissions, of which at least 50% has been for Channel 4. Because of this, I've been able to forge a career as a shooting PD, largely in property series which were regional commissions.  

This culminated in Series Directing the first series of The Great House Giveaway - a Welsh commission partly made in Manchester - which won a BAFTA, Broadcast award and an RTS award for Channel 4.  More recently, I've been able to transition into edit producing - again on programmes that were Channel 4 regional commissions - Mega Mansion Hunters and Know Your S***: Inside Our Guts

Without relocating my family to the South East, I’ve found it impossible to compete and win similar roles on productions within the M25 and its thanks to these regional commissions from Channel 4 that I’ve been able to build a career and a reputation in Unscripted.”

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