A transcription of the heated exchange between BBC Director of Strategy and Education James Purnell and Channel 4 Controller Jay Hunt, at the RTS London Conference. Click here for the report of the whole session they were speaking at - PSB and Beyond.
James Purnell: ‘From a PSB perspective, we now see a real chasm between the way we are going to be regulated.
‘The Charter agreement is a set of incredibly detailed guidance to Ofcom – children’s programmes, history, religion, current affairs, 100-plus quotas.
‘We wouldn’t wish that on Channel 4, but, looking at what has happened with Bake Off, there is a huge difference between the way we are regulated, and… now there is a question about whether that is right.
‘Channel 4’s lighter touch should be looked at.’
Jay Hunt: ‘I have a slight advantage here, having run BBC One, controlling £1bn. At Channel 4, we are measured by 42 metrics.
‘I also understand you feel aggrieved about Bake Off, but it is just worth remembering, the BBC lost Bake Off, Channel 4 didn’t take Bake Off. Did you have a similar reaction over public policy when ITV took The Voice?’
James Purnell: ‘The audience are really sad [that they are] not going to have something they really love. You are going to have your take on it. But something really precious will be lost. You are a public service broadcaster.
‘Of course, you should be regulated. What I am saying is [that] you are not sufficiently regulated.… This debate is about: can Channel 4 do what it wants?
‘Given the amount of regulation we are seeing, there should now be a look to see if there is an imbalance between the two.’
Jay Hunt: ‘I am slightly surprised that you, coming from a policy background, think Channel 4 doesn’t have any regulation. The regulation of Channel 4 is extremely clear. Regulation is extremely tight and very extensive.’
James Purnell interrupts to say that he was Secretary of State for Culture in the last Labour Government and helped to set up Ofcom.
Jay Hunt: ‘I have done both of these jobs, and I can tell you what it is like. It is a total misrepresentation to say [that] Channel 4 is not regulated. You haven’t answered my question, why [wasn’t there] a similar reaction from you [when you] lost The Voice to ITV?’
James Purnell: ‘That’s totally different. ITV has some lesser public service duties, different to Channel 4. You have a remit which you describe yourselves as “Be risky”.
‘There are real questions if Bake Off qualifies under that. Unfortunately, you have given ammunition to people who want to privatise Channel 4.’
Jay Hunt: ‘Let me just put this in a slightly different way. We don’t take a penny of public money. Channel 4 operated from the beginning a very effective cross-subsidy model. Bake Off will be, and is, part of that strategy.
‘I am genuinely saddened to hear [that] you have taken the course you have. Our sustainability is not in question. I can certainly tell you, sitting at the coalface on any level, it does not feel like light regulation.’
James Purnell: ‘Everything I’ve said is from love of Channel 4 and wanting to see you stay in the public sector.’
Jay Hunt: ‘I understand how painful it is to lose a franchise, but let us be utterly clear. This is an independent producer, who, after three years of an increasingly dysfunctional relationship, decided they would no longer make this show for you. This was widely leaked. At that point, that franchise was in the market.
‘I appreciate that was very painful and, if I was sitting at the BBC, I would be thinking long and hard how that the situation had arisen. But that is what happened.’
The panellists were: Jay Hunt, Chief Creative Officer, Channel 4; Monica Maggioni, President, RAI; James Purnell, Director of Radio and Education, BBC; and Peter Rosberg, Head of Planning and Scheduling, DR. The session was chaired by Patrick Younge, Co-founder and Managing Director, Sugar Films, and produced by Laura Gosling and Andrew Scadding.
The segment used in this transcription begins at 18.50 in the video below.