“We’re all watching”: UK producers and PSBs play waiting game amid upheaval

It’s too soon to see how the tumult currently enfolding what was the Boris Johnson government in the UK will impact a media sector that seemed to be in its crosshairs ...
July 8, 2022

It’s too soon to see how the tumult currently enfolding what was the Boris Johnson government in the UK will impact a media sector that seemed to be in its crosshairs during its run in office. But the UK production community, and their network counterparts in both the public service and commercial broadcasting domains, are watching the unfolding chaos with avid, if cautious, interest.

In a span of 48 hours, the Johnson government saw more than 50 of its MPs resign in the midst of several scandals. The one that seemed to drive the final nail into the coffin involved deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, who was suspended last week after it was alleged that he groped two men in a private members’ club. When it became apparent that Johnson knew of a previous complaint against Pincher, cabinet resignations began, with chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid the first to leave.

In offering his own resignation during a speech yesterday (July 7) at No. 10 Downing Street, Johnson maintained that he intends to remain in place until the Conservative Party names a new leader.

The list of ministers who have resigned from the government is long, but one name that remains is of particular interest to the UK media and production sectors: culture secretary Nadine Dorries, who has been the point person for such matters as the plan to privatize Channel 4, proposals to scrap the BBC license fee after a two-year freeze, and a government white paper that, among other things, floated the idea of introducing a revenue cap for “qualifying independent” producer status.

Among the UK producers polled by Realscreen as the news of the Johnson government’s collapse broke, the overwhelming sentiment is that while it would be a relief to think the turn of events will lead to a reversal of these moves, any celebration over this matter is premature. (Representatives from Channel 4 and the BBC declined comment.)

While the C4 privatization plan is widely unpopular — not just among the production community but also apparently among the general UK populace as well — there is the possibility that Johnson, should he remain in his post until a new leader is chosen, could still aim to shepherd the C4 proposal through to parliamentary approval. But with an impending summer recess of two-and-a-half months, and a recent poll finding that, of all proposed Tory policies, the C4 privatization scheme is of lowest public priority, the odds of it being rammed through seem low. The question also remains of who will be in the role of culture secretary when a new leader is named and a cabinet reshuffle occurs.

And while a review of the BBC license fee was also slated to take place before the parliamentary recess, given the activity of the past two days, that could wind up on the back burner as well.

A prominent UK factual producer summed it up best to Realscreen, saying that while they hope the days ahead will bring “more clarity,” given the current fluidity of the situation the only thing to do is wait it out: “We’re all watching.”

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.