What will Richard Desmond do with Channel 5?

Now he’s purchased the channel, what changes can we expect to see?

Richard Desmond bought Channel 5 for £103.5m on Friday, but ever since the deal was first hinted at, speculation has been rife about what direction he might take with the broadcaster. Here's what we know so far.

First, let's put to rest the idea that it will be filled with pornography as soon as Desmond takes over. As a terrestrial channel, Five is obligated to provide news and current affairs programming, and cannot transform itself into an X-rated paradise. Desmond might have made a fortune out of Television X (the Fantasy Channel) and Red Hot, but he's going to have to keep the two separate or risk the wrath of the regulators.

In fact, he has insisted that he will not be taking the channel "downmarket", but instead plans to invest £1.5bn over the next five years. Big Brother, Panorama, Coronation Street and The X Factor are all programmes he has said he would like to see broadcast by his new acquisition.

We could well see a change of name, though. In an appearance on Live From Studio Five shortly after the sale was agreed, Desmond hinted that he would be dropping the "Five" brand and reverting to the original name of "Channel 5", though he did say "you'll have to talk to the chief executive" about any definite name change.

Although Channel 5 has performed badly in the past, it does have a couple of popular imports, notably Neighbours and CSI. Keeping hold of these will be vital to building a new audience.

Roy Greenslade, in his Evening Standard column, suggests that Desmond will attempt to mirror his success with OK! magazine by featuring more celebrity programming and seeking more star presenters. Perhaps he will even attempt to forge links between magazine and television by inviting those who appear in the pages of OK! to follow up with a TV appearance on Channel 5.

We can certainly expect him to attempt to cross-promote his different media outlets. European legislation prevents him from advertising his newspapers (the Daily Express, the Daily Star and associated Sunday titles) on television, but there is no reason why he can't promote Channel 5 in the newspapers. Given the Murdoch empire's success in combining print and television, Desmond is bound to follow suit.

Another possibility is that he will cough up the £115m required for the station to rejoin the internet TV platform Project Canvas. The channel was initially withdrawn to save money, but if the venture takes off, Desmond won't want to be left behind as others enter a new market.

Despite Desmond's plans for big investment, he is also going to have to cut costs if he wants to move the channel forward. In line with this, it is rumoured that Channel 5 will be moving from its base in the West End to the new proprietor's own office in the City.

Finally, I hear from a Daily Express insider that the cost-cutting agenda has become the butt of many a joke in the office. I understand:

The running joke at the Daily Express is that Channel 5 is going to be nothing but a DVD player in a week.

You heard it here first.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.