Leading article: C4: back to new ways

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ACCORDING TO the Independent Television Commission, some of Channel 4's recent output has been lacking the vital quality of innovation. This is a serious charge.

When Channel 4 was launched in 1982, it was told to innovate and experiment and to devote a "suitable proportion" of programming to tastes and interests not catered for by ITV. It took its remit seriously. Channel 4 has changed British television for the better. Brookside challenges taboos routinely. Film On Four has boosted the British film industry with works such as Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. The Big Breakfast was experimental, if nothing else. We were given the surreal comedy of Father Ted. All this is good, indeed excellent, television. So what is Channel 4 doing wrong?

The ITC believes Channel 4 may have strayed from its remit recently in its factual broadcasting. In particular, there has been insufficient attention paid to "adult education", which is dominated by gardening, cookery and pets. Channel 4 News, excellent though it is, has not witnessed very much innovation recently. Channel 4 needs to address these weaknesses and there are encouraging signs that its new boss, Michael Jackson, knows this.

Mr Jackson, when he was with the BBC, suggested that the Channel 4's courtship of a young audience had gone too far and threatened to overshadow its achievements in documentaries, drama, and the arts. He asked: "Am I alone in thinking that the pursuit of demographics - in particular young, lager-drinking, upwardly mobile men - has led to a sapping of Channel 4's originality? Has consumerism eroded the spirit of curiosity?" The ITC report suggests that he was not on his own. Thanks to the phasing- out of the levy paid to the ITV companies, Mr Jackson is now able to make the most of the station's success in pulling in advertising. The mild rebuke of the ITC gives him all the excuse he needs to follow his instincts.