David Abraham acclaims Channel 4's rebellious nature

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Celebrating 30 years since the launch of quasi-public broadcaster Channel 4, chief executive David Abraham has given a speech that highlights the broadcaster’s commitment to freedom of speech and promises more risk-taking programming from Channel 4 in the future.

Abraham used his speech to categorise Channel 4 as the latest in a long line of “rebellious” British institutions, “places where people who push against the norm, or have something new to say are given a platform - where radical and innovative thoughts can breed. Such bodies are a hallmark of a democratic society that allows innovative thought and radical thinking to flourish. In the words of the academic Slavoj Zizek, star of a new Film 4 backed feature A Pervert's Guide To Ideology: ‘we live in a universe of dead conventions and lack the language to articulate our unfreedom'. Channel 4 is part of a tradition that questions ‘unfreedom' and it is vital that we remind ourselves of it on this and keep reinventing ourselves, as a social enterprise for the 21st century.”

Abraham coloured his speech with examples of how Channel 4 is not afraid to lock horns with the establishment on matters of political or social significance. “The current scandal around Jimmy Savile reminds us all of both the value and of the challenges surrounding investigative journalism,” he said. “There remains a very real risk that the appetite for these projects will continue to be challenged both economically and legally and that is why Channel 4 News, Dispatches and Unreported World remain such key parts of the Channel 4 schedule, and why we shall continue to invest in them.”

The Channel 4 CEO also extended his thesis to cover comedy: “Channel 4 has also made an outstanding contribution to the history of comedy in this country - breaking new talent and taking risks on material that other broadcasters have tended to shy away from- but this has not come without periodic moments of serious regulatory and legal debate - as shown in the very recent and successful libel trial privately brought by Frankie Boyle against the Daily Mirror. This focused on satirical sketches contained in a series commissioned by Channel 4 in 2010. We would not have broadcast these sketches if we believed them to be racist. The jury agreed as Ofcom had already done earlier. The Daily Mirror disagreed but in an important outcome for comedians in this country, they lost.”

Abraham’s speech makes it clear that Channel 4 will continue pushing boundaries: “Channel 4 has to defend its editorial values against the complex legal and regulatory framework in which we work. This is essential to live up to the spirit suggested by our remit - to champion freedoms in television and to act as a catalyst tolerated within a bigger system. Mummifying Alan, Drugs Live, Plane Crash, Bank of Dave and our film on Ian Brady are all examples of how our legal team had to test the boundaries of several UK laws to get extraordinary shows on air. We are currently working on projects for next year that amongst other issues push the envelope on existing laws on human tissue, murder trials and end of life care.”

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