Off the radar?
There has been much talk of late of government moves to relocate Channel 4 to one of England's provincial cities as part of a cost cutting exercise as well as, arguably, to continue propagating the message that 'not everything has to be in London'.
This is of course welcomed and could be a major opportunity for Liverpool and the city region, similar to Greater Manchester's Salford base for the BBC and ITV.
But does Liverpool face a much larger issue regarding the media? Today Liverpool is arguably under represented in the national media, despite only a decade ago having its own soap and a healthy number of television dramas, and news media in the city albeit a spin off from Granada news in Manchester. Liverpool also once provided the backdrop for the daytime TV favourite This Morning which, like so many things, was also eventually moved to London.
Liverpool today, however, has a burgeoning film and production sector, with the city often used as a stand in for some of the world's most recognisable cities, including New York and Moscow, to name but two, but this does seem to run counter to how Liverpool is perceived as a city itself, primarily in the UK. Whilst Liverpool undoubtedly enjoys a positive image globally, thanks to our maritime history and cultural achievements, Liverpool arguably still finds itself all too often at the negative end of national media reporting and coverage.
Relocating Channel 4 to Liverpool would not only bring a major media presence to the city for the first time but it may finally provide a counterweight to what today is a media that can often be seen basing its coverage of Liverpool purely on far outdated stereotypes and data, or just straight forward misconceptions.
Today Liverpool has no real way of rebuking negative media coverage and, some argue, this is because Liverpool has no base for the national media, no corner from which to fight unfair perceptions propagated about the city. I would argue that Liverpool is often wrongfully considered small, unimportant, shrunk and insular when a journalist from, perhaps, the Guardian or the BBC or, indeed, when any corner of the media puts pen to paper. On the other hand the city looms large when there is a need in the media to find something negative or for a feature connected to crime.
Whilst some would argue that this suggested position that Liverpool finds itself in with the national media today has dissipated more recently thanks to the massive regeneration of Liverpool and of course the European Capital of Culture celebrations, we can still, sadly, rely on Liverpool being misrepresented with articles and features about the city often starting with a reference to political and social unrest that occurred over 30 years ago, most notably the Toxteth riots.
The lack of a media presence also perhaps presents another problem. Manchester is Liverpool's nearest major city neighbour and shares the north west of England region with Liverpool. Today Greater Manchester plays host to the regional bases of both ITV and the BBC and over the years has arguably relied on that to position itself as an unofficial and self-proclaimed capital of the north, with a media base that arguably could do more to counter the idea that Liverpool is still a troubled major city comparatively. I myself have written to the BBC North West on more than one occasion, as have many others, regarding a political commentator’s reference to Liverpool as a “small city” when arguing on twitter for investment into the "far larger Manchester".
One suggestion could be to perhaps decentralise the media from Greater Manchester and instead have ITV regional news in Liverpool and BBC regional news in Manchester, for example.
On their own these 'niggles' with how Liverpool is represented can be perhaps argued away as 'sensitive', 'paranoia' or just an honest mistake of out of context comment that's been misunderstood? But collectively they have all created a 'noise' about Liverpool and one that has not done the city any favours.
Would the relocation of Channel 4 to the Liverpool City Region help counter these problems? Would having a major television channel beaming a more Liverpool-centric message help change the lingering, incorrect and frankly damaging perception that Liverpool City Region suffers from? A perception that has arguably reached the desks of key decision makers and policy leaders in central government.
Imagine if Liverpool was presented as the large, bustling and impressive major European city that it is today. Would we see the same illogical and questionable investment decisions coming Liverpool's way, such as the controversial short-change on HS2/3? Would a more correct and positive image nationally help to correct misconceptions that today have Liverpool listed, incorrectly, as the 10th largest city in the UK behind Nottingham, a city half Liverpool's size.
Would the correct perception of Liverpool again help Centre for Cities, a Manchester based think-tank that relies on a city measuring model produced by Newcastle University that today only see's Liverpool City Region as consisting of Liverpool City and Knowsley alone - not including Wirral, Halton, St Helen's and Sefton. We have however been assured by Centre for Cities that their model is not "100% accurate" and yet this is another example of a misconception of Liverpool's size and status feeding into another.
Having the media in their corner helps cities such as Manchester loom larger than they arguably are for the rest of the UK and that's fine, Liverpool perhaps then needs to find a way to follow and establish a strong media base of its own.
Channel 4 staff coming to Liverpool could enjoy a lower cost of living, homes that are far larger and cheaper than those of the capital, all within a few minutes drive of central Liverpool and the coast, minutes from one of the UK's fastest growing airports, the most efficient underground metro system outside of London in the UK to whisk them to work and an architectural backdrop that would make most other UK competitor cities jaws drop, especially if there was an effort to locate Channel 4 on the waterfront at, for example, Birkenhead Woodside - a step that would perhaps ensure the Wirral has a greater slice of the action in the Liverpool City Region, as efforts are made to take Birkenhead and the wider borough forward.
Then there is the endless talent that Liverpool City Region holds across the creative sector that could be more effectively fostered if the national media had a bigger stake in the city's future. Imagine again a Channel 4 base in the centre of the Baltic Triangle or the forthcoming Ten Streets development. It would potentially bolster our creative sector in particular, and go a long way towards helping to stem the professional diaspora for Liverpool's 21-40 year olds, who continue to leave the region for the chance of pursuing their chosen career after graduation, career options all too often not on offer today in Liverpool.
Ultimately, Liverpool City Region has to be far more proactive when looking to place itself at the front of the queue for any Whitehall decision making and capital investment proposals, such as the apparent moves to relocate Channel 4 out of the capital. We cannot allow Liverpool City Region to continue to be without a healthy media presence and we have to break what is an ever more present strategy that successive governments in the UK have of agglomerating all capital infrastructure and investment in the north west of England into Gtr Manchester alone.
Liverpool has made many strides forward in its rebirth and resurgence but in an age when perception is king we must find a way of working better with a media that hasn't always been on our side. ‘Brookside’ was a great soap, once, but Liverpool needs the likes of Channel 4 for reasons far greater than a nod to our television past.
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