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UK Lords: ‘Don’t privatise Channel 4’

UK public service broadcaster Channel 4’s output in news, film production, and diversity could be damaged by privatisation, according to a report from a cross-bench Committee of Parliament’s upper chamber.

The Communications Committee urges the Government not to pursue any plans to sell the channel, saying that the risks of privatisation outweigh the benefits. The Committee has been examining the broadcaster’s financial sustainability as well as the implications of privatisation, in light of the Government’s ongoing review of the future of Channel 4 Corporation.

Chair of the Committee, Lord Best, described Channel 4 as “an important and much valued part of the nation’s media landscape” boasting an array of innovative and creative programming as well as a strong commitment to public service broadcasting. “This is evident from its distinct news and current affairs coverage, its much-lauded contribution to cinema through Film4, and its pioneering approach to on-screen diversity. However, we fear that these qualities would be jeopardised were the channel to be sold off. We believe that news output would be especially vulnerable, given its prime time position in the schedules. We are calling on the Government not to take forward any ideas to privatise Channel 4, wholly or in part, as it is our view that the risks from selling it off are greater than any benefits that may arise.”

“In our report we also conclude that the current business model is in fact working well for the broadcaster, and we do not believe that Channel 4 is too vulnerable to continue as it is. We add that if the Secretary of State does pursue a privatisation proposal, we would call on him to ensure safeguards are in place to guarantee that there was no negative impact on the viewer or the UK’s creative industries.”

Other conclusions and recommendations:

  • The Committee finds that the channel’s current business model is sustainable, at least until the end of its current licence period which ends in 2024. The Committee heard that 2015 had been a successful year and that any issues of economic sustainability of previous years have now been addressed.
  • The report says that Channel 4’s current programming for older children and young adults is unsatisfactory, and greater commitment to this group should be demonstrated.
  • In the event of privatisation, the Committee felt that there was a strong likelihood of Channel 4 Corporation being bought by a foreign company.
  • The Committee is concerned about the implications of purchase by a foreign buyer, and urges the Government to lay down strict conditions to protect the integrity of the channel.

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