ITN has submitted its response to the government’s consultation into a change of ownership of Channel 4.
Due to its unique position as the supplier of the channel’s independent news service, ITN saus it remains impartial on the ownership model of Channel 4. While recognising that audience habits are changing and broadcasters are adapting their businesses accordingly, ITN argues that it would need to be presented with further evidence as to why private ownership would provide a more sustainable model for Channel 4 in the future.
In the submission ITN also argues that Channel 4’s ongoing success lies in defining and strengthening the existing remit rather than altering the ownership model to one that prioritises profit over the kind of risk-taking that allows Channel 4 News to report stories other broadcasters won’t cover.
Arguing that if privatisation were to take place there would need to be a protection and enhancement regarding the provision of nations and regions coverage, foreign news reporting, and a commitment to investigations as well as on diversity and appealing to every group in the UK across all the platforms they use; a specific ring-fenced budget for Channel 4 News in perpetuity plus Retail Price Index (RPI); guarantees that the programme would continue to have a fixed one-hour primetime slot in the schedule; and continued editorial independence from its owner.
ITN adds is deeply committed to the principle that the UK should have a thriving pluralistic media industry with a variety of organisations competing for audiences and creating uniquely British content that audiences recognise and relate to; and believes it is vital for viewers to have access to high-quality, accurate and regulated journalism from a variety of independent sources. ITN notes that the value of alternative voices in news provision and the part this plays in fostering a healthy democracy has been recognised by figures across the political spectrum.
Channel 4 News is one of only two programmes that have been on air continuously since Channel 4 started broadcasting in 1982 and is the single most awarded news programme in the UK. Its valued place in the new media landscape is made possible due to Channel 4’s unique not-for-profit publisher-broadcaster status that goes hand-in-hand with its remit to innovate and appeal to the culturally diverse UK audience, argues ITN. It’s this unique position in the industry that enables Channel 4 News to provide a counterbalance to other news providers – including the BBC – and there are valid questions about how a move to privatise Channel 4 could impact on the media plurality to which ITN is committed.
ITN believes that the publisher/broadcaster status of Channel 4 should be preserved. By commissioning an independent, external supplier to produce its news output, Channel 4 can demonstrate complete editorial integrity. A private owner with its own in-house production arm could undermine the independence of the news and have undue influence on the news agenda. Removing the publisher/broadcaster status would remove a major buyer of content in the UK and have an adverse impact on the independent production market that relies on Channel 4 for a proportion of commissions and work.