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Channel 4 privatisation to go ahead

April 5, 2022

By Colin Mann

It has emerged that the UK government intends to proceed with the privatisation of publicly-owned commercial PSB Channel 4, having suggested in May 2021 that such a move was “on the table”. The news comes as Sir Ian Cheshire has been named as incoming Chair of the broadcaster.

With the UK parliament in recess for Easter, culture secretary Nadine Dorries revealed the government’s intentions in a series of tweets.

“Channel 4 rightly holds a cherished place in British life and I want that to remain the case. I have come to the conclusion that government ownership is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon,” she said.

“A change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future. I will set out the future plan for Channel 4 in a White Paper in due course,” she advised.

“I will seek to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country – delivering a creative dividend for all,” she concluded.

“With over 60,000 submissions to the Government’s public consultation, it is disappointing that today’s announcement has been made without formally recognising the significant public interest concerns which have been raised,” says a Statement from Channel 4.

“Channel 4 has engaged in good faith with the Government throughout the consultation process, demonstrating how it can continue to commission much-loved programmes from the independent sector across the UK that represent and celebrate every aspect of British life as well as increase its contribution to society, while maintaining ownership by the public,” it notes.

“Recently, Channel 4 presented DCMS with a real alternative to privatisation that would safeguard its future financial stability, allowing it to do significantly more for the British public, the creative industries and the economy, particularly outside London. This is particularly important given that the organisation is only two years into a significant commitment to drive up its impact in the UK’s Nations and Regions,” it adds.

“Channel 4 remains legally committed to its unique public-service remit,” it confirms . “The focus for the organisation will be on how we can ensure we deliver the remit to both our viewers and the British creative economy across the whole of the UK.”

“The proposal to privatise Channel 4 will require a lengthy legislative process and political debate. We will of course continue to engage with DCMS, Government and Parliament, and do everything we can to ensure that Channel 4 continues to play its unique part in Britain’s creative ecology and national life,” it concludes.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I can’t find many people are in favour of it. I think it will cause a great deal of damage to jobs and opportunities in the creative industries, especially in Leeds and Bristol, and Manchester, and outside of London.”

“I fear that … rather than competing with some of the big US streaming giants, it is more likely to be bought by one of them. That will take money out of the UK economy, out of the creative industries and the independent sector that has so thrived under Channel 4.”

As to whether any future Labour administration would take the broadcaster back into0 public ownership, Powell said she had not written the party’s manifesto commitment on this overnight since this announcement was laid. “There is going to be a very long and drawn-out, difficult process because there are many people opposed on their own side of the Conservative Party on this,” she noted.

“They are going to have a difficult issue getting this through parliament, which is also why I don’t understand why they are doing it because of all the things that we could be spending our time doing in parliament right now, dealing with the pensioners who can’t afford to keep the heating on, the families who can’t put food on the table, people can’t afford petrol in the petrol pump, and we are going to be expending a huge amount of parliamentary and political time doing something that no-one in the public wants, and no-one in the industry wants either,” she contended.

Dyfrig Davies, Chair of TAC, the trade body for TV production in Wales, said: “This is very disappointing news, as there is no evidence to show the need for this drastic move and we believe firmly that a privatisation will take Channel 4 in a more commercial direction, threatening its unique positon in our media ecology.”

“Channel 4 has enabled the development of a thriving independent production sector and analysis shows that in 2019 Channel 4 contributed £20 millon to GVA in Wales and supported 200 jobs. Channel 4’s initial investment in Welsh production companies in North and South Wales has enabled them to grow and develop their businesses. This could be lost if it leaves public ownership and refocuses on redistributing profits to private owners and shareholders.”

“Looking ahead, TAC will seek to ensure Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster model, which sees it work with so many up and coming production companies across the UK, is preserved. We also need to ensure Channel 4 doesn’t return to a more London-centric commissioning structure. Continuing the ‘4 All the UK’ strategy would secure efforts to ensure greater UK-wide representation in TV and support levelling up.”

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