Channel 4 to be privatised by government after 40 years in public ownership

4 April 2022, 19:40 | Updated: 4 April 2022, 20:59

Channel 4 has been in public ownership for 40 years
Channel 4 has been in public ownership for 40 years. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Government will proceed with plans to privatise Channel 4, which would bring an end to 40 years of public ownership.

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A spokesperson for Channel 4 said it was "disappointed" with the decision, adding that "significant public interest concerns" had not been addressed.

The Government launched a recent public consultation amid concerns for the survival of the broadcaster in the streaming era.

The spokesman said: "With over 60,000 submissions... it is disappointing that today's announcement has been made without formally recognising the significant public interest concerns which have been raised.

"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."

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They said Channel 4 had recently provided the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), headed by Nadine Dorries, 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".

They added: "Channel 4 remains legally committed to its unique public-service remit. 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."

Conservative MP Julian Knight, who chairs the Commons Culture Committee, tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing the plan for privatisation in full, adding: "In the new media landscape, reform is undoubtedly necessary."

Founded in 1982, the channel is currently owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising.

Labour's Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell said: "Selling off Channel 4, which doesn’t cost the tax-payer a penny anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, is cultural vandalism. It will cost jobs and opportunities in the North and Yorkshire, and hit the wider British creative economy.

"This shows that the Conservatives have run out of ideas and run out of road. Of all the issues the public wants action on, the governance of Channel 4 isn't one. The government should have a laser like focus on the cost of living crisis, and help people with their bills, not be fiddling around like this for ideological reasons."

Labour MP Chris Bryant called the move "economically illiterate" and "culturally devastating".

Writer and director Armando Iannucci added: "They asked for 'a debate'; 90% of submissions in that debate said it was a bad idea. But still they go ahead. Why do they want to make the UK's great TV industry worse? Why? It makes no business, economic or even patriotic sense."

In an internal email to staff, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon said her priority was to "look after all of you and the wonderful Channel 4 spirit".

She said: "In our engagement with Government during its extended period of reflection, we have proposed a vision for the next 40 years which we are confident would allow us to build on the successes of the first 40.

"That vision was rooted in continued public ownership, and was built upon the huge amount of public value this model has delivered to date and the opportunity to deliver so much more in the future.

"But ultimately the ownership of C4 is for government to propose and Parliament to decide.

"Our job is to deliver what Parliament tasks us to do, and if or when that changes, then I am confident that this incredible organisation will respond with the relentless energy it has always displayed in pursuit of its goals and the remit."

She said that it "could take 18 months or more for the required legislation to go through the House of Commons and then Lords", adding: "During that time, we'll continue to work with DCMS and government, and with our supporters across the industry to make the arguments to ensure that Channel 4 can continue to deliver its remit."