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'Cultural vandalism': UK Government criticised over decision to privatise Channel 4

The broadcaster is state-owned but receives its funding from advertising, not from public money.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE UK GOVERNMENT has been heavily criticised after it announced that it was proceeding with plans to privatise Channel 4.

The Government has argued that the broadcaster’s long-term future needs to be secured amid concerns for its survival in the streaming era.

Founded in 1982 to deliver programmes for underserved audiences, Channel 4 is state-owned but receives its funding from advertising, not from public money.

A statement by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it had made the decision to allow the channel to “thrive in the face of a rapidly-changing media landscape” while a Government source said the move would “remove Channel 4’s straitjacket”.

Ministers launched a public consultation into a potential change in ownership of the channel last July, which received over 60,000 responses.

British Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said in a tweet that she wanted the broadcaster to remain a “cherished place in British life”, but felt that Government ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.

“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 said.

In a statement, Channel 4 said it was “disappointing” that the announcement had 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.

The channel explained that it presented DCMS with an alternative to privatisation that would “safeguard its future financial stability” and allow it to do more for the public, creative industries and the economy, particularly outside of London.

“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,” it said.

The broadcaster added that it will continue to engage with the Government during the legislative process and plans to do everything it can to “ensure that Channel 4 continues to play its unique part in Britain’s creative ecology and national life”.

Reaction

The decision has been met with backlash online by not only the general public, but politicians, broadcasters and those working in the creative arts industry. 

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called the decision “cultural vandalism from a government that’s run out of ideas, run out of road and has no interest in levelling up.”

Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the decision was “the opposite of levelling up”.

“Channel 4 is publicly owned, not publicly funded. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer a penny. It also, by charter, commissions content but doesn’t make/own its own. It’s one of the reasons we have such a thriving indy sector in places like Glasgow,” she said.

The Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci tweeted: “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.”

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Journalist and author Caitlin Moran pointed out that viewers have to pay subscriptions for US streaming services while viewers of Channel 4 do not, while Netflix also has a long-term debt of over $16 billion.

Radio broadcaster Darryl Morris described the channel as “a brilliantly British idea. The people’s channel, duty bound to make programmes others won’t, bat for the underdog and fear nobody. And it costs us nothing.”

“Yet the government are selling it off. They say they love Britain, and then tear the best bits of it apart,” he said.

No price tag has been set by the Government yet, but reports suggest the channel could be sold for as much as £1 billion in a process that could take several months, with the proposals needing to pass through both the House of Commons and Lords.

Ministers have said they will seek to reinvest the proceeds into the creative industries.

With reporting from the Press Association.

About the author:

Jane Moore

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