The UK Culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, has announced that Channel 4 is to be privatised after 40 years in public ownership. The government hopes to raise around £1bn from the sell-off.
Channel 4’s remit has never been to make a profit – the money it makes is reinvested in commissioning and buying programmes from mostly British TV production companies, helping to support a key national industry.
On Monday evening Dorries, who was unaware of how Channel 4 is funded during a select committee appearance, saying it is “in receipt of public money” despite it relying on advertising and commercial revenue, said that public ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “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.
“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.”
Labour shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: “Selling off Channel 4, which doesn’t cost the taxpayer a penny anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, makes absolutely no sense.”
Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Jamie Stone said: “Occasionally, we as a country manage to magic up a world-renowned gem into being and Channel 4 is a perfect example. And yet this government seems hell-bent on trashing this uniquely British legacy and undermining jobs and investment in the creative sector.”
According Channel 4 there were “over 60,000 submissions to the government’s public consultation”, of which it is reported that over 90% of which were against privatisation. So the UK Gvmt seems to have totally ignored what the public wants yet again.
The industry player most likely to buy Channel 4, with the least regulatory hurdles, is Discovery. The US pay-TV company, which is merging with WarnerMedia, the parent company of CNN, HBO and the Hollywood studio behind the Batman and Harry Potter franchises, expressed interest the last time the broadcaster faced privatisation in 2016.
As a result, it would become the second UK public broadcaster to be owned by a foreign company, with Channel Five being owned by Paramount.