Channel 4 has released a statement after culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, announced that she would push ahead with plans to privatise the broadcaster after 40 years in public ownership.

Dorries said that “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” and that she would be soon setting out a future plan for the broadcaster in a white paper.

Channel 4 said that “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.

“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.”

Dorries has stated that proceeds from a future sale, which could raise £1bn, would be put towards “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.”

Channel 4’s statement pointed out that it had put forward a plan that would allow it to do even more for the creative industries outside of London “This is particularly important given that the organisation is only 2 years into a significant commitment to drive up its impact in the UK’s Nations and Regions.”

The privatisation decision has been made in the face of overwhelming opposition from the industry, particularly the independent production sector.

Producers’ trade body, Pact, said that “privatising Channel 4 is unnecessary and risks damaging the UK’s world-beating independent TV and film production sector.

“Channel 4 is crucial to our sector, both as a commissioner of programmes and because of its role in helping new businesses get their first break, especially businesses outside the M25.

“Every year, Channel 4 commissions first-time content from 15 indies just starting out in the sector, with a total of 195 indies getting their first break from the broadcaster between 2006 and 2019. Without Channel 4 taking a risk on them, these businesses would have found it much more difficult to break into the sector and grow into the successful businesses they are today. Channel 4’s role in supporting British creative entrepreneurs is not finished as every year small, regional companies look to break into the incredibly competitive UK production sector. Selling it off now risks reducing the opportunities for independent producers and reducing the amount of programming commissioned outside London.

“Unlike other broadcasters, Channel 4 makes none of its programmes in-house, commissioning hundreds of independent TV companies from around the UK each year to make its programmes, and a private owner could shift production away from these independent producers to cut costs, with a knock-on impact on the wider industry. It is estimated that this shift to in-house production will lead to a loss of £3.7 billion to the sector over a decade. This potential move to in-house production transfers value away from British SMEs and into the hands of large profit driven corporations.

“This is a levelling down agenda, not levelling up, with big businesses being the ultimate winners to the cost of small, regional indies.

“Pact will continue to work hard to persuade the Government that it isn’t too late for them to think again.”

Channel 4’s statement also suggested it wouldn’t take the decision lying down. “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.”

Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, 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 in the North and Yorkshire, and hit the wider British creative economy.”

Jon Creamer

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