Government 'putting ideology before common sense' with Channel 4 sale plans

A Yorkshire MP has questioned the Government’s plans to sell off Channel 4, claiming it may be “putting ideology before common sense”.

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn
Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn

Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, spoke out after the Government launched a 10-week consultation on the privatisation.

The Government says it wants to make sure Channel 4 “thrives for another four decades” but has concerns about a decline in TV advertising and the broadcaster’s ability to compete with streaming giants.

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Major US companies are expected to bid for Channel 4 and politicians have raised concerns about the future of the company’s national headquarters in Leeds and its commitment to creating programming for under-represented audiences.

Mr Benn said: “What is the aim of this? Channel 4 is owned by us – the British public. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything and it uses profits from advertising revenue to commission programmes which support lots of production companies and new talent, including in Leeds.

“Selling it off to the highest foreign bidder would be putting ideology before common sense.”

Shadow media Minister Chris Matheson has also criticised the move, claiming it is "a petulant and vindictive privatisation that is driven by ideology, not facts".

The Labour MP claims Tory ministers are looking to sell the state-owned broadcaster because they resent being scrutinised by Channel 4 News.

While West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said "we risk losing the channel’s commitment to diversity and inclusion" and "risk losing the vast economic benefits that Channel 4 brings to places like West Yorkshire".

Channel 4, which receives more than 90 per cent of its funding from advertising, recorded a recorded surplus last year of £74m.

The broadcaster saw a 26 per cent growth in views on its All 4 streaming platform in 2020, as it recorded more than 1.25 billion views and its digital advertising revenues increased by 11 per cent.

However, the Government’s consultation states the broadcaster is exposed to “market fluctuations” as it is reliant on advertising and events-driven sponsorship, and it needs “access to capital and the ability to invest dynamically in new technology and programming.

The consultation adds: “We want it to be able to diversify its income, take advantage of strategic partnerships and access international markets.”

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman has said the government "wants Channel 4 to have a successful and sustainable future as a public service broadcaster" and continue "producing original and distinctive content for every corner of the country".

“Responding to the growing pressures in the media landscape, we are consulting on whether a change in ownership could help Channel 4 thrive for the decades to come with new partnerships and more money to invest in programmes," he added.