Government's plan to sell Channel 4 described as 'petulant and vindictive'

Shadow media Minister Chris Matheson has described the Government’s plan to privatise Channel 4 as “petulant and vindictive”.

Channel 4 set up a new national headquarters in Leeds in 2019
Channel 4 set up a new national headquarters in Leeds in 2019

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

Major US companies are expected to bid for Channel 4 and local leaders have raised concerns about the future of the company’s national headquarters in Leeds, which were set up in 2019, and its commitment to creating programming for under-represented audiences.

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The Government, which launched a 10-week consultation on the proposed privatisation earlier this week, said it is concerned about a decline in TV advertising and the broadcaster’s ability to compete with streaming giants, and it “wants to make sure Channel 4 thrives for another four decades”.

Shadow media Minister Chris Matheson

Mr Matheson told The Yorkshire Post: “This is a petulant and vindictive privatisation that is driven by ideology, not facts.

“Channel 4 has been a hugely successful venture that reflected the diverse aspects of the United Kingdom and the diverse voices of the United Kingdom, long before levelling up became an empty Tory slogan.

“It’s a publicly-owned business that takes no taxpayers’ money. It ain’t broke, so why fix it?

“It’s clear to me that this all leads back to the Conservatives’ dislike of Channel 4 News – it’s cancel culture at its worst.”

He added: “Basically what will happen is that Channel 4 will lose its distinctive, edgy output and just become like Channel 5. I’ve got no problem with Channel 5, but Channel 4 has a particular role.”

Channel 4, which was set up in 1982 and now 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.

But the Government’s consultation states Channel 4 is exposed to “market fluctuations” because 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 said: "The government wants Channel 4 to have a successful and sustainable future as a public service broadcaster 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."