Privatising of Channel 4 'will lead to less programming being made in the regions'

Privatising Channel 4 will damage the performance of private production companies and see fewer productions produced outside of London, it has been claimed.

Rick Murray, managing director of Worker Bee - a production company based in Leeds and Manchester - said that Britain’s creative industries sector was world leading but that this standing would be damaged by a privatised Channel 4.

The Government began a consultation programme on selling Channel 4 into private ownership which concluded in mid-September, arguing that such a move was needed to ensure the long-term survival of the broadcaster.

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However the move has been heavily criticised as politically motivated amid fears that a private owner would not be as dedicated to its regional operations, most notably its Leeds headquarters which only held its official opening last month.

Channel 4 privatisation in the spotlight.

Mr Murray, whose company has produced major productions for Channel 4 as well as the BBC, HBO and Sky, said diversity in British programming would be under threat if it were to be placed in to private hands.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “Channel 4 plays a unique and interesting part of broadcasting in the UK.

“When you look at our greatest exports, creative industries are second only to financial services and one of the reasons for that is that we just generate so many ideas.

“The UK is on a par with the US in terms of cinema, television and intellectual property - and the reason is that we have got publicly-owned broadcasters which allow us to create ideas, own them and export them around the world.

“And that is what Channel 4 does. Channel 4 does it in a unique way because they are not for profit. They are operating in a semi-commercial way. They make some money but they plough it all back into the business.

“They make really brave and bold decisions. And moving stuff out of London recently, a lot of the commissioning slots and a lot of the money they are spending on new ideas is happening outside of London.

“That would not happen if it was a commercial business.

“It wouldn’t make pure commercial sense if you were just rinsing that business for profit.”

Banking giant JP Morgan has been appointed by the Government to provide advice on Channel 4’s future following a consultation into the possible privatisation of the public broadcaster.

However Mr Murray remains unconvinced of any potential benefits to the economy of a privatised Channel 4, something professional services giant EY has estimated would result in a £2bn loss to the UK’s creative sector.

“I think it is a terrible idea,” he said.

“It is working brilliant. I personally don’t understand the Government’s argument for privatising it, apart from making some quick money.

“They clearly think they have spotted something they think they can sell off.

“But I think it is extremely short-sighted because in the long-term all the other commercial entities and private industries that are generating sales in working with Channel will ultimately lose money.

“You are robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Mr Murray also expressed concern that recent moves to make broadcasting a nationwide industry would be unwound by selling Channel 4.

“In the last 12 years the industry has just been revolutionised. I am working on the biggest projects of my career. And we need more people here.

“Channel 4 has played a massive role in that.

“They have been making all the right noises about investing and physically moving stuff up here.

“And I have people working in my company now working on the very best content.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Channel 4 is one of this country’s greatest assets but we must think long-term about the challenges ahead and make sure it has the finance it needs to compete with the streaming giants.

“It must continue to deliver great quality content - both made by and serving people right across the country. We are clear that any changes will not compromise our commitment to the independent production sector or wider creative economy, including in the creative powerhouse of Yorkshire.”

The spokesperson added that the Government was now analysing responses to the consultation.