West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin says Channel 4 sell off could lead to broadcaster pulling out of Leeds

The Government’s plan to sell Channel 4 risks leaving the United Kingdom with a media landscape akin to Russia and could lead to the broadcaster abandoning its Leeds headquarters, the mayor of West Yorkshire has warned.

Tracy Brabin told The Yorkshire Post that proposals to privatise the broadcaster were “politically motivated” and could ultimately see Channel 4 pull out of Yorkshire altogether.

In a strongly-worded attack on the Government’s 10 week consultation over a potential sell off, Ms Brabin said such a move would discourage further investment into the region and that any sale would hamper the move toward greater diversity in the media.

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Ministers said its consultation was designed to make sure Channel 4 “thrives for another four decades” amid concerns about the broadcaster’s ability to compete with streaming giants.

Fears are growing that Channel 4 may pull out of Leeds.
Fears are growing that Channel 4 may pull out of Leeds.

However Ms Brabin said privatisation would almost certainly lead to an American media giant purchasing Channel 4 in a move that would yield a negligible benefit to the UK taxpayer and offer no guarantees that its commitment to operations outside the capital would persist.

“We can’t allow the Government, because of a political position, to raid the jewel in our crown that we fought so hard for,” Ms Brabin said.

“We have seen changes at the top of the BBC haven’t we? We have seen constrictions on BBC journalists being clear about their own opinions and reigning in that challenge to Government.

“It is really important that we have challenges.

West Yorkshire's new mayor is warning strongly against the sell off of Channel 4.

“I have been in opposition for five years, it's really important that we have a robust opposition but it is also important that we have a wide ranging media otherwise we are turning into Russia.

“We cannot force all the media just to agree with the Government of the day.”

Ms Brabin, a former shadow minister for digital, culture, media and sport, is the most prominent figurehead yet to come out against any potential sale of Channel 4.

The broadcaster, which has relocated its headquarters to Leeds and is preparing to begin filming its evening news bulletins simultaneously from London and Yorkshire, currently has a surplus of £74m and posted record streaming figures last year.

The night it was confirmed Channel 4 was moving to Leeds.

Ms Brabin, who was MP for Bately and Spen until her election win in May, said any sale would constitute a “hostile takeover”.

“Given everything the Government has on their plate at the moment I don’t understand why this is a priority,” she said.

“Maybe the Government can sell it for a billion pounds but, given the pandemic, that is small change.

“They are raiding our family silver. It is also a counter narrative to the levelling up agenda.

The news the broadcaster was coming to Leeds was warmly received.

“There is no doubt about it that that diversity we are clamouring for on TV will be harmed by Channel 4 being sold off.

“What potentially will happen is that when times get tough they will scurry back to London. “We could potentially lose Channel 4 completely.”

She added: “This isn’t just about West Yorkshire, it is the impact upon public service broadcasting.

“But for me, as the mayor of West Yorkshire, what is really important is that we bid for something and now it is going to be changed without any consultation with us.

“We can’t just roll over and allow the Government to tell us what to do because if devolution means anything it means we should be able to protect the businesses in our regions from hostile takeovers.”

A DCMS spokesperson 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."