So, there is some good news and some bad news for Channel 4.
The good news is the opening of its Leeds headquarters. The bad news is Downing Street’s plan to sell the broadcaster off to the highest bidder.
It seems odd that the Government should this week put this northern migration at risk by advocating privatisation of what, many would argue, is a national treasure.
National treasure? Granted, not everyone would agree. Especially those right-wing ideologues who, ever since the 1980s, have proposed selling off the nation’s crown jewels.
The irony, of course, is that the channel itself is a creature of that tumultuous, free market-worshipping decade. It was set up by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1982 to challenge the BBC and ITV big guns and stimulate the independent production sector.
Indeed, those who venerate the patron saint of modern Conservatism should note that Thatcher herself rejected privatisation in 1989. Then, as now, the right-wing ideologues on the back benches were banging on about its supposed left-wing bias.
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay suggests that the broadcaster has “sealed its own fate”, citing its anti-Trump coverage during the United States presidential election. “I don’t think it should be in public ownership,” he thundered. “It should be out surviving on its own.”
Some of his colleagues asked, a la Monty Python: what has Channel 4 ever done for us?
Apart, that is, from challenging the BBC and ITV big guns and stimulating the independent production sector. And standing up to powerful vested interests, whether it be the Big Tech giants or the Chinese Communist Party.
And being responsible, over the past 39 years, for a dazzling array of innovative, entertaining and thought-provoking shows.
And, most recently, providing extensive coverage of the Paralympics and bringing the country together to celebrate Emma Raducanu’s stunning victory against Leylah Fernandez in last Saturday’s US Open final.
Oh yes. Nearly forgot.
And fulfilling a key promise of the Government’s own levelling-up agenda by moving its national headquarters outside London – to West Yorkshire, no less – ensuring Leeds city centre became the new home to its comedy, daytime, entertainment, E4, popular factual and sport output.
This journey to Leeds, it must be said, has been long overdue. It marks a major transfer of jobs and investment from London – the biggest shake-up in the broadcaster’s history – and will undoubtedly create loads of opportunities for young people in God’s own county.
There is just one snag. Putting Channel 4 into commercial hands threatens this better-late-than-never rebalancing of our grotesquely London-centric media economy.
The principle of venturing out of the capital, and reconnecting with the nation beyond the M25, would clearly be undermined by the introduction of the profit motive. Since its inception, the state-owned but editorially independent corporation has had a remit to engage with under-served communities.
Last year it was reported that non-London TV production companies were responsible for making 47 per cent of its shows. Would a new owner see the commercial gain of continuing to broaden its geographic representation?
Relocating a greater proportion of UK-wide media away from London, which represents only 13 per cent of the population, can perhaps be justified on cultural grounds. But, as the station’s chief content officer Ian Katz pointed out, a private company would not see the sense of keeping regional offices open.
According to a report from accountancy firm EY, the channel supports nearly 3,000 jobs outside London and privatising it would “remove the publisher-broadcaster model (which) could have a disproportionate impact on the wider creative economy in the Nations and Regions.”
So, apart from anything else, selling off the channel would resurrect the notion that you can only have a media career if you live within the bounds of a motorway which runs in a ring around Greater London.
I can’t help feeling there is a vindictive motive for this move.
The broadcaster has frequently clashed with left-wing politicians over the years.
But it was probably its chutzpah in replacing Boris Johnson with a melting ice sculpture – when he refused to take part in an election debate on climate change in 2019 – which, to borrow Mackinlay’s phrase, “sealed its own fate”.