Screenwriters say selling off Channel 4 would be 'detrimental to UK audiences'

A group of screenwriters are protesting against the Government’s plans to sell off Channel 4.

The Government has launched a consultation on plans to privatise Channel 4

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), which represents TV and film writers across the country, says privatising the broadcaster would be “detrimental to UK audiences, the economy and the sector as a whole”.

The publicly-owned broadcaster uses the money it receives from advertising to commission independent programmes, from a range of companies, and has a remit to deliver "innovative, alternative content that challenges the status quo".

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But the WGGB is concerned that Channel 4 will be bought by a major American company that has no interest in supporting independent production companies in the UK and alternative programming.

Lisa Holdsworth, the chair of the WGGB, said: “Channel 4 really has been an enormous supporter of British writers and there are things that they do on that channel that don't get done anywhere else.

“I would suggest with something like National Treasure or It’s a Sin, you’ve got big-name writers there who are prepared to take a smaller budget, and possibly a smaller audience, because they get to say what they want to say on the channel - messages that might otherwise not be explored in drama.”

She added: “Channel 4 is so unique in that remit, representing the whole of the UK and in the nations and regions. It just wouldn't make sense for a business to buy that, because it is specifically catering for a minority.

“I love the idea that they could sell it off and protect the remit, but it’s just not going to happen.

“Plus, there’s the financial argument. The current funding model means that the surplus revenue from Channel 4 is put back into programme making, which doesn't happen in a lot of other places.”

There are also fears about the future of the broadcaster’s national headquarters in Leeds, which were set up in 2019 after the Government ordered it to relocate outside London.

In a statement, the WGGB said the “best, most sustainable model for Channel 4 is continued public ownership” as it delivers “ diverse, quality programming at no cost to the public purse and plays a central role in the financial success of the UK”.

But the Government, which has launched a consultation on the proposed privatisation, has raised concerns about the broadcaster’s ability to compete with streaming giants, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime

It also states that Channel 4 is “particularly vulnerable to market fluctuations and the decline in linear TV advertising spend” and privatisation “could help secure its future as a successful and sustainable public service broadcaster”.

Channel 4 recently announced a record financial surplus of £74m in 2020 and plans to invest an extra £40m in its content over the next two years.

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