Senior Conservative asks if sale of Channel 4 is 'revenge' for Brexit coverage

A senior Conservative MP has asked whether the sale of Channel 4 could mark “revenge” for the network’s “biased coverage of the likes of Brexit”.

Julian Knight, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, suggested there is an “elephant in the room”, suggesting that last night’s announcement also coincided with the broadcaster’s daily news programme.

It is expected that the privatisation will be set out in a White Paper later this month, and could be available to bids from next year.

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In a string of tweets this afternoon, Mr Knight said: “Is this being done for revenge for Channel 4’s biased coverage of the likes of Brexit and personal attacks on the PM? The timing of the announcement 7pm, coinciding with Channel 4 news, was very telling…”.

File photo dated 22/01/17 of a general view of the Channel 4 logo

He went on: “It is certainly true that Channel 4 will have greater freedom to compete once privatised and if managed well it should be able to continue to innovate and, crucially, appeal to young audiences – a real usp in today’s broadcast landscape.

“However, this is a big risk. The question has to be, do you think a restricted but brilliant small state broadcaster will part-compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon, or does it need to be able to borrow and grow in a way only privatisation can unlock?

“In all this, it’s crucial the Government protects the prominence of all public service broadcasting through the new media bill, in order to give the likes of a new privatised Channel 4 a head start.

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“Undoubtedly, across much of the party – there is a feeling of payback time and the word privatisation tickles the ivories of many. The money is irrelevant – equivalent to four days’ national debt interest – so it must be used to support skills in creative sectors.”

He is the latest Tory MP to question the announcement that the channel will be sold, following months of speculation.

Former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Sky News earlier today that he is “not in favour of it”.

He explained: “I’m not against privatisation in other contexts, but what I’m in favour of is competition.

“And I think that we have very high standard of broadcasting in this country because we have competition not just in the very popular soap operas and boxsets and series that are going to be commercially very successful, but we also have competition in other areas, like news and documentaries, which are not likely to be commercially viable.

“And I think it’s really important to maintain that competition and I do think Channel Four is part of that ecosystem.”

The channel is currently owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said she wanted the broadcaster to remain a “cherished place in British life”, but felt that government ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.

“I will seek to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country – delivering a creative dividend for all,” she added in a tweet.