UK government reveals plans to privatise Channel 4 | Major Businesses | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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In a shock move that has already caused uproar in the TV industry, and which will see fervent opposition, Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State at the UK’s Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has outlined plans for the privatisation of the UK’s fourth largest broadcaster Channel 4.
channel4 Headquarters 5 April 2022
Since launch in November 1982, the channel has striven to provide diversity and offer a cultural alternative to output from the BBC and ITV. Yet almost from inception, the state-owned, commercially-funded channel has battled with successive Conservative governments, regarded as an unremitting voice of opposition to its policies.

Channel 4’s future has been under debate for a while, dating back to 2016  when the idea of privitisation was first floated by the UK Conservative government then headed by David Cameron. At the time an academic report suggested rumoured plans by the UK government’s to sell off its stake in Channel 4 would likely not benefit the UK economy, the broadcasting industry or indeed the nation’s creative industries. It fundamentally contradicted the view of the then UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale that Channel 4 could be better off and have a stronger future in private hands.

In July 2021, the UK government began the process of a consultation regarding the future of Channel 4government began the process of a consultation regarding the future of Channel 4, considering whether a change of ownership of Channel 4 would ensure its future success and sustainability. It noted that the current strength and variety of the UK’s TV production sector was in part thanks to the role of Channel 4 which the government said it wanted to protect. However, it warned that the fast evolving media landscape, with increased competition and changing audience habits, was posing serious challenges to traditional linear TV broadcasters, which meant it was now time to review its ownership structure. The government said that it wanted to preserve Channel 4’s status as a public service broadcaster producing original, distinctive content as well as high quality news and current affairs serving every corner of the country.

Dorries in particular has appeared to have particular opposition to the channel. In her first appearance before a Culture Select Committee in the UK Parliament in November 2021 she gave evidence that she was under the impression that the channel was funded by the British taxpayer, rather than by commercial means, mostly advertising.

In a Tweet explaining the reason for her decision for privatisation, Dorries said: “Channel 4 rightly holds a cherished place in British life and I want that to remain the case. I have come to the conclusion that government ownership is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. A change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future. I will set out the future plan for Channel 4 in a White Paper in due course. 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.”

Commenting on the announcement, Channel 4 said that with over 60,000 submissions to the Government’s public consultation, it was disappointing that the announcement had been made without formally recognising the significant public interest concerns which have been raised. Channel 4 had recently presented DCMS with what it regarded as a real alternative to privatisation that would safeguard its future financial stability, allowing it to do significantly more for the British public, the creative industries and the economy, particularly outside London. This it added was particularly important given that the organisation was only two years into a significant commitment to drive up its impact in the UK’s Nations and Regions.

The proposal to privatise Channel 4 will require a lengthy legislative process and political debate. Opposition to the move has come across the political spectrum. Former Conservative Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "I'm not in favour of it because as it stands Channel 4 provides competition to the BBC on public service broadcasting."

The news of the privatisation came immediately after UK regulator Ofcom announced that Sir Ian Cheshire had been appointed Chair of Channel 4. The appointment – for which Ofcom is responsible for, subject to Government approval – had been approved by Dorries. Businessman Cheshire, served on a business taskforce for former Conservative prime minister David Cameron prompting calls of cronyism.