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Senior Tories Rebuke 'Very Unconservative' Government Plan To Sell Off Channel 4

Channel 4

3 min read

Several senior Conservatives have strongly criticised the government decision to privatise Channel 4 after the publicly-run television network expressed dismay with the plan.

Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, announced on Monday that ministers intended to sell Channel 4. The network is publicly owned but does not use taxpayer money to cover running costs.

Dorries said government ownership was "holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon" and that being sold will give it the "tools and freedom to flourish" in the future. The government plans to set out more details in a white paper. 

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said the network was "disappointed" with the decision, however, and several high-profile Conservative politicians have already criticised the move.

Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister, last night tweeted: "The sale of Channel 4 is politicians and civil servants thinking they know more about how to run a business than the people who run it. Very unconservative. Mrs Thatcher, who created it, never made that mistake."

Green was backed up by other senior Conservative MPs. Former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt this morning told Sky News he was opposed to the decision to sell off Channel 4.

"I'm not in favour of it because as it stands, Channel 4 provides competition to the BBC on what's called public service broadcasting, the kinds of programmes that are not commercially viable — and it'd be a shame to lose that," Hunt said.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who is tipped to be a future party leadership candidate, said he was "pretty doubtful" that selling Channel 4 would be a good move. "Given the success Channel 4 has had in promoting independent production around the UK, I remain to be convinced this is going to achieve the aim the government has set out".

In a highly critical tweet, the former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the move amounted to "the opposite of levelling up" and suggested that it would harm places like Glasgow which have benefitted from Channel 4's culture of backing independent film companies.

"Channel 4 is publicly owned, not publicly funded. It doesn't cost the tax payer a penny. It also, by charter, commissions content but doesn't make/own its own. It's one of the reasons we have such a thriving indy sector in places like Glasgow. This is the opposite of levelling up," Davidson posted.

She later pointed out that it was former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who established Channel 4 as a state-owned, free-to-watch network.

Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, echoed Davidson's concerns this morning, telling Sky News that Channel 4 has a "specific and special" role in helping smaller and independent production companies, particularly those located away from London.

Powell said the move was "cultural vandalism" and evidence of a government "vendetta" against Channel 4 over coverage which it hasn't liked.

"The industry isn't in favour. Channel 4 itself isn't in favour. The public are quite happy with things as they are. It really does feel like the wrong decision at the wrong time," she said.

"Notwithstanding that, it's just not anybody's priority right now. There are plenty of other things that the government should be getting on with, like dealing with the cost of living crisis and so on."

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