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Government Is Backing Down On Channel 4 Privatisation


3 min read

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling for plans to privatise Channel 4 that were championed by Boris Johnson to be scrapped, in a stark change of tone.

In a letter to Sunak, obtained by The News Agents podcast, she recognised that there were “risks to the corporation's long-term sustainability” but argued “that pursuing a sale at this point is not the right decision”.

“There are better ways to secure C4C's [Channel 4 Corporation’s] sustainability and that of the UK independent production sector,” she wrote.

“Indeed, C4C's role in supporting growth in our independent production sector, a sector which is currently worth around £3bn to our economy, would be very disrupted by a sale at a time when growth and economic stability are our priorities.”

Donelan went on to set out the steps she would take to ensure the future success of Channel 4, which is publicly owned but does not receive government funding.

These include allowing Channel 4 to make its own programmes, rather relying on the distribution of programmes made by independent production companies. 

The channel is currently defined as a “publisher-broadcaster” and so is restricted from making and owning much of its own content.

“I intend to legislate to relax the publisher-broadcaster restriction, giving C4C the flexibility to make some of its own content and diversify its revenue more effectively, should it wish to do so,” Donelan wrote.

The culture secretary also said the board of the corporation would be given a new statutory duty to “have a clear focus on the long-term sustainability of the business”.

She added that Channel 4 had agreed to increase its investment in skills training, as well as production outside of London and the South East.

The controversial move to sell off Channel 4 was spearheaded by Donelan’s predecessor as culture secretary Nadine Dorries, who claimed that privatisation would “release Channel 4 from the outdated shackles of public ownership".

"It would allow it to turn on the private funding taps, and invest heavily in new technology and programming," Dorries said earlier this year.

The move was heavily criticised by many Tory MPs, with former Cabinet minister Damian Green telling the Commons in April he had “profound scepticism about the wisdom of the course of action that the government is taking on this".

Several MPs have already welcomed the call to scrap the plans, including former Cabinet minister Stephen Hammond. He wrote on Twitter: “I have always thought that its commercial future can be more sustainably secured by a new mandate within the current model.”

“This decision will ensure the independent UK production industry will continue to thrive and prosper.”

Senior Tory MP Simon Hoare also wrote on Twitter that it was an “excellent decision”, adding that “if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it”.

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