A group of the UK’s senior Conservative Party politicians has written to the Prime Minister, expressing grave concerns about the prospect of selling off public broadcaster Channel 4 and writing, “Channel 4 isn’t broke, and doesn’t need fixing.”
In the letter sent to Boris Johnson on Sunday, the members of parliament, including former culture secretary Karen Bradley, two former ministers and chair of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat, urged the Prime Minister to drop any plans to privatise the channel. They wrote that Channel 4 remained “self-sufficient and successful, making no drain on the public purse”, saying a case for this action had not been made and requesting that ministers now “leave it alone”.
They added that the move to privatise the broadcaster would run counter to Margaret Thatcher’s founding vision, explaining, “Margaret Thatcher created Channel 4 as a publicly owned, non-profit public sector broadcaster that would act as an incubator for independent, risk-taking, innovative private sector companies. She had a vision to level up the broadcasting landscape and she succeeded spectacularly well. We should maintain her legacy, not put it at risk.”
Thatcher was the British Prime Minister when the channel was launched in 1982, becoming the UK’s fourth linear TV channel. It has a unique business model, editorially independent while being owned by the state, and funded by advertising.
The debate about the future of the broadcaster has been ongoing since last year, when the then culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced a review of its structure, and began investigating the prospect of selling it off to a private investor, claiming that in an evolving landscape of streaming giants and other platforms, Channel 4 might benefit from private ownership.
Critics of the move have shared their fears that this will destroy or profoundly damage Channel 4’s remit to broaden the country’s television ecosystem, commission content from small independent production companies, and serve diverse and otherwise under-served audiences across theUK.
Deadline previously revealed the delay of the publication of the landmark government White Paper into broadcasting, which will include a decision on Channel 4 sale and potentially lead to a Media Bill making its way through parliament. This has now been pushed back to the Spring from its previously expected date of Autumn 2021.
A long list of buyers has already been connected with a potential Channel 4 acquisition, including Sky, Discovery, Channel 5-owner Viacom and ITV. ITV, which is already a commercially-owned public broadcaster, may find it difficult to jump through the regulatory hoops required to acquire its main advertising rival, however.
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