The UK’s entertainment unions have united to express “dismay” at the British government’s plans to sell broadcaster Channel 4 and urged it to reconsider.
The Federation of Entertainment Unions, which represents over 120,000 UK creative workers, has written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries to say it is “deeply concerned” by the government’s decision to sell Channel 4, which is owned by the state but makes its revenues commercially,
The sale has been rejected by most media professionals in the UK and many see it as an ideological, rather than economic, move. The ruling Conservative party says Channel 4 must be sold to ensure its financial future and ability to compete with global streamers.
FEU President and Head of Bectu, Philippa Childs, said: “Channel 4 costs the UK taxpayer precisely nothing, yet gives us a thriving independent production sector, thousands of jobs and world-renowned, innovative content.
“Selling this much-loved and entirely self-sustaining public service broadcaster will deal a major blow to the creative industries, who were among the hardest hit by the pandemic and continue to face a chronic skills shortage, and have major consequences for the UK broadcasting landscape.”
The letter cites Ernst and Young analysis that suggests the creative industries will be £2B ($2.4B) worse off with a privatized Channel 4, that 2,400 jobs would be at risk and that around 60 productions companies would also be at risk of closure.
The FEU joins a cacophony of voices from the UK media sector who oppose the sale, with many believing its sale will sound the death knell for many small- and medium-sized producers who rely on Channel 4 commissions.
The FEU comprises actors union Equity, the National Union of Journalists, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
Read the full letter here.
Dear Secretary of State,
13 June 2022
We are writing regarding the Government’s proposal to privatise Channel 4. As unions representing the UK’s creative workforce, we strongly oppose this decision and urge you to reconsider the sale of a much-loved, highly successful cultural asset.
Channel 4 is a major success story, consistently pushing the boundaries of entertainment and thought-provoking news content for British audiences. This success is built on the back of the current model, which supports a thriving independent production sector and allows commissioners a degree of risk and creativity, of which the viewing public reap the benefits.
It’s not just the quality content that proves its value – the numbers speak for themselves. The broadcaster’s unique remit allows it to directly invest £12 billion into the UK production industry, creating 10,000 jobs in the supply chain, with a third of these in the nations and regions.
It is a completely self-sustaining broadcaster, that invests 100 per cent of its revenue back into the organisation, at no cost to the taxpayer. After 40 years in public ownership, we’re dismayed that the Government now wants to prioritise the interests of shareholders ahead of public service.
It’s difficult to understand the decision to insist on selling off such a profitable network. The economic argument for privatisation, including the assertion that ‘a change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive’, simply doesn’t stand up – Channel 4 is demonstrably already thriving on its own. In 2021 it reported a surplus of £101 million, and is a strong force for economic growth, boosting skills, creating jobs and stimulating growth across the creative industries.
It invests heavily in the UK’s world-leading film and TV sector and supports independent production across the country, generating the resources to produce hit TV shows such as Derry Girls, It’s a Sin, and Gogglebox, to name just a few. The UK’s world class reputation in TV production and filmmaking is fundamental to achieving our Global Britain ambitions and the Government’s levelling up agenda. Channel 4’s unique remit allows it to take risks onindependent productions, something which would not be guaranteed under a private model.
Any change to the Channel 4 remit would very likely impact the indigenous Britain Film Industry and the sale or closure of Film4, with an annual budget of £25 million, would have a devastating effect on the UK film industry given Channel 4 spends more on British film than any other UK broadcaster.
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