Channel 4 warns privatisation may cause British public ‘harm’

Broadcaster claims government has not looked into other solutions

There is “no evidence” the privatisation of Channel 4 will benefit British audiences or the UK economy and may actually “cause them harm”, the broadcaster has said.

The government is currently discussing plans to sell the channel off to a private buyer.

At present, Channel 4, which was founded in 1982, is owned by the government and receives its funding from advertising.

Channel 4 said in its response to the government's plan: “Having considered all the available analysis extremely carefully, we have concluded there is no evidence that the irreversible transfer of Channel 4 from the British public into private commercial hands will be of benefit to either British audiences or the UK economy and may indeed cause them harm.”

The channel said “the evidence suggests that continued public ownership of Channel 4 would create the right conditions not only to overcome the audience and competitive challenges the government has rightly identified, but also to ensure that public service broadcasting in the UK continues to thrive”.

It also raised concerns that moving Channel 4 into private ownership could result in “reduced diversity and quality of content for UK viewers”.

The government has said it is consulting on privatisation because it wants to ensure the long-term survival of the channel in the face of the streaming giants and growing pressure on advertising revenue.

However, Channel 4’s submission claims the consultation failed to outline “other options that could seek to bolster Channel 4 in the long term without the risks that will be caused by a change in ownership”.

The broadcaster said that these include updating legislation on public service prominence to apply across digital platforms and reviewing the commercial relationships between platforms and publishers through the new digital markets unit.

The submission also includes research commissioned by the broadcaster suggesting the majority of conservative viewers oppose the privatisation of Channel 4.

An audience survey of 2,000 people conducted by Tapestry in July 2021 found that 82 per cent of adults polled said the channel should remain publicly owned.

This included 75 per cent of conservative voters and 75 per cent of people in Scotland.

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport representative said: “We want Channel 4 to have a successful and sustainable future.

“Its public service broadcaster remit, its ability to make distinctive content and its work with independent producers are precisely the strengths we would protect and expect any potential buyer to develop through new investment, should we decide to proceed with a sale.”

Updated: September 14th 2021, 9:48 PM