Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries backs proposals to sell off the British Television Network. After 40 years in public ownership, plans to sell off Channel 4 are pressing ahead with the government hoping to make around £1bn from the sale.
Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, told staff of the news in an email: “We have been informed in the last hour that the government will shortly announce that the secretary of state has decided to proceed with the proposal to privatise Channel 4.”
“In our engagement with the government during its extended period of reflection, we have proposed a vision for the next 40 years which we are confident would allow us to build on the successes of the first 40. That vision was rooted in continued public ownership and was built upon the huge amount of public value this model has delivered to date and the opportunity to deliver so much more in the future.”
Channel 4 has managed to survive previous privatisation proposals and a formal consultation on the subject launched in 2021 was met with strong opposition. The Culture Secretary tweeted on Monday that public ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
A streaming service, ITV or a US Media Company could be potential buyers for the broadcaster, but the investment they might have to make meeting Channel 4’s current public service requirements could make a purchase unattractive. If Channel 4 is privatised, it will be the biggest sale of a state-owned asset since Royal Mail in 2013.
Stars from Channel 4 were quick to respond. Kirstie Allsopp responded "This is a load of utter twaddle! No true Conservative would sell Channel 4, Lady T will be spinning in her grave. C4 was set up to foster the British film & TV industry and it has done that job admirably. Any Tory MP who votes for this is a traitor to their party & country."
Jed Mercurio, the writer behind Line Of Duty, accused the government of placing profit before the national interest. "The sale of Channel 4 will inflict huge damage on homegrown creative companies, all to silence a critical news outlet, and, as if it even needs mentioning, make a few quid for their mates while they’re about it."
Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish MP who has appeared regularly on the channel, agreed. "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."
Jeremy Hunt, the former Culture Secretary, also criticised the decision. "I'm not in favour of it because as it stands Channel 4 provides competition to the BBC on public service broadcasting."
Independent filmmaker Katie Arnold perhaps said it best. "Channel 4 does not cost the public any money. It’s profitable. It supports an independent TV production industry across the UK. It nurtures new talent. It invests in investigative & foreign journalism like no other. C4 is an asset to the UK. There is no good reason to privatise."