High-profile politicians and media figures have slammed the UK government’s decision to press ahead with privatizing It’s A Sin broadcaster Channel 4, as a petition to stop the process nears 35,000 signatures.
Yesterday, it emerged Conservative government ministers were moving to sell the broadcaster, which is publicly-owned but funded commercially. The hope is to raise around £1BN ($1.3BN) from a deal, with ITV, Discovery and Sky all linked.
The government’s plan comes despite overwhelming opposition from the UK’s production industry, which is significantly aided by Channel 4’s business model of not owning the content it commissions.
Several high profile creatives have now taken to social media to demand the process ends.
Channel 4 Set To Be Privatized By The UK Government
The Thick of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci criticized the government for ignoring results of a consultation into the sale, tweeting: “They asked for ‘a debate’; 90% of submissions in that debate said it was a bad idea. But still they go ahead. Why do they want to make the UK’s great TV industry worse? Why? It makes no business, economic and even patriotic sense.”
Matt Lucas, co-presenter of Channel 4’s biggest show The Great British Bake Off, was one of nearly 35,000 that have signed a petition demanding the privatization process stops.
He tweeted: ”C4 is owned by the public, is self-funding and costs you NOTHING. All profits are funnelled straight back into programming. Wrong decision by the government.”
The government claims Channel 4 will become increasingly vulnerable to the streamers such as Netflix and Amazon if it is not transferred into private hands and that a new owner would be able to provide it with the capital to compete.
However, Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Lucy Powell told said a sale process would more likely end with a streamer buying Channel 4, ending with less opportunity for the myriad small production companies that currently supply much of its programming.
Powell and the others such as the Liberal Democrats called the plan “cultural vandalism”, while former leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Ruth Davidson warned it would damage the independent production sector.
“Channel 4 is publicly owned, not publicly funded. It doesn’t cost the tax payer a penny,” she tweeted. “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 [sic] sector in places like Glasgow.”
She added this was “the opposite of levelling up” – a reference to the often-cited Conservative policy.
Channel 4 released a statement saying it was disappointed the government had made its announcement without “formally recognising significant” public interest concerns. It added it had “engaged in good faith” with the government throughout the consultation process, which kicked off last year, and demonstrated to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) how it could continue to operate under its current model.
Channel 4 also revealed it offered an alternative to privatization, but has not yet expanded on what this entailed.
“Recently, Channel 4 presented DCMS with a real alternative to privatisation that would safeguard its future financial stability, allowing it to do significantly more for the British public, the creative industries and the economy, particularly outside London,” it added. “This is particularly important given that the organisation is only two years into a significant commitment to drive up its impact in the UK’s Nations and Regions.”
The government will now begin drafting legislation, which will be presented and debated in Parliament before a final vote on the move takes place.
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