UK governments plans for privatising Channel 4 seem to have been withdrawn – Broadcast Industry News from the UK Broadcast Industry

The UK government’s plans for privatising Channel 4 seem to have been withdrawn, and Donelan’s letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak advised against proceeding with the policy. In the letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — dated 3 January, leaked on the podcast The News Agents on 4 January — Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said that a sale would undermine Channel 4s role in supporting the growth of the UK’s independent TV sector, and suggested a reform package to instead maintain its resilience.  

In a letter to Rishi Sunak, shared by Lewis Goodall, co-host of the global podcast The News Agents, Michelle Donelan said that she had concluded pursuing the sale was the wrong decision at the moment, and there were better ways of safeguarding the sustainability of C4Cs (Channel 4 Corporation) and that the Independent Production Sector. Donelan also said that the role of the channel supporting the independent production sector would be greatly undermined by a sale at a time when our priorities are growing and economically stable. In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, leaked on the News Agents podcast, Britain’s Culture Secretary said that there are better ways of ensuring Channel 4s resilience than the privatisation of Channel 4.  

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries had set out plans for the Channel 4 broadcaster to be privatised, but Michelle Donelan has now written to Rishi Sunak saying privatisation is the wrong solution. Following Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’s recent resignation, and a new Government coming into power, plans for the broadcaster to privatise seem to have been put on hold. Mr Sunak supported plans for the privatisation of Channel 4 during his leadership campaign, saying that the sale was needed to help Channel 4 survive against fierce competition from streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime.    

The reversal marked an about-face on policies that had been followed under Boris Johnson’s sell-out. The seeming U-turn follows plans announced last year by Boris Johnson’s government to privatise the channel, which provoked anger among opposition parties, Tory MPs and senior media figures.   

When the government announced plans to bring Channel 4 out of public ownership last year, it was claimed that this was to ensure that the broadcaster could survive better in a media landscape dominated by companies such as Netflix and Amazon. The sale of British broadcaster Channel 4 has been called off and a package of measures will be put in place instead to ensure its resilience — including potentially making shows in-house.  

It has also proposed relaxing legislation which currently stops Channel 4 from producing content for Channel 4, which will enable the broadcaster to make more shows in-house. The channel would also be given greater commercial flexibility, including making some of its own content, and potentially borrowing beyond the PS200m cap. Another proposal suggests Channel 4 could be allowed to borrow more from the Treasury, beyond Channel 4s current PS200m limit, in order to be more effectively diversifying revenue.    

The Treasury could raise Channel 4s borrowing limits beyond current PS200m levels, and plans for a privatised Channel 4 would also involve the corporation’s board being required by law to pay attention to the long-term sustainability of the broadcaster. Ms Donelan said a relaxation of this so-called editor-broadcaster status will help Channel 4 diversify revenue. Michelle Donelan has previously expressed reservations about plans to privatise the broadcaster Channel 4.    

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan, who announced plans for a Channel 4 privatisation under the government’s media bill, has said state ownership is holding back Channel 4 from competing with streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon. Other Conservative MPs had actually shown an appetite for the sale, with Damian Collins saying that without changes, Channel 4 might be left to wither on the vine. Jeremy Hunt and Tom Tugendhat, who are both in Government today, were among senior Tories who opposed the planned privatisation of Channel 4, warning that it would result in fewer TV jobs in northern England because of a loss of regional shows.    

John McVay, the chief executive of Pact, which represents independent production companies, said it was the right decision to press a stop button on the Channel 4 privatisation – adding that the broadcaster’s model for resolving disputes supported thousands of jobs. Broadcasters and opposition MPs joined calls to oppose the privatisation, raising concerns about the security of the public sector mandate for Channel 4 and about the jobs of around 1,300 staff. Channel 4 had earlier warned that the sale would cost the economy PS3bn and drive many production companies out of business.    

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