Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon has warned the channel could have “different priorities” if it was privatised and cautioned against doing anything “irreversible” that could “possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector”.
After months of tensions between No 10 and executives at the television station over its struggling finances and allegedly ‘woke’ agenda.
The possibility of a sale of the Government-owned, privately-funded broadcaster has been explored many times over the decades.
However, it could finally be steered towards privatisation as soon as next year, it has been reported.
Channel 4’s chief executive Ms Mahon and chairman Charles Gurassa, who will appear before MPs later on Tuesday to face questions about possible privatisation of the network, warned of the effect it would have as the channel published its annual report.
The report shows Channel 4 has delivered a record financial surplus of £74 million at the end of 2020, as well as significant digital growth.
In response Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, said :“We are calling on the government to keep Channel 4 in public hands. Privatisation would see the channel’s public ethos replaced in favour of the interests of shareholder profit. It currently has a unique place in the market and is particularly popular with younger viewers. This should be cherished and not sold off to the highest bidder. The government says it agrees that public service broadcasting should remain as strong as ever, so why is it considering selling off Channel 4?”
Also At an NUJ event discussing the future of public service broadcasting, Jo Stevens, shadow media minister, said: “If the government does go ahead with the privatisation of Channel 4, you have really got to ask what’s the rationale, what are the drivers, what is the problem the government is trying to solve by doing this?”
Paul Waugh tweeted: “In the Commons just now clerk read out private members bills. There was a muted ‘hear, hear’ from the Tory benches for the ‘Channel 4 Privatisation Bill’. But a much louder ‘hear, hear’ when the clerk said ‘British Broadcasting Corporation Privatisation Bill.”
In the Commons just now clerk read out private members bills.— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) June 21, 2021
There was a muted ‘hear, hear’ from the Tory benches for the ‘Channel 4 Privatisation Bill’.
But a much louder ‘hear, hear’ when the clerk said ‘British Broadcasting Corporation Privatisation Bill’
Ms Mahon told journalists that the channel is “financially in a really strong position”, and added: “On privatisation, the Government has a right to look at it.
“It hasn’t looked at it for five years, I think, maybe four and a half, and it’s reasonable to look at it from time to time, and a lot has changed in that time.
“But I think, in any examination of it, we’ve got to be clear that it’s about – as the Secretary of State said to the select committee – about making Channel 4 stronger.
“And, you know, my questions would be: what’s the analysis to show what makes us stronger?
“We’re here to deliver certain aspects of industrial policy, in terms of how we spend money to help grow the creative sector, in terms of how we speak up for the under-represented, in terms of how we attract young people, in terms of how we are now looking at how we build those creative clusters outside of London.
“So you’ve got to think about, how do you make those things stronger and stronger, and then balance that with what the correct or the right or the optimal ownership structure is.
“And I would be saying we’ve always got to be careful of doing anything that might be irreversible, that could possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector, and that we do for the UK.”
She added: “What I can say is at the moment, we don’t seek to make a profit. So all of that advertising money, all the billions we take back in, that is ploughed back in to the creative sector.
“We don’t make a profit, but the profit is made by many, many small and medium businesses across the UK. And we’re helping them to deliver profits and deliver growth and to flourish. Those are our priorities.
“If we were under a different structure, and I’ve run commercial businesses, you would normally have different priorities.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has previously confirmed privatisation of Channel 4 was under examination in a review of public service broadcasting.
In addition to questions about privatisation, the Channel 4 bosses will be asked about the broadcaster’s finances and actions taken to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on advertising revenues.
They will also be quizzed on the channel’s plans to move its headquarters to Leeds.
Channel 4 – which boasts Great British Bake Off, Gogglebox and SAS: Who Dares Wins among its biggest shows – was originally set up in 1982 to deliver to under-served audiences.
Last year, Ms Mahon said privatisation is “not something we expect to happen”.
The Government consultation will reportedly be overseen by culture minister John Whittingdale, who oversaw the last exploration of a private sale in 2016 when he was culture secretary.
Last year, he told MPs he is “entirely open-minded” about privatising Channel 4 and that he is giving thought to the “future of all the public service broadcasters”.
Cynic could assume this is purely because C4 news has been holding Tory Govts to account far more than BBC and ITV news.— Liam 💙 (@WhitesOfMyEyes) June 17, 2021
How odd that this happens to the only channel whose journalists actually challenge the government.— Rob Perry (@docrobperry) June 18, 2021
The problem with conservatism is you eventually run out of public created assets to flog cheap to your friends— a d macpherson (@admacp) June 17, 2021
perhaps they don’t like Gary Gibbon… https://t.co/8DMXHwYgmz— Barry (@pixelsonapage) June 18, 2021
This is why the BBC has so singularly failed to hold them to account.— Stirling4Europe #FBPE (@Stirling4Europe) June 19, 2021