Channel 4’s four decades as a public broadcaster may be on the verge of coming to an end, with ministers pushing for controversial plans to sell the channel in an upheaval that could transform the television landscape British.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has confirmed he will hold a swift consultation on the privatization plan, a move that would mark the end of an era of British broadcasting and radically change the way one of the main networks operates UK public service television network.
The broadcaster – home to shows such as Great British Bake Off, It’s A Sin and Channel 4 News – has been editorial independent but has been state-owned since its inception by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1982. It operates with a commission mandate. distinctive programming and serve diverse audiences across the UK. Unlike other broadcasters, it is required to reinvest its profits in new programming, paying money to the independent production companies that produce all of its programs.
Dowden said privatization would ensure Channel 4 maintains “its place at the heart of UK broadcasting” and allow it to accommodate audiences moving away from traditional TV channels in favor of streaming services.
However, Channel 4 has also been the subject of repeated attacks from conservatives who complain that part of its production is biased against the conservatives, suggesting that there is political motivation for the decision of the Conservatives. government.
Tom Harrington of Enders Analysis media analysts called the proposal to privatize Channel 4 as “potentially malicious”, a move that ignored the broadcaster’s role in UK public service broadcasting of nurturing new talent. “It’s akin to changing an organ, with very little understanding of the effect it will have on the rest of the body. “
He predicted that the government should relax Channel 4’s legal requirements to invest in certain types of programs in order to attract a private sector buyer looking to make a profit. The government has already indicated that it intends to review the broadcaster’s mandate, although this is set by parliament and ministers will be shunned by opposition MPs.
The announcement came as the government takes an increasingly aggressive approach towards broadcasters, hailing the new right-wing talk channel GB News while battling regularly with the BBC over issues of funding and so-called ” culture war ”. This drew criticism from figures such as Sir David Attenborough, who signed an open letter warning Dowden against dismantling the UK’s public service broadcasting ecosystem – the heavily regulated channels run by the BBC, ITV , Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5.
The Culture Secretary also announced that the government intends to regulate the content of programs on streaming services, aligning them with traditional TV channels. This could force shows on US streaming services to meet UK broadcast standards on issues such as accuracy and fairness, which could prove difficult for some popular documentaries.
Dowden has also confirmed its intention to force smart TV makers to display services run by traditional UK broadcasters prominently on their home screens, a move that broadcasters strongly welcome.
But it is the decision to change Channel 4’s mandate that is likely to cause one of the biggest changes in the UK television industry in a generation. A quick consultation period could mean the publication of a privatization bill by the fall.
Unlike other major UK broadcasters, Channel 4 cannot sell its own shows to the world and instead relies on national advertising for its annual income of £ 934million. The government maintains that this model is no longer viable for a medium-sized national broadcaster and that privatization will allow Channel 4 to raise new funds to reach international audiences and invest in new technologies.
Speaking from the chain’s soon-to-open regional base in Leeds, its managing director, Alex Mahon, denied that his chain needed additional cash and insisted it could fulfill its existing tenure in the within its current structure. “As a board of directors, we did not push for more financial liberation. “
Mahon warned that privatizing his company could result in reduced investment in programs outside London and dismissed the idea that it would be beneficial to consumers if Channel 4 were taken over by a larger private company. “Amazon buys [the James Bond film studio] MGM because it wants to sell more toilet paper. This is not what we are here for.
The privatization of Channel 4 is a long-term goal of Broadcasting Minister John Whittingdale, who first proposed such a move 25 years ago. However, so far, the channel has repeatedly managed to successfully combat repeated proposals to sell it to the private sector, most recently in 2017.
There is still a belief at Channel 4 that the government might find it difficult to attract a buyer without substantially changing its remit – which could be politically problematic for ministers. The channel is also emphasizing the role it can play in the government’s ‘upgrading program’ by moving productions from London and the South East of England to its new regional bases in Leeds, Glasgow. and Bristol.
However, there remains a lingering belief that this time around the Tories intend to push ahead with the privatization of Channel 4, in part due to political opposition to its release.
As proof of the channel’s supposed bias, Conservative MPs and advisers often refer to the occasion where former Channel 4 news chief Dorothy Byrne publicly called Boris Johnson a liar during a speech from the Edinburgh TV Festival in 2019. In the general election that followed, Conservative aides also informed they would target Channel 4 after the broadcaster replaced the Prime Minister with a melting ice sculpture during a debate on climate change.