Battle lines drawn over Channel 4

Sell-off plan faces fierce criticism

Under-fire culture secretary, Nadine Dorries is nothing if not a fighter. Despite mass opposition to her plan to sell off Channel 4 she pushes on regardless, and the process was commenced in late April. But it wasn’t just “the Leftie luvvie lynch mob,” as Dorries has termed them, who are up in arms.

Politicians on all sides and many in the arts and entertainment sectors joined the battle, but, like some others at the sharp end of this government, Dorries ignores criticism and refuses to listen to reasoned argument, and is prone to making highly questionable statements regarding the government’s justification for the sell off. Last year she wrongly claimed in parliament that Channel 4 was in “receipt of public money.” Untrue. Channel 4 is publicly owned, but not publicly funded, it costs the taxpayer nothing. Its revenue comes from advertising, with profits reinvested into making new programmes.

Dorries also said in a tweet that she will seek to “reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country.” Critics point to the fact that as Channel 4 makes none of its own programmes but, by charter, commissions content, it already hugely benefits the independent production sector across the UK.

The government hopes to raise £1bn from the sell-off, with Dorries stating that public ownership was holding the channel back from competing with streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. The government also announced increased regulation for these channels. But Dorothy Byrne, former Editor at Large at Channel 4, reckons that Dorries “doesn’t really know very much about the broadcasting sector”, as the channel is already the biggest free-to-air digital service in the country and is massively used by young people. Byrne does say the channel needs to change and is changing, but that privatisation is not the way forward.

Throughout the media industry there is fierce opposition, with broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough suggesting the government is pursuing an agenda of “short-sighted political and financial attacks” on British public service broadcasters. And Channel 4 presenter, Kirstie Allsopp, described Dorries’s justification for the sale as “a load of utter twaddle”, adding that any Tory MP voting for the plan is “a traitor to their party and country”. Some Tory MPs seem to agree. Between 15 and 20 are said to be ready to vote against the sale, and one, Sir Peter Bottomley, has declared that he opposes the plan “because I am a Conservative.”

In the Lords, Baroness Davidson, former Scottish Tory party leader, has suggested the sale will damage the independent sector outside of London making it “the opposite of levelling up.” And Lord Richard Newby, Leader of the Lib Dem group, said they will fight to protect “this cherished national institution”. Meanwhile Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary, described Dorries’s plan as “cultural vandalism”. It all suggests that it may be some time before the “Sold” sign really goes up at Channel 4.

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