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'The opposite of levelling up': Tories criticise Channel 4 privatisation plans

A former Channel 4 boss has also said that culture secretary Nadine Dorries does not know much about broadcasting.

Old CRT tv amid urban wasteland

Nadine Dorries plans to privatise Channel 4. Image: Anete Lusina

“The problem with [culture secretary] Nadine Dorries”, says Dorothy Byrne, is that “she doesn’t really know very much about the broadcasting sector.”

The former Channel 4 chief joined the widespread opposition to the government plan to privatise the broadcaster. Several senior Tories have also publicly condemned the plan.

The state-owned channel – established 40 years ago by the Thatcher government – is not taxpayer-funded, instead making money through adverts and subscriptions. 

“Many people have never understood Channel 4’s business model, and among them is the culture secretary”, said Byrne. 

In a November hearing, Dorries had to be corrected after telling MPs the channel was “in receipt of public money”.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the proposal was “the opposite of levelling up”. Labour has labelled it “cultural vandalism”.

The plan was first revealed on Monday, when screenshots of an internal Channel 4 email were posted to Twitter. 

Dorries defended the move, arguing: “Government ownership is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon.”

The government hopes selling the broadcaster could net the treasury £1billion, though the actual price will depend on whether the government is willing to relax the broadcaster’s public service commitments. 

Channel 4’s remit as public service broadcaster requires it to reinvest profits into programmes which are less lucrative, but which are culturally important, informative, or educational – an unattractive prospect for potential buyers.

But unlike the BBC, Channel 4 does not create or own the content it broadcasts, instead buying or commissioning programmes from independent production companies. 

Channel 4 has previously estimated that 1,300 jobs at these companies would be lost if the network were privatised.

Davidson was one of several senior Tories to publicly attack the plan, writing: “Channel 4 is publicly owned, not publicly funded. It doesn’t cost the tax payer a penny. 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 sector in places like Glasgow. This is the opposite of levelling up”

Speaking to Sky News, former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “I’m not in favour of it because as it stands Channel 4 provides competition to the BBC on what’s called public service broadcasting – the kinds of programmes that are not commercially viable – and I think it would be a shame to lose that.”

In December, former Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow told The Big Issue he believed the government wanted to sell off the channel because it was “terrified” of his team.

“The great advantage we have at Channel 4 News is that we are not the BBC,” he said. “We are actually paid to be different. We are supposed to give a voice to people who don’t necessarily get a voice in other places.

“The truth is, we are a very diverse team on Channel 4 News. In our politics, our backgrounds and our ethnicity. It’s terrifying enough for [the government] to want to allow the private sector to take it over and turn it into one of the other rubbish channels. 

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