Early this week Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, announced the Government’s intention to privatise Channel 4.
There are several reasons why this is a bad idea:
1. Cultural impact – Channel 4 (C4) makes programmes other channels don’t. They do this because of their public service function and to fill niches other broadcasters can’t or won’t. Channel 4 commissioned shows raise awareness of issues and lives we do not see as prominently on other channels and they foster the development of actors and workers who don’t always get a chance. A more profit driven organisation is very unlikely to have the impact on our culture that Channel 4 currently does.
2. Economically – moving Channel 4’s headquarters to Leeds was supposed to help foster the region’s screen industries. So far there is no discussion about ensuring the HQ will be kept in the region. Given the media landscape, a buyer will likely be from overseas which weakens the UK value chain and will place influence over commissioning, investment and editorial elsewhere. This could be hugely damaging for jobs and growth in Yorkshire.
3. Geographically – even if the UK HQ stays in Leeds, control from elsewhere will weaken the aims of moving C4 offices out of London. North East England lost Tyne-Tees and the TV industry in the region collapsed. C4 in Yorkshire was supposed to do the opposite, placing decision-making powers in the region to help the Government’s so-called ‘levelling up agenda’.
4. Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) – the creative industries are a huge economic success but they fail at addressing EDI issues. Channel 4 is a beacon for doing things differently and better. Again, selling to a profit driven company will threaten this.
5. Competitiveness – Nadine Dorries says C4 can’t compete with Netflix and Amazon. The former has had $122bn of funding, the latter is one of the biggest companies in the world. Despite this, C4 is already competing on quality and unless Netflix or Amazon buy it, C4 won’t have the sort of funding they do. Furthermore, some of the top shows on streaming platforms were either co-produced/funded by C4 or C4 was the first to air them. Channel 4 is a success and there is no need to privatise it.
6. Financially – at £1bn Channel 4 looks like a bargain.
Final decisions have not been made and the Secretary of State has yet to publish her white paper on the sale, but Channel 4 is an important cog in the region and country’s screen industries. It shouldn’t be privatised.
By Dr Jon Swords, SIGN Research Lead